IN ROYAL Navy households this Christmas there will be empty seats for brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mums, and dads who are serving at sea.
Part of service life for sailors in Portsmouth means being deployed on operations over the holidays, and this year is no exception.
The Royal Navy has seven Portsmouth-based ships away at sea over Christmas, but months of planning has taken place to ensure those on board do not miss out on the festivities.
On board HMS Illustrious, sailors have just taken on a huge delivery of mail and Christmas parcels.
There were more than 600 bags of mail taken to the ship filled with messages and gifts from families and friends of those on board.
The ship was due to be home in time for Christmas, but when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, she was sent to the islands to provide humanitarian aid.
Royal Marines Band Colour Sergeant John ‘Bandy’ Lether said: ‘I understand this is by far the biggest mail delivery that the British Forces Post Office has made for a long time.
‘A lot of the mail had to be diverted from other places after we were re-tasked at short notice to go to the Philippines.
‘Even so, we were staggered at the sheer amount of mail that has arrived.
‘I think the BFPO may be able to teach Father Christmas a few things about making sure the right parcels get to the right place.’
The ship picked up its stores in Singapore when she called in to replenish food, fuel, and essential stores.
HMS Illustrious has completed her aid operation and is now on the long journey home.
The remaining crew of around 530 men and women are expected to be reunited with their families in Portsmouth some time in early January.
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in the South Atlantic ocean, preparations are well under way for the ship’s company of HMS Richmond to enjoy their own Christmas at sea.
The logistics officers on board the Portsmouth-based frigate have been planning their festive feast since January this year, when they knew the ship would be on operations.
Today, those on board will sing carols, followed by tea and mince pies in the hangar in preparation for tomorrow.
Lieutenant Commander Lucy Ottley is HMS Richmond’s logistics officer.
She said: ‘Knowing the ship would be away for Christmas this year, but with many other demands on her programme to contend with, including only seven weeks alongside in base port this year, our preparations started well in advance to ensure the ship’s company would have all they needed to celebrate Christmas.’
After an early morning phone call home on Christmas Day, the ship’s chefs will be hard at work in the galley for hours preparing lunch for the hungry men and women on board.
As reported in The News, the ship’s company of HMS Richmond recorded a heartwarming Christmas message this year, with a reading of the classic poem The Night Before Christmas.
Sailors on board all of the ships deployed at sea have also been sending back Christmas messages to their families.
There are seven Portsmouth-based ships away at sea for the Christmas period: HMS Illustrious; HMS Daring; HMS Richmond; HMS Protector; HMS Westminster; HMS Quorn; and HMS Atherstone.