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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 11:42 GMT
'Grandma won't be home for Christmas'
Julie Moulson in the Signal Squadron canteen
Julie Moulson: Far from her Leicestershire home
Sergeant Julie Moulson, a 43-year-old grandmother of two, is serving with the British peacekeepers in Bosnia. Here she contemplates her first festive season far from home in our weekly Real Time series.

I arrived in Banja Luka in mid-November for a six-month tour of duty. I work in the communications centre, providing support for the British troops here as part of the international stabilisation force.

Signals Squadron
Julie is one of 57 volunteer soldiers serving in Bosnia, the largest TA unit deployed since WWII
I'm the only grandmother here as far as I know, but there are loads of parents. In every area I go to work, there are photos of kids all over the walls and pictures sent over by sons and daughters.

There are quite a few people here of many different nationalities, and everybody is putting on parties in the run-up to Christmas - karaoke nights, It's A Knockout events, badminton - so there's quite a bit going on to fill the hours when I might otherwise be curled up with a book.

Because so many of us work shifts - some posts need 24-hour manning - it's a case of getting enough people involved without leaving those areas short-staffed.

Christmas Day of rest

On Christmas Day itself, we're going to have a bit of a party but so far I don't many details. Sometimes it can be on a 'need to know' basis here - if they haven't worked out all the problems, they say 'We'll keep you informed'.

Julie Moulson
Julie joined the Territorial Army 14 years ago
This is going to be one of the few Christmas Days that I will do nothing. As you can imagine with quite a big family - three of my four children still live at home - I tend to spend a lot of my Christmas cooking and cleaning and getting ready for meals.

It'll be a novelty to do absolutely nothing but I shall really miss what's going on at home.

Unfortunately I've already missed my grandson Callum's fourth birthday party while I've been out here. My other grandchild, Chelsea, is two on 21 January and I'm going to miss her party as well.

But I am thinking dearly of them and I send a lot of text messages and e-mails. It's nice to suddenly get 'I love you, Nanny' over a text message.

Home far from home

As it's very cold here, usually about -4C, I'm hoping for a lovely white Christmas.

Accommodation - Ministry of Defence photo
The accommodation in Banja Luka
I live in a Corimec [an insulated portacabin], which is like a steel container that's got padding along the walls, a door at one end and a window for two of us sharing. It's very nice and homey actually - better than a tent, let's put it like that.

My roommate and I have made all sorts of festive bit and bobs to stick on our walls. We've bought lights and confetti and tinsel; we've put up Christmas cards and pictures sent from home on the walls, including a lovely snowman Callum made that scatters glitter everywhere. I felt really sad when I first opened it. I thought 'Oh no, I miss him now'.

I'm usually a terrible letter writer, yet out here I can hardly wait for the postman to deliver a little bit of home to me. I get writer's cramp some days from writing to everybody I know.

I'll set time aside on Christmas Day to ring home, and once I've spoken to them I'll sulk a lot because I'm not there. But I do believe in what we're doing here, so that's the good side of it.


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