UK troops prepare for Christmas in Afghanistan

UK troops prepare for Christmas in Afghanistan
By Tom Coughlan, in Camp Bastion, Helmand
Last Updated: 6:47am GMT 24/12/2007

Christmas morning will start early for British soldiers facing the Taliban in the First World War-style trenches that criss-cross southern Afghanistan.

About 7am at Garmser, the most southerly British frontline positions in Helmand province, the sandbagged fighting positions are likely to receive their first incoming fire of the day.

It is something of a ritual, for at this point the rising sun sits directly behind part of the Taliban lines a few hundred yards of desert away and the Taliban fighters can blaze away while the British gunners squint into the glare.

The British troops, a mixture of Royal Military Police, Royal Gurkha Rifles and members of the Household Cavalry, are not expecting any let up for Christmas.

"We'll be 'stood to' until they decide to have a go," said Sergeant Kraig Whalley, a 29-year-old Royal Military Policeman from Macclesfield, who will spend much of Christmas Day looking down the barrel of a heavy machinegun.

For the Royal Military Police contingent the only concession to the season will be three local chickens, procured for $7 (£3.50) apiece from a helpful Afghan policeman, and served roasted on a spit with tinned potatoes and baked beans.

advertisement"We were thinking of challenging the Taliban to a game of football on Christmas Day, but I'm not sure they'd get the joke," said Sgt Whalley.

The trench systems around Forward Operating Base Delhi are a place of daily exchanges in static positions, which Sgt Whalley compares to the First World War, and the famous Christmas truce of 1914 in which British and German soldiers laid down their arms to play football.

Though he says that morale among the British troops is high, there are regular British casualties and for many of those serving in Helmand thoughts will inevitably turn to the 39 British soldiers who have died in the country this year, and to their families.

The last of them was Trooper Jack Sadler, a 21-year-old Territorial Army soldier from the Honourable Artillery Company, killed by a mine on Dec 4.

"Jack's death has made me a lot less naive," said Trooper Lorna Kelly, 30.

"There are only six of us from HAC in Helmand. To be honest I never thought it would happen to one of us. It has been very hard, though it's nothing compared to his family's suffering."

A highly paid investment banker for Credit Suisse in civilian life, Trooper Kelly is one of several soldiers from the City of London-based unit to give up a year of handsomely remunerated work in the Square Mile for training and deployment in Helmand.

At the main British base, the sprawling Camp Bastion, tinsel glinted in the desert sun and every effort was being made to put aside thoughts of war.

As well as church services in the camp chapel, the Church of St Michael and All Angels, which is really just a tent, there are preparations for a pantomime performance of Aladdin and a Christmas dinner with turkey in relays, at which, by tradition, officers will serve the troops.

The camp postal service contains the only people with reservations about a surge in parcels posted by the British public following calls from Army commanders to offer greater public support to British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yesterday 3,000 bags of mail arrived, many containing boxes simply addressed to "a soldier serving in Afghanistan".

There have been enough such parcels to give every one of the 7,200 men and women in theatre two each.

"It has exceeded all expectations and it shows people care," said Cpl Dave Arkel, 35, knee deep in parcels in the mailroom.

"But it's a lot of pressure on us."
May I be the first on this thread to add a heartfelt thank you to all our service people and in particular those serving overseas. Mrs Intothesilk2 gets emotional this time of the year and also sends her best wishes.

Thank you lads and lassies for being who you are and the cream of this once proud country. And to all those who families that have lost a loved one and those who are missing from the table this year, God bless.
in The Times as well

To a soldier, presents from a grateful nation

Nick Meo Camp Bastion, Afghanistan
British soldiers fighting in Afghanistan have been deluged with parcels from wellwishers back home, many of whom addressed their gifts simply “to a soldier”.

Long-serving Army figures have been overwhelmed by the flood of parcels and letters which they say have boosted morale for more than 7,000 personnel who face Christmas in a dangerous war zone thousands of miles from their families in Britain.

Sacks of parcels have been pouring into Afghanistan at a rate of 700 a day, forcing the military to hire two civilian helicopters to deliver all the mail to the troops and challenging helicopter loadmasters to find ways of delivering the sacks to forward operating bases along with ammunition and supplies.

