Soldiers serving in Afghanistan celebrated Christmas with traditional roast turkey lunch

Around 9,000 servicemen and women are deployed in Helmand Province an

Troops serving in Afghanistan celebrated Christmas with presents from home, a traditional roast turkey lunch and a charity fun run today.

Around 9,000 servicemen and women are deployed in Helmand Province and an extra effort was made today to make sure they were given some "down time".

At the medical centre in Main Operating Base Lashkar Gah, staff opened Secret Santa presents and gifts from family.

With a Christmas playlist on in the background, featuring Driving Home For Christmas by Chris Rea and the Pogues' song Fairytale Of New York with Kirsty MacColl, the medics tore away wrapping paper to find home comforts such as new socks, underwear and toiletries.

Many wore pyjamas and all-in-one sleepsuits, while eating toasted bacon bagels for breakfast.

Private Amy Louise Johnson, 23, from Newcastle upon Tyne, who serves with the 3 Medical Regiment, said: "Before I left, I thought I would be sad and missing all my family around the table, but we are such a team here that it's like having your family here with you and you're all in it together.

"I think it's just part of being a soldier - getting on with it."

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, (1 LANCS), held their own celebrations with cups of tea, festive hats and Christmas jumpers.

Commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Nick Wood addressed the troops to thank them for their hard work on the tour so far, and wished everybody a merry Christmas.

In Lashkar Gah, hundreds of soldiers and spectators gathered in costumes for the Lash Dash, a 5K fun run for charity.

Captain Callum Fraser, 28, a Royal Military Police officer from Helensburgh, Argyll, dressed up as a robot covered in tinsel and glitter, with Christmas crackers glued on to his makeshift outfit.

He said: "We're just having a laugh. It's Christmas - time to let your hair down."

Lash Dash organiser Captain Emma Wardall, 25, from Wiltshire, who is with the 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, said: "We thought it would be a good excuse to get out of the office on Christmas morning and into the sunshine.

"All of the money we've raised will go to the Black Rat brigade charity and the Lashkar Gah orphanage."

At lunchtime, troops made their way into the main dining tent, where turkey and all the trimmings were served, along with mince pies and Christmas pudding.

Senior ranking officers maintained Army tradition by serving soldiers their sprouts and carrots.

Thousands of balloons, crackers, party poppers and hats were flown in to the areas of operations specially, and more than 130 tonnes of Christmas post was delivered to Camp Bastion this week, to be handed out among bases.

Captain Daniel Turner, 36, from Bristol, who serves with the Royal Dragoon Guards, said: "It's fantastic, I've had turkey and sprouts and have had a great time sitting with my friends.

"It's great having a day like today halfway through the tour."

It was business as usual for many troops on the front line, as members of the Royal Military Police and the Royal Dragoon Guards set off on an early morning patrol.

The group of about 20 soldiers went out on foot patrol to visit Afghan National Police officers, a practice they have been carrying out daily.

Corporal Alex Petrie, 28, from Rutherglen, near Glasgow, is a Royal Military Police officer.

He said: "It's a different experience, a different way of celebrating Christmas, but I'm missing my wife and kids."

Lance Corporal Johnny Birch, 23, from Leeds, who serves with the Royal Dragoon Guards, said: "We're doing five weeks of training with the Afghan policemen so they can be instructors on things like counter-IED (improvised explosive device) and first aid.

"It's not too bad spending Christmas here, but obviously there's a lot of places you'd rather be."

Corporal James Keenan, from the Alpha Company of 40 Commando, Royal Marines, said it was "a bummer" to spend Christmas away from friends and family.

The 24-year-old, from Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, said: "Obviously there's a reason why the forces are out here so we have to keep on with the job."

Celebrations and lunches were laid on at bases across Helmand, including Camp Bastion and Forward Operating Base Shawqat, as well as Camp Tombstone and Main Operating Base Price, where the Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, (1 SCOTS), are operating.

Every soldier serving in Afghanistan received a Christmas lunch or dinner, even those in remote patrol bases, as Army chefs travelled around to serve them freshly-cooked meals.

A Christmas pantomime, loosely based on Aladdin, was put on by troops at the base in Lashkar Gah, spoof-starring "Cheryl Cole" and "Ross Kemp".

Producer Captain Ash Greenwood, 27, a Royal Engineer from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, described the show as "a modern twist on a classic".

PA

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