The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. W Riley
William Riley, of Manorhamilton, County Leitrim, Ireland was born in 1917, the son of the Revd. John Riley (1861-1956) and Catherine Riley (nee Leslie 1881-1956).
He joined the RAF on a short service commission in August 1935. He was posted to 11 FTS, Wittering on 2nd November and joined 54 Squadron at Hornchurch on 11th May 1936. He went to the Electrical and Wireless School, Cranwell on 9th February 1937, as a staff pilot on the Signals Squadron.
On 16th December 1938 Riley was posted to HQ RAF Far East, Singapore, on organisation duties on the administrative staff. Back in the UK, Riley was sent to 12 Group Pool on 11th November 1939 and after converting to Spitfires he joined 610 Squadron at Wittering on 22nd December 1939.
In May 1940 Riley was posted to 263 Squadron and took part in the squadron's second foray into Norway which began on 21st May when its Gladiators flew off HMS Furious to their base at Bardufoss.
On the 24th Riley shared in the destruction of a He111 and on the 26th he destroyed another. He was wounded in this engagement and as a consequence he returned to the UK in a transport. Squadron pilots flew the remaining Gladiators on to HMS Glorious on 7th June and were lost when the carrier was sunk on the 8th by the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.
Riley was posted to 302 Squadron at Leconfield at its formation on 13th July as a Flight Commander. On 21st August Riley claimed a Ju88 probably destroyed, on 18th September a Ju88 destroyed and probably a second and on 15th October a Me109 destroyed.
He went to 145 Squadron at Tangmere on 30th October. He probably destroyed a Ju87 on 7th November.
In early 1941 Riley went to 252 Squadron, Coastal Command, and on 16th April he shot down a Fw200 Kondor, the squadron's first victory. Soon afterwards 252 Squadron went to the Middle East and on 7th May Riley shared in destroying a SM81 transport near Lampedusa. He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 31st October 1941) at the end of his tour and posted to 201 Group as a Controller.
In early April 1942 Riley was attached to 272 Squadron in Egypt, pending his taking command of 227 Squadron, to be formed in Malta. On 14th April, whilst escorting Beauforts on a convoy attack, Riley destroyed a Do17, probably a Me110 and damaged a Ju88, on 1st May destroyed a Ju52 and on 14th June he damaged a Ju88.
He was himself shot down by flak on the 26th but returned to the squadron the next day.
Riley was killed on 16th July 1942 as a Wing Commander with 272 Squadron. His Beaufighter IC (either T4871 or T4884) collided with another Beaufighter soon after taking off on a sortie to intercept Ju52s and crashed into the sea. F/Sgt. J Martin was also lost. The other crew of P/O Deppe returned safely.
Riley was 25 and is remembered on the Alamein Memorial.
Photographs courtesy of Colonel C R Romberg RA, British Embassy Cairo.