On Sunday, 15th March 2009 in southern Afghanistan Graeme Stiff and Dean John had been conducting a vehicle move to the west of Garmsir in Helmand province. They had been travelling in a Jackal patrol vehicle when, at about 1630 hours local time, it was struck by an explosive device and they were both killed.
Graeme Stiff was a Corporal in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. He and Corporal Dean John were members of the Light Aid Detachment of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards (QDG).
Corporal Graeme Stiff, aged 24, was born in Münster, Germany and came from a military background. Having accompanied his father across the world on various military postings, he enlisted into the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in 2004. After passing out of training, he was posted to 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards, where he served as an Electronics Technician in A Squadron's Fitter Section. He was on his first operational tour when his life was so tragically cut short.
Graeme 'Stiffy' Stiff excelled in his field. He greatly looked forward to deploying to Afghanistan and quickly proved to be a most reliable driver and craftsman in the demanding environment of southern Helmand. He was a hardworking and happy individual who loved his job and the friendships and camaraderie of his team. He revelled in his Corps' motto of 'Arte et Marte' ('By Skill and by Fighting') and was always found tinkering with his Jackal and ensuring that it was ready for action.
He was a shining example of a REME craftsman, working hard and playing hard, and adding every minute to the morale and happiness of the Squadron. He was exceptionally adaptable and in great demand for his expertise, often volunteering to go out on patrol even when exhausted; yet he was still able to improve the morale of those around him.
'Stiffy' was a keen sportsman and a particularly skilful footballer who represented both the REME and QDG at Football. He also enjoyed his time in the gym – either training by himself or 'spotting' for his friends.
He leaves behind his girlfriend Lauren, with whom he was looking forward to spending more time, a loving family, and a host of friends.
Graeme's family paid the following tribute:
"Graeme was a loving and loved brother, son and grandson whose life was cruelly brought to an end. Like so many on operations he gave his life so that others may live better ones. His mother and father and brother will always remember him for the joy that he brought to everyone's life.
"We miss you so much already and you will live in our hearts and minds forever. Love Mum, Dad, mike and Bailey.........galaxeee."
Lieutenant Colonel Alan Richmond, Commanding Officer QDG, said:
"The loss of 'Stiffy' is a great burden for the Regiment and will impact significantly upon the close-knit Fitter Section within which he was such a pivotal character. He was an incredibly genuine individual; mild, quiet, caring and selfless with a sharp sense of humour and lust for life. He enjoyed his job and loved the challenges that it brought, but above all loved the people with whom he lived and worked.
"He was a mainstay of morale and a hugely professional craftsman. He had a confidence and assuredness that belied his young age and lack of experience. Always cheerful and positive he was always able to raise the spirits of those around him. He will be sorely missed by us all and we all send our heartfelt condolences to his girlfriend, Lauren, and to his family."
Major Charlie Waggett, Squadron Leader, A Sqn, QDG, said:
"I was lucky enough to spend some time with Corporal Graeme Stiff and to get to know him well when he acted as my driver during parts of the current operational tour. 'Stiffy' was a lovely character; a mild man at heart, with a fun and caring manner. As a soldier, he was the consummate professional; incredibly capable in his specialised role in the Squadron's Fitter Section and bright – quickly able to assimilate new skills. He also fitted the adage 'soldier first, specialist thereafter', as he could turn his hand and his talent to any number of areas.
"'Stiffy' was a great member of the Squadron and he fitted in so well with all the blokes, always being ready to raise morale with a cheeky gag. However, it will be his enduringly happy nature, his ever-present smile, and his compassion for others that will be his abiding memory. His love for his girlfriend was so very evident, and he would always place a picture of her on his driver's dashboard, so she would never be too far from his thoughts.
"We will miss 'Stiffy' so much. He was a friend to so many, and our loss must now be tempered, as our thoughts and support turn to his family and his girlfriend Lauren, to whom we offer our deepest sympathies and condolences at this tragic time."
Captain David Toland, Officer Commanding, QDG Light Aid Detachment, said:
"Ask anyone in the unit who Corporal Graeme Stiff was and the reply would always be about how great and fun a man he was. On tour he has proven that when it counted he was steadfast, reliable and flexible enough to soldier on throughout the day and keep equipment fit at any time.
"Every spare moment he would spend keeping himself very fit and he obviously loved sports. We had often spoken about his desire to return back to the UK so he could settle down for a period of stability. This was due to happen shortly after we returned and he was really looking forward to buying property and spending as much time as possible with his girlfriend after a couple of hectic years with a front line regiment. This makes it all the harder to bear that such a young man with so much to offer was taken, but we will always remember him as one of the pivotal figures within our unit. We send our deepest condolences to his family and girlfriend at this time."
