It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the death of Corporal John Rigby from 4th Battalion The Rifles in Basra, southern Iraq on Friday 22 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 John’s 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.
Cpl Rigby’s Company Commander, Major John Wakelin, said of him:
Corporal Rigby, John, was quite simply unique. He was a free thinking, independent and bright young Corporal who approached life with vigour. Life was out there for the taking for Corporal Rigby and he was going to get all that he could from it. Professionally he stood out. His style of soldiering was not only about professionalism and getting the basics right, although he did.
His approach was more human and his relationship with his men, and his love for them, defined him. He has blistered his way through the ranks and was recently awarded with early promotion to Sergeant. Typically there was little or no fanfare but a quiet knock at my door. ‘Sir’ he asked ‘I’m not sure about this, Section Commanding is where I want to be. I love my job and do not want to leave my boys just yet.’
Nobody interfered with Corporal Rigby’s section and they were brilliantly trained and utterly effective under his leadership. He had longed to take his Section on operations and no stone was left unturned in his drive for excellence. He was involved with everything and at the heart of B Company. He was the epitome of the thinking Rifleman and no operation or command would escape his scrutiny or the benefit of his fresh ideas.
“He had a wide range of interests from jet skiing to his band ‘The Motion’ in which he played drums and for whom he wrote music. He was a keen Tottenham Hotspur supporter and enjoyed football banter with his mates. He loved Australia where he served briefly on attachment to the Australian Commandos.
He came from Rye, or Rye’anappa as he called it. He leaves a devoted family including his twin brother Will, two older sisters, his beloved Grandparents in Warminster and his girlfriend Jess. He spoke fondly to me of days spent on Cley Hill learning of the archaeology of the hill from his Grandad who is the curator of the Warminster museum. He kept a history book with him to read when he was on guard along with a photograph of the three beautiful hills in Warminster where he used to walk.
It is typical of him that he died protecting his Riflemen. ‘His lads’ were saved from injury by their vehicle as he selflessly provided top cover from the vehicle hatch. He died on his 24th birthday.
Corporal Wayne Rimmer said:
We called him Goldenballs. He was to squadding what David Beckham is to football.
Corporal Craig Maxwell said of him:
John was a gentleman soldier and a man with a clear and wise head. We all used to go to him for advice and a chat.
Corporal Dave Pratt said:
His favourite quote was ‘Backs to the walls, everyman will stand and fight and fall. No more retreating’.
Lance Corporal Kevin Langstone and all the boys from B21C (Cpl Rigby’s section) said:
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.
Cpl Rigby’s family issued the following statement:
John was a cherished and devoted son and brother; a talented hardworking and successful soldier, popular with his peers and across all ranks alike. He was due to be promoted to Sergeant in September and had a very bright future ahead of him which included plans to undertake higher education.
He will be accompanied back to England by his twin brother William who is also serving in Iraq with the Rifles, and who was with him at his bedside at Basra military hospital when he died.
“The Army have been tremendously helpful and supportive to us at this difficult time, but we are understandably devastated at his loss and ask, please, to be left alone to grieve in peace.”