UK troops to receive Christmas box

Mid Devon Star: Every soldier in Helmand Province will get a box to open on Christmas Day courtesy of UK4U Every soldier in Helmand Province will get a box to open on Christmas Day courtesy of UK4U

They may be stuck thousands of miles from home, but British soldiers serving in Afghanistan will still get a Christmas present thanks to a UK-based charity.

Every soldier in Helmand Province, as well as others deployed on operations overseas, will get a box to open on Christmas Day courtesy of charity UK4U.

The idea comes from the very first Christmas Box created by Princess Mary, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, who wanted to send a "gift from the nation" to all wearing the King's uniform and serving overseas on Christmas Day 1914.

The tradition was continued until 1920, funded by public contributions, by which time almost £200,000 had been donated to provide more than two-and-a-half million boxes.

In 2004 the idea was reborn with 18,000 boxes, designed to be the same size as the standard 24-hour Operational Ration Packs, distributed.

It was originally a one-off idea, but proved so popular that it was decided to set up a registered charity to continue sending boxes each year as a morale booster for troops away from home at Christmas.

Major Luke Dance, a logistics operations officer based at Camp Bastion, is the man responsible for making sure every member of UK personnel in Afghanistan gets their own box, no matter where they are.

Maj Dance, a staff officer with 502 Logistics Operations, said 9,600 boxes will be coming from the UK to cover every person who is entitled to get one.

"We had 9,600 from the UK which is based on how many people were anticipated to be here, including UK military, MoD civilians and contractors that the UK is responsible for.

"If there's additional boxes then we are allowed to give them to our sponsored nations, like the Danish and the Estonians, so in some of the forward bases where we are operations together some of the Danish and Estonians maybe getting them.

"It's not just to those of us here, it's to UK forces deployed overseas. They go to the Falklands and to Her Majesty's ships."

The 32-year-old, from Oxford, said the boxes, which include things such as wind-up torches, vouchers, keyrings and packs of cards, arrive in Afghanistan and then are broken down into allocations for various units and transported to where they need to be, including the few forward operating bases that are left.

He said the task was challenging, and very different from most of the logistics involving the British military effort in Afghanistan.

"One of the key things is making sure that there is enough, and everybody gets a box on Christmas Day.

"Who is the soldier who doesn't get one on Christmas Day?

"It's time-critical and it has to be one for everybody, whereas with a lot of logistics we can either get it there early or sent too many and not have to worry about it.

"But with this, it's a case of one per person for all entitled personnel.

"It's taking down all the odds and sods, where we have got one person here or one person there, because they aren't in our normal logistic chain."

And although the boxes do not contain anything valuable or expensive, he said: "It's as much the thought as anything else, and it's a nice thing to have.

"They are actually fairly collectable. We've been asked to return some for the Imperial War Museum."

The boxes should technically be saved until Christmas Day, but Maj Dance said some troops might get them early if they would be out working on operations on Wednesday.

The 32-year-old is on his third tour of Afghanistan, and will receive his own box as he spends Christmas away from wife Suzanne.

"I was at home last Christmas, the Christmas before I was in Afghanistan, the Christmas before I was in Northern Ireland, and the Christmas before I was in Afghanistan.

"For me Christmas is about family, so it's not nice being away. It's nice to be able to speak to your friends and family back at home on Christmas Day and it's nice to know there's people in the UK thinking about you while you're out here."

He has already received some Christmas cards in the post, and said on Wednesday he and colleagues would get together, eat Christmas dinner and enjoy the day, adding: "It's nice, people kind of make the effort."

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