WHILE tucking into your dinner on Christmas Day, spare a thought for the hundreds of troops from the Portsmouth area who will be hard at work in Afghanistan.
The News flew out to the warzone to speak to soldiers, sailors and airmen on the front line to get their festive messages of goodwill.
In the busy city of Gereshk, where Taliban suicide bombers and assassination squads have been active in recent weeks, soldiers from First Battalion Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1PWRR) – known as the Tigers – are getting in the festive mood, despite being 5,000 miles from home.
Sergeant Baz Bliss, 35, from Waterlooville, said: ‘We’ve managed to sort out things and do a secret Santa.
‘Everyone’s names were put into a box and you draw them out. We’ve got a £5 limit to spend. There’s not a lot to buy out here so I think we’ve all bought silly things. It’s about taking the mick out of the blokes. It’s all good for morale.’
C Company of the Tigers is in Camp Bastion for Christmas after completing its mission to hand over control of a previously dangerous district – Nad-e Ali – to the Afghan government. They are carrying out training exercises before moving back out to the front line.
Corporal Tony Johnston, 21, of Fratton, said: ‘We are due to move at any time so we don’t know where we’re going to be for Christmas. For me, there’s no Christmas this year – there’s no such thing. I’m just treating it like another day.’
But for first-time dad Private Dan Clover, 23, of Waterlooville, it’s a different story. Pte Clover has booked two weeks’ leave so he can spend Christmas with his fiancée Kirsty, 22, and baby daughter Darcie.
He said: ‘She was born on November 19.
‘I’ve not seen her so it should be interesting.
‘I can’t wait to get home, I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot.
‘It’s been quite busy but I’ve managed to do all my Christmas shopping online.’
But it’s not just the Tigers out in Afghanistan – soldiers from the Thorney Island-based 47th regiment Royal Artillery are based in Camp Bastion flying unmanned aircraft to provide overhead surveillance to troops on the ground.
Lance Bombardier Luke Casey, 23, of Landport, will work an eight-hour shift flying a Hermes drone in the Afghan skies.
He said: ‘The battery is trying to put on a few things like carol singing and we’ll have a Christmas meal and things but I’ll be doing my regular shift.
‘I have a few presents to open so I’ve got something to look forward to. It’s not going to be the same, but what can you do?’
For Lance Bombardier Steve Blackman, 28, of Gosport, it’s his third time away at Christmas and he said his thoughts will be with his wife of two years Charlotte, daughters Grace, seven, Sophie, four, and seven-month-old son Max.
He said: ‘I don’t enjoy being away for Christmas with the kids being at home. I would much rather be at home, it can be pretty lonely being out here for Christmas.’
The Royal Navy also has a considerable presence out in the desert in support of frontline operations.
Petty Officer Ashley Jarvis, 34, who is based at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, is an IT technician working at Camp Bastion where Christmas dinner and entertainment will be laid on for the troops.
He said: ‘It’s my first time away for Christmas, it’s going to be a bit strange not getting back to see my family.
‘But my family know I’m out here and what I’m doing.
‘Coming out here you’ve got a big load of people altogether and everybody here supports one another. You are not left on your own.’
Royal Marine Major John Hayward, 32, of Drayton, also works in Camp Bastion, making sure the troops on the ground have the kit they need.
He said: ‘It’s about getting people together and making sure no one is sat in their room on the day.
‘For people out here, it’s hard enough being away from our families.
‘We are a family out here so it’s about everybody taking part.’