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Service personnel in festive mood

Troops in Afghanistan have got into the festive spirit and celebrated the last Christmas British forces will spend in Helmand province.

More than four tonnes of food, along with thousands of party hats, streamers and Christmas crackers were sent to Afghanistan so that personnel could celebrate despite being away from home.

Pictures show members of the Army, Royal Navy and RAF, who are deployed on operations over Christmas, enjoying the December 25 festivities.

At Camp Bastion and across the UK's area of operations, around 6,000 personnel have tucked into two tonnes of turkey, o ne and a quarter tonnes of gammon, ha lf a tonne of Brussels sprouts, and 8,400 mince pies.

Father Christmas even paid several visits to the troops.

With members of the Military Working Dogs team, including Private Katie Gibson and Sugar, her English springer spaniel, already in the Christmas mood, members of 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery firing a 105mm gun were surprised when Santa, better known as Regimental Sergeant Major Scott Hawke, appeared on a lorry and delivered presents.

There was a Christmas Eve carol service outside Commander Task Force Helmand's office, before hundreds of personnel attended Midnight Mass services in tented chapels across Bastion.

As Britain slept this morning, hundreds of runners gathered in a corner of the Camp to start a half marathon round the British and American sectors, sporting everything from Christmas cracker body suits to traditional Santa hats.

They watched as Father Christmas waved from a Chinook helicopter swooping overhead, and then witnessed him jog into view and fire a 105mm artillery gun to set the runners on their way.

Senior Logistics Officer Major Luke Dance from Oxford, is serving in Joint Force Support, Camp Bastion over Christmas. He said: "Being away from home at Christmas is always difficult for any soldier.

"We have an important job to do here, but we try to make sure that as many people as possible get to sit down and have a traditional Christmas lunch.

"It's a good morale boost and the small details help to bring a little bit of home to Afghanistan."

With the drawdown already under way, all combat troops are due to have left by the end of 2014.

It is not just men and women in Afghanistan who have enjoyed a Christmas Dinner away from home.

Thousands of personnel deployed on ships or stationed around the globe in Cyprus, the Falklands Islands or Gibraltar have also enjoyed a festive meal.

HMS Illustrious, whose recent deployment was extended to deliver critical humanitarian aid to the Philippines, made special arrangements for Christmas.

The Ship's Commander Logistics, Phil Hally, said: "When our deployment was extended we arranged for Christmas Boxes to be sent out for every member of the Ship's Company.

"Everyone plays their part in the preparations, with officers helping to peel potatoes and serve, but leaving it to the professionals to cook the turkeys.

"Although it isn't the same as having Christmas at home with our loved ones, Christmas lunch at sea in this iconic ship really isn't a bad second best!"


From Belfast Telegraph