Staff Sergeant Stephen Wild, from Warminster, Wiltshire, was one of the soldiers put on special duty sorting the mail. He said: “It’s the first time in 18 years in the Army that I have ever seen anything like it. We are really grateful for the goodwill of people at home ? this is a huge morale boost.”

This year the Royal Mail waived charges to deliver post to the military’s sorting office in Mill Hill, London, after General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, challenged them to do so.

From Mill Hill the post is taken to RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, then flown by Hercules transport aircraft to Kandahar and on to Camp Bastion, where it is sorted. Chinook helicopters then deliver it to soldiers in desert outposts that face daily attack from the Taleban.

Snacks, cakes, toiletries, puzzles and books have been enclosed in the parcels, many of which are wrapped as Christmas gifts. Thousands more cards have been received. A typical one simply said: “With thanks for all you do from a lady in Cornwall.” Another wished troops a “Merry Christmas from the staff, parents and children of Town Field Primary School in Doncaster”.

One wellwisher even sent a cheque for £1,000 with a note requesting that it be spent on “the boys for Christmas”. Major Richard Slack, of B Squadron The King’s Royal Hussars, said: “The problem is that in the desert there isn’t anything to spend the money on. We’ll probably put it in a fund for wounded soldiers.”

The deluge has caused logistics problems, especially because helicopters have been busy in the last fortnight with the recapture of the town of Musa Qala from the Taleban.

The demands of war have meant that Christmas Day will be a normal working day for most of the 3,000 personnel at Camp Bastion, a sprawling base in the Helmand desert, although soldiers were preparing to make the best of it. Tents were decorated with tinsel and Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybodywas playing in the cookhouse yesterday as soldiers ate their meals while guns boomed out from a nearby range. No alcohol is allowed on the base, and the only festive drink on offer in the coffee bar is Santa’s tipple, a strawberry-flavoured ice slush drink.

Major Slack, who said his men had been in fights with the Taleban on 50 of the last 52 days in Helmand, said: “Getting all this post doesn’t necessarily mean that people at home understand what it is like out here. But it does show how much support there is for us.”

Have your say

I would just like to say a big thank you on behalf of all the forces I have been lucky enough to be a home this Christmas but last year I was in Iraq and we also received post to a "solider" some just a card some huge boxes, believe me it is received so gratefully when your a million miles from home that someone who you don't know has spent their money and their TIME to send you a card I know that we tried to reply to all of them saying thank you
Little things like this make me proud to serve our Queen and country and are some relief even in a war zone


A Serviceman , GREAT Britain,

Hurrah for the British Soliders and three cheers for all the Brits who sent them gifts and good cheer over the Christmas season!

I always liked that the Americans sent their soliders gifts and items that they may need in the field over the holidays and throughout the year. I hope that this will continue to be a British tradition over the Christmas Season.

Grace, London/NY,
"We were thinking of challenging the Taliban to a game of football on Christmas Day, but I'm not sure they'd get the joke," said Sgt Whalley.

Absolute classic.
Stay safe fellas.
Explains why when I spoke to my sister on the phone saturday she hadnt received the parcel I sent Dec 3rd. She did mention a 'sh1t load' of post that had arrived the day before, hopefully it will be in that lot, after all how will she get through Christmas without a singing hamster and a refreshing bottle of 'shampoo'.
God bless all our service men and women, to all those in harms way take care and I wish you all a safe and speedy return to your loved ones.

Merry Christmas.
Stay safe guys and girls. Merry Xmas to you all.
I have raised £820 at my work and I am going to support my local battalion when it deploys in 2008 why don't you all do the same and keep the parcels flowing.
Oh and a guid New Year as well
The Telegraph article shows one of the parcels carefully wrapped in Christmas paper and addressed to 'A British Soldier'. However, it's the extra label saying "Please give to a girl soldier who has not been sent anything from home. Merry Xmas." that left my eyes a bit watery. Such a thoughtful gesture.

We're thinking of you all back home, lads and lasses. Have a good 'un.
Stay safe all. Keep your head down Kraig.
If I find any squaddies in my locals over xmas, will be buying them pints!
Guys, be safe!
Never went in harms way in my time, unless you count sniffing around the MQs looking for packets of OMO in the window (ask your Dad) in Aldershot in the 60s, I'll be raising a glass or three to you, keep well and a Merry Christmas with a Happy and Safe New Year.

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