Hero of the month… Staff Sergeant Pete Cluff 1975 - 2016
“Pete was the perfect father to our two girls, Heather and Meredith. He constantly smothered them with cuddles and loved taking them exploring whenever he could… he was such a family man.”
Staff Sergeant Pete Cluff dreamed of retiring to his forever home with his wife and two daughters. With plans for renovation underway, retirement in sight, and a horse bought ready for life on civvy street, Pete, a picture of health, collapsed on a team building day out, from undiagnosed heart disease. Pete left behind his wife Kirsty (then aged 36) and two young daughters, Heather (then 8) and Meredith (then 5).
Heather and Meredith, now aged 13 and 10, are members of Scotty’s Little Soldiers, the charity for bereaved Forces children and young people. This month, Scotty’s is paying tribute to their dad, Staff Sergeant Pete Cluff, who died on the 5th February 2016, just a month before his 41st birthday. A Staff Sergeant in the Corps of Royal Engineers, Pete joined the Army aged 20, and spent the next 21 years travelling to Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.
Pete met his wife Kirsty in 2001, after they fell for each other over the phone. Kirsty recalls: “I was working in car insurance and Pete was one of my customers. After a week of daily phone calls, handwritten letters and Kodak printed pictures, he drove 500 miles to go on a date with me. When I saw him stood there on my doorstep, I knew I’d already fallen for him.
“There are so many incredible memories I have of my time spent with Pete, we laughed constantly with each other, to the point where I would struggle to breathe I was laughing so hard. He would always finish my sentences, we really were inseparable.
Pete and Kirsty married in Scotland on the 30th April 2005 with friends and family by their side, and just eight short weeks later the newlyweds moved to Westfalen Garrison base in Germany to begin their married life. Two years after getting married, Pete and Kirsty were delighted to welcome their first born, Heather, followed by their second daughter, Meredith, three years later.
Kirsty recalls: “Pete was the perfect father to our two girls, Heather and Meredith. He constantly smothered them with cuddles and loved taking them exploring whenever he could. On rainy days they would sit together with a movie on while he sorted the laundry on the living room floor, he was such a family man.”
A lover of Lego from a young age, Pete was meticulous when it came to organising it. Kirsty said: “Each piece had to be organised in shape and colour order, and he made sure he had a different set to the girls, as he said the two sets couldn’t be mixed. They would spend hours with their dad creating many different Lego creations, and the girls would often try winding him up by putting wrong pieces into his box, just to make him frown and laugh at them. Nowadays the girls love playing together with his Lego as it brings back many happy memories of their time spent with him.”
Pete spent 21 years in the military and was described as “an amazing bloke, professional, hardworking and humble”, and “one of the best role models ever” by his comrades. Kirsty continued: “Pete was a Royal Engineer through and through. I used to joke and say that his bones would look like Blackpool rock with the Corps colours running through them if he ever broke one open. He loved army life and loved spending time with us as a family, whether it be out exploring our local surrounding in Germany with our dogs in tow, or further away on camping trips to the Harz mountains.
In anticipation of his upcoming retirement, Pete bought a horse and named it Ubique after the Corps, affectionately calling it Ubi for short. He was looking forward to improving his riding skills and enjoying hacks with the family post-retirement, however Pete would unfortunately never get the chance to ride his horse.
While in Germany on a team building exercise at a karting centre, Pete collapsed from undiagnosed severe heart disease. His friend and colleague managed to resuscitate him twice until medics arrived, but after a third episode, medics were unable to bring him back around.
Kirsty explained: “The day I received the news of Pete’s passing was the absolute worst day of my life. Hearing the news myself was utterly devastating, but having to break the hearts of our girls was almost unthinkable. While I was gathering the courage to tell the girls myself, unfortunately word spread to other military children through their parents.
“While the girls played on the swings at the play park, another child told them that their daddy was dead. Having to confirm that the child was telling the truth was utterly heart-breaking and made it a million times harder for them to accept it. It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over.”
Five years on, Kirsty misses Pete’s laugh, the smell of his army kit, and the way he would finish her sentences, while the girls miss his voice, the cuddles, and the way he would run beside them while they trotted on their pony in case they fell off.
To celebrate their father in the forever home he’d always dreamed of, Kirsty and the girls filled Pete’s Afghanistan military boots with his favourite naafi break, a KitKat Chunky and a can of Coke, which was then buried in the foundations of their renovated home.
Since the death of their dad, Heather and Meredith have been supported by Scotty’s Little Soldiers. Kirsty explained: “Scotty’s is a lifeline. A life jacket that we were thrown in the fiercest of storms. A font of knowledge, support and understanding when we are floundering and have no idea of which way is up.
“There aren’t enough words to explain what Scotty’s means to us. For the girls, Scotty’s means a friend who just ‘gets it’, on a level which no one else can. For me, it has meant a huge family of people who are all able to offer support and advice, knowing how to handle life, kids, grief, and all the challenges that come with losing a spouse. Scotty’s has inadvertently given me the most amazing peer group, that’s got the worst thing in common, but also the best things too, the main being wonderful kids, all special and unique.
“I don’t dare to think about what it would be like for the girls if Scotty’s hadn’t been there for them. Meredith would still be fighting with thoughts and demons inside herself, without understanding how or why, or when to stop and ask for help. Heather would likely still be avoiding all the things that made her happy, because she felt so guilty when she enjoyed herself.
“Both of the girls’ faces light up when they talk about Scotty’s. The charity has been a blessing and the girls have loved the Scotty’s events they’ve attended. Heather gained a spot on an Outward Bound Trust residential in Cumbria which was funded by Scotty’s supporters Annington Homes, and as a family we’ve benefitted from family support sessions with Winston’s Wish, provided by a Scotty’s referral. This was amazing and we’ve all been able to communicate with each other so much better because of the sessions. Scotty’s year-round support means the absolute world to the three of us, we can’t thank them enough.”