Cpl John Rigby
4th Battalion The Rifles
22nd June 2007
Corporal Rigby, aged 24, from Rye, died from injuries sustained by a roadside bomb attack in Basra. Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Sanders, Cpl Rigby's Commanding Officer, paid the following tribute to him:
"The death of any soldier is a tragedy and in death all are equal, but there are some whose loss is particularly hard to bear the force of their personality, their personal and professional qualities and the love, respect and popularity they inspire set them apart. Corporal John Rigby was such a man. John was fatally injured early this morning by a roadside bomb near Basra Palace and tragically died from his injuries this evening in the Field Hospital. We are utterly heartbroken. But we are also unbowed, tough and determined: John would have it no other way. John was an exceptional man in every respect. A Battalion is a large organisation, but John was one of the strongest and most distinctive characters in 4 RIFLES. He was known and universally admired from top to bottom, and even those who did not know him soon learned to speak his name with respect. Although as a Section Commander in B Company he commanded only eight Riflemen, his influence and fame extended the depth and breadth of the 700 men in 4 RIFLES. He was iconic. We have lost a true friend and exemplary fellow Rifleman: the most talented Corporal of his generation, and a warm, mature, dignified and almost unnaturally gifted man. But hard as it is for us, our pain is as nothing to that of his family whose suffering will be inconsolable. His parents and two sisters have lost a wonderfully warm, lively and loving son and brother; his twin brother Will, also serving as a Corporal here in 4 RIFLES, has lost his lifetime companion and his soul mate. Will was at Johns side when he died this evening. It was their 24th Birthday. Sitting here in Basra Palace a few hours after John died it is almost impossible to convey what he meant to us and to capture the colour, character and vitality of the man that he was and to adequately describe a life lived to the full and with extraordinary spirit and passion. I count myself blessed to have commanded and known John. He was the sort of man and soldier who any Commanding Officer would cherish. He was a warrior tough and fierce, swift and bold. And he was an astonishingly dedicated and charismatic leader. Like all the best soldiers he inspired love, devotion and fierce loyalty in his men. They idolised him and would follow him anywhere others fought hard to get into his Section seeing that John cared deeply, was calm and decisive under fire, and kept his men safe.
He was by common consent the most promising Corporal of his generation. This is not just my view, but that of two former Regimental Sergeant Majors who are still serving with the Battalion. He had only recently been selected for promotion to Sergeant; his score on the promotion board placed him as the best Corporal across all five battalions in The RIFLES an astonishing achievement given that he was only 23 and was competing with many five years older than himself. Giving him that good news only two weeks ago gave me such pleasure and pride, but typically he was utterly modest and his only concern was not to leave the Riflemen in his Section. In the words of one of his fellow Corporals from B Company: We called him Goldenballs. He was to squadding what David Beckham is to football. In my view, John was unquestionably a future Regimental Sergeant Major and we have lost one of our very brightest and best. John was also a remarkable man. He had a dignity, modesty and maturity that went way beyond his years. He was calm, highly intelligent, thoughtful, had a smile that lit up a room and a wicked sense of humour. I admired him immensely and liked him from the first time I met him several years ago. He had a nobility of spirit and an almost serene aura about him that drew one to him. John had such strength of character and depth of personality and his talents were so obvious he was one of those rare people who just had it all. He was just great company and as fellow Spurs supporters we had plenty of adversity to share, particularly in what seemed like a Battalion of Arsenal fans. In the five weeks before John was killed he had been out on patrol on an almost daily basis and had been involved in frequent firefights with the enemy. Basra is a very dangerous place for British soldiers and in the early days of the tour all of us were nervous and with justification - casualties were inevitable. Strong leadership, particularly at junior level, is what makes the difference in these situations and John stood out as one of the best in the Battalion. On one night early on during a Battle Group operation mounted into a vicious and volatile area known as Al Qibla, Johns vehicle came under heavy enemy fire. John dealt with the attack with great authority and presence of mind and his Section fought their way through the contact, suppressing the enemy and carried on with the operation. One of his Riflemen was particularly shaken by the experience, and might well have lost his nerve, but John, in his handling of the Rifleman showed why he was such an inspiring and brilliant leader. Immediately after the contact, and afterwards when they returned to Basra Palace and to relative safety, instead of criticising as others might, John showed humanity, compassion and natural authority.
John was a remarkable man. He had a dignity, modesty and maturity that went way beyond his years. He was calm, highly intelligent, thoughtful, had a smile that lit up a room and a wicked sense of humour. I admired him immensely and liked him from the first time I met him several years ago he had a nobility of spirit and an almost serene aura about him that drew one to him."
Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Sanders
"He was calm, reassuring and understanding and restored the Riflemans confidence and that of his whole Section by his example and force of personality. Because of John's intelligent leadership that Rifleman is trusted and valued and has since proved himself in numerous contacts the considerable courage he has shown in overcoming his fear was inspired by Johns words and actions. That is the mark of a great leader. Johns personal bravery, dedication and love for his Riflemen were a byword in B Company and in the Battalion. He was killed protecting his Riflemen and leading by personal example, exposing himself to great risk as a top cover sentry in an exceptionally dangerous area approaching the Palace. He made a judgement that someone had to expose themselves and be ready to engage enemy gunmen and bombers in order to protect the vehicle and its driver and commander, and it is typical of his courage, selflessness and leadership that he chose to do it himself instead of ordering one of his beloved Riflemen to do so. His example has inspired and moved us all. The whole Battalion has been shaken and saddened by Johns death and there is an empty space in our ranks and in our hearts that cannot be filled. Men like John are exceptional and rare and we count ourselves truly lucky to have known him and shared part of his life with him. But though we grieve for him, we also celebrate a life lived to the full with no doubts, regrets or half measures. John chose this life and he chose us. He found his calling as a Rifleman and was immensely fulfilled by the challenges and comradeship that he found here. He died prematurely, but he died doing what he loved, and he died amongst friends who loved him dearly. We are so very proud of him and our tribute to him will be to emulate the values and standards that he lived by our resilience, our fighting spirit, our professionalism and our determination are all stronger because of Johns example and are undimmed by his death. It is what he would have expected and wanted and we will not let him down. Our hearts go out to Johns family and to his girlfriend Jess. Johns family life mattered more to him than anything and his unique qualities as a man came from the wonderful, loving and stable upbringing he and Will enjoyed. His roots were very deep and very important to him and the grief, suffering and pain that Johns brother, sisters, parents, grandparents and girlfriend will be enduring must be all the more painful because of the depth of love that he enjoyed. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts for sharing him with us and all our prayers are for them at this terrible hour that they may somehow be consoled and comforted.
John was an outstanding soldier, a master of all trades. The platoon will never be the same without him. He will be dearly missed. He may be gone but not forgotten."
Lance Corporal Kevin Langstone
To read comments from those who knew him click here.