Aberdeen’s Milton Reilly was known – and loved – for a lot of things.
He was a member of the Parachute Regiment, survived the Aberdeen Zoology building collapse, and was a King George V Cup Wapinschaw winner.
But underpinning all of that, he was a man in love for more than 66 years.
Following his death this week his family have paid tribute to their “legendary” dad.
They’ve also reflected on their parents’ love story, as one of Aberdeen’s first – and most enduring – interracial couples.
Bengal to Balnagask
Milton Reilly was born in Howrah on February 27 1935, and raised in the Shalimar area of Kolkata, West Bengal. One of 14 children for Irish-born Robert Reilly, and Anglo-Indian Mary Richmond, the family moved to Aberdeen in the mid 1940s.
Robert, who was “high up” in railways instilled a sense of hard work into his children, who were raised Catholic, first in India then in Torry.
Milton, like his school age siblings, attended St Peter’s Catholic School but left education as a teen, desperate to enter the world of work, or rather, to bring home some wages.
One of Tommy Begg’s boys
Initially hoping for an apprenticeship at Hall Russell, Milton also worked for wood merchants, then as a plater for John Lewis. In later life he told his family “most of his money came – in those days – from offshore rigging and scaffolding” work.
Though small in stature, Milton didn’t lack strength. He fought as a lightweight for Tommy Begg at Aberdeen Amateur Boxing Club, and for the rest of his life remained conscious of the harm he could do with one punch.
It was perhaps those early days, unshackled by health and safety regulations – or any type of harness – that grew in Milton a desire for more daring pursuits.
Joining the Paras
In the early 1950s he began the pre-Parachute Regiment selection process. The army recruitment and training scheme for potential parachute regiment candidates, it was no easy feat.
“More people failed than ever passed it,” Milton once remarked. Though he was one of those who did graduate on to become a member of the 1st Parachute Battalion in 1953.
His broad smile and handsome looks betray the struggle Milton had at times.
Ridiculed – and mistreated – by his superiors on occasion for the colour of his skin, while he never let it dampen his cheeky sense of humour he was always only too willing, and able, to defend himself and his family.
Head over heels
One person who proved to be his greatest ally was Aberdonian Ann Leslie. Born in 1939, four years his junior, Milton met Ann through his sister Jean. She caught his eye immediately and insisted she be invited to the family home.
On her first visit to Milton’s she returned reporting “they cut up hedges and put it in the dinner”. Referring to bay leaves, the story of Ann’s first taste of Indian food and family life is now folklore in the Reilly household.
Milton waited until a month after Grant’s Whisky worker Ann turned 18 for them to tie the knot in Sacred Heart Church on June 1 1957.
A love like no other
Proud to be a working man who could pay for his own wedding, and for his bride to have a “proper dress”, a crowd gathered to see the pair become Mr and Mrs.
“They’d both speak about it for years, their wedding day, because people came out from everywhere to see them leave the church. They were one of the first, maybe even THE first, mixed race couple to get married in Torry,” said daughter Ann-Marie.
While the couple had the full support of both sets of parents, beginning their married life was a challenge. They eventually found a flat above the Post Office on Abbey Road, Torry.
“You have to remember this was a time when signs for flats still said, “no coloureds, no Irish…”
“That was my dad discounted on two fronts,” said Robert.
“And all their wedding presents were stolen,” added Ann-Marie.
Nevertheless they did build a home together, welcoming three children: Robert, Pearl and Ann-Marie.
After several years full-time with the Parachute Regiment, during which time he boxed on behalf of the battalion and twice won top honours at the north-east Wapinschaw, Milton moved to the 15th Scottish Parachute Regiment Reserves.
For more than two decades he juggled the demands of full-time joinery, scaffolding and cement work to provide for his family, with his commitment to serving the army at weekends, and tours when called upon.
When he eventually stepped back, Sergeant Reilly had spent time in Germany, Aldershot, Cyprus and around the Suez Canal, for which he received a medal.
His death-defying skills gained in the Paras came in handy on more than one occasion. The most memorable helping him survive the Aberdeen Zoology building collapse in 1966.
“Legend has it that dad was on the roof when the building collapsed and was able to jump to his safety,” said Pearl.
Another newspaper article reports that Milton was also working on the roof of the new Turriff fire station when it collapsed, but on that occasion he required hospital treatment.
‘In my rightful place’
Milton and Ann moved to Matthews Road in Kincorth where they lived together for the rest of their lives.
The pair were rarely without one another. It was only when a series of strokes meant Ann had to move into a care home that they lived apart.
In October last year Ann was taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Milton and her children kept vigil by her side. Seeing Milton’s dedication to Ann, on a sun lounger by her bed, staff stepped in.
“They were brilliant. They found an examination bed and put it up against mum’s. Dad lay with her under a blanket,” said Ann-Marie.
Clean shaven and in his shirt and tie, “immaculate” as he always was for Ann, he said he was back “in his rightful place” next to his bride of 66 years.
‘You can go now Ann…’
After months of encouraging his wife to keep fighting on, on October 12 everything changed.
“He held her hand, leaned over and whispered to her. He said: ‘Ann you can go now, I’ve said a wee prayer. They’re waiting for you now. You’ve suffered enough.’
“We were all in tears. Two hours later she just slipped away with dad right there lying beside her,” said Robert.
Though Milton had no health ailments himself at that point, he steadily began to deteriorate from then on.
The grandfather of four who had recently become a great-granda, only made it 12 weeks without his Ann.
Back together with Ann
“We had the first Christmas we have ever spent without mum or dad round the table. Mum had gone and dad was so weak we couldn’t bring him from the care home.
“He perked up when we visited, and we thought we’d maybe keep him with us another while. But on January 7 he slipped away. We were all there,” said Pearl.
Milton’s funeral will take place January 18 at Our Lady of Aberdeen Church.
The family hopes their dad’s military career will be remembered by a guard of honour.
“It doesn’t matter where I have ever gone in the world, my dad’s reputation went before him. He was so well known. It would be amazing if the thing he was most proud of – his days in the Paras – could somehow play a part in his funeral.”
Milton will then be laid to rest – beside Ann – at Hazlehead Cemetery.
“Back together at last,” added Ann-Marie.