Staff Sergeant Marcus Waugh, Troop Leader of Fitter Section, A Sqn QDG, said:
"Throughout Op HERRICK 9 Graeme fulfilled his role, both as a soldier and a tradesman to an outstanding standard. The challenges that he faced were beyond that of the conventionally employed REME soldier; however, far from being out of his comfort zone it was a position in which Graeme excelled. This highlighted the depth and experience he had gained within his role, and meant that he became a sought after asset within the Squadron, applying his knowledge and trade, while deployed at the forefront of many operations.
"Graeme had a potential that is rarely seen amongst others. Although new in rank he displayed a confidence and enthusiasm that saw him compete amongst the best of his peer group. Intelligent and articulate, Graeme had only just embarked upon what undoubtedly would have been a long and rewarding career in the Armed Forces.
"Keen to exploit opportunities and his own potential, Graeme had developed an ambition to attend Army helicopter pilot training; and clearly possessing the attributes of intelligence, diligence and enthusiasm, he would have undoubtedly excelled.
"In his trade, Graeme was always keen to extend himself outside of his career scope. This saw him contributing on a regular basis for the greater good of the Squadron. Even when there was no requirement for his particular skill set, he would often stay with colleagues, working late into the night to ensure that tasks were completed, and that a hot beverage or food could be sourced if the guys needed it. It was through such fine displays of teamwork and camaraderie that Graeme was able to demonstrate his true sense of selflessness.
"An excellent sportsman, Graeme represented both the REME and QDG at Football. Whilst deployed on Op Herrick 9, Graeme used much of his spare time conducting his own busy schedule of operations, which he referred to as 'Op Massive' (going to the gym) and 'Op Bronze' (sun bathing). Such was his own development and notable motivation in both these fields that he had soon recruited an influx of others from within the Fitter Section, all eager to emulate his impressive results! It is in this difficult time that our thoughts and feelings of support go to Graeme's Family and loved ones."
Sergeant Jamie Scott, Troop Sergeant of Fitter Section, A Sqn, QDG, said:
"When Graeme first came to the Fitter Section he was a typical REME technician, very intelligent but at times a bit clumsy! Thankfully it did not take him long to overcome this and develop into an excellent tradesman, which was a mark of his character.
"He was willing to attempt every new challenge presented to him and was quick to adapt to new situations. So much so, that his vehicle commanders were extremely unwilling to release him due to his excellent driving skills and all round contribution within a crew.
"Graeme may have had a quiet nature about him, but he was the friendliest of people and quick with funny remarks and comments. If during the tour you wanted to find Graeme, then the first port of call would be the gym. He was always dragging his colleagues along so that he could 'beast' them and try to get that ultimate 'beach body'. Principally, this was because he wanted to look good for his girlfriend, Lauren.
"Those that knew him understood that she was central to his life, and he would always have a photo of her near him. They may not have been married, but it was clear to all that he wanted her to remain a part of his life forever. Graeme will be sorely missed by the Fitter Section and Squadron members alike."
Craftsman John McAvoy, Fitter Section, A Sqn, QDG, recalled the following anonymous poem:
The soldier stood and faced his God
Which must always come to pass
He hoped his shoes were shining
Just as brightly as his brass
Step forward now you soldier
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To my church have you been true?
The soldier squared his shoulders and said, 'No, Lord, I guess I ain't
But those of us who carry guns
Cannot be a saint.
'I've had to work most Sundays,
And at times my talk is tough
And sometimes I've been violent
Because the world is awfully rough
'But I never took a penny
That wasn't mine to keep
Though I worked a lot of overtime
When bills got just too steep.
'And I never passed a cry for help
Though at times I shook with fear
And sometimes God forgive me
I've wept unmanly tears.
'I know I don't deserve a place
Among these people here
They never wanted me around
Except to calm their fears.
'If you've a place here, Lord
It needn't be so grand
I never expected or had too much
But if you don't I'll understand.'
There was a silence all around the throne
Where saints had often trod
As the soldier waited quietly
For the judgement of his God.
'Step forward now you soldier
You've borne your burdens well
Walk peacefully in heaven's streets
You've done your time in Hell.'
"This reminds me of him," added Cfn McAvoy. "It says it better than I can."
Craftsman Lee 'Smudger' Smith, Fitter Section, A Sqn, QDG, said:
"'Stiffy' was loved by us all and was my best mate. He had a cracking personality and the crafty bugger always got the good jobs. That is what I loved about him.
"He was always there when I needed him and his solution for everything was going out for a few beers. Considering he was a tech, he was a good drinker. He was always up for a laugh and was heading for great things in life.
"Graeme was liked by everyone. Not just by those in the LAD (Light Aid Detachment) but the whole Regiment in which he proudly served. I don't have a bad word to say about him.
"Graeme loved to wind me up but I could always count on him. I'm proud to have known him and to be able to call him my friend. He will be dearly missed not only by me but by many more I'm sure."