“From Pilgrim to Piper,” by WO2 Iain Townsley, late of 22 SAS
Book Review by 12506 Captain Lionel Boxer CD PhD, late of Royal Canadian Engineers and Royal Australian Engineers
I first met Iain in the early 1990s on the night he was Initiated at Commando Memorial Lodge in Oakleigh, Victoria, Australia. Iain was hailed as young blood to regenerate his Lodge, composed mostly of WWII Australian Commandoes. That is where our similarities start and end. Well, I suppose he does make the claim in his book that he was “not a career soldier, but went with the flow”. Indeed that is what I have done over 40 years, but Iain’s flow took him to places beyond anything I could endure. Where I have done relatively nothing in two armies, Iain did extraordinary things and went to extraordinary places. He states in the book that he achieved no accolades during his 25 years with the British Army and 6 years with the Australian Army. However, from my perspective, Iain received extraordinary accolades that are apparent to those of similar ilk, who show him extraordinary respect.
Until I discovered Iain playing bagpipes in 2001, I was merely an acquaintance of his. With his military background, I suggested that he would enjoy rehearsing with my army reserve pipes and drums. He did that, and over the past two decades we became good friends. I knew that Iain is who he says he is, because several people have corroborated what he has told me. For example, an episode described in the book where Iain had interfered in an area of operation, had been previously been related to me by then General Officer Commanding that area of operation, to who Iain reported limited details of a minor mishap. I have also met some of his colleagues from D Sqn, who welcomed me as a friend of Iain’s simply by showing a “calling card” that Iain had given me in advance. His book describes unsensitive aspects of operations with 22 SAS in Borneo, Dofar and Northern Ireland as well as his extensive work with HALO systems and operations.
Having worked with Iain in our army reserve pipes and drums as well as the grand lodge pipes and drums, I have recognised Iain’s attributes and strengths. His book reveals how he developed these characteristics. His life achievements are immediately recognised by those sharing similar experience. I recall a French special forces soldier embracing Iain when he noticed Iain was a former member of 22 SAS and presented Iain with his own SF insignia he removed from the uniform he was wearing. Iain having nothing to reciprocate at the time, I slipped a spare badge into his hand to present in exchange.
Iain has been places both physical and mental that I have never been. I cannot expect to ever truly understand his experience, but in this book, Iain recounts training and operations, with thorough discussions of historical context. In doing so, he offers many lessons to strengthen my understanding of how to get on with life’s challenges.
I am certainly biased, because I have heard some of Iain’s stories first hand over a few too many drams of fine Usquabae; and indeed I highly value Iain’s camaraderie. This book is a wonderful and carefully articulated testimony to Iain’s experiences and achievements. You can know him too by reading it. It is not at all about the secrets of 22 SAS. Rather, it is about how 22 SAS contributed to Iain becoming the great man that he is.
“From Pilgrim to Piper” is available on Amazon here.