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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 December 2007, 16:47 GMT
UK soldiers celebrate Christmas
Air movement staff dress up in Helmand province,  Afghanistan
Air movement staff dress up in Helmand province, Afghanistan
British soldiers spending Christmas in Afghanistan and Iraq have been sending home messages to loved ones and celebrating the festivities.

Military duties are being carried out as normal in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, with many personnel able only to make a quick call home.

At the UK's Basra Airport base, soldiers got a cup of tea in bed as part of a festive Army tradition.

Some soldiers even donned blonde wigs and skirts as celebrations continued.

Those serving with the 1st Battalion, the Scots Guards, enjoyed a rendition of We Wish You A Merry Christmas played by a piper.

I was a bit grumpy, though, when the bagpipes were going
Corporal Gary Simpson

The battalion's commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Willie Swinton and other senior officers served cups of tea and gave presents to about 400 soldiers under his command.

A full Christmas dinner of turkey, cranberry sauce and all the trimmings was later enjoyed, with officers once again serving the troops. Soldiers also helped to raise money for their injured colleagues.

Guardsman Jonathon Esson, 23, from Hamilton, Lanarkshire, said: "It's great at the moment. They've just had a nativity play, everybody is in a good mood.

"A few of the boys have been running around looking a bit daft, dressed as women."

He added: "I've quite enjoyed it. It is probably better than what I thought it would be.

"It's a bit of a change having sunshine for Christmas Day than being up in Scotland in the rain."

Surprise call

After Christmas dinner he was planning to speak to his mother and stepfather, Ann and Peter Scanlon, and girlfriend Amanda Phillips, 21, from Bellshill near Hamilton, on an Army welfare phone.

Corporal Gary Simpson, 28, from Berwick-upon-Tweed, was enjoying his fifth Christmas away since joining the Army.

He said he was also hoping to surprise his family - including parents Keith and Gillian - with a call home.

Like other soldiers, he had already sent his Christmas greetings to friends on the internet.

Describing the atmosphere earlier on, he said: "I was in the tent, there were a lot of people running in, all the officers and all the senior NCOs.

"I was a bit grumpy, though, when the bagpipes were going."

Regular duties

In the forward operating bases in Afghanistan, regular guard duties continue amid the threat of Taleban attack.

But some of those stationed there have been able to send home Christmas messages. Among those were Corporal Lesley Firth, 33, a nurse with the Ministry of Defence hospital unit, who sent a Christmas message to all her family in Grangemouth.

She said: "Thanks for all the presents and goodies and letters they have been sending me. I'm thinking of them and hope they all have a good Christmas."

Another, Scotty Wykes, 19, from Stirling, a craftsman with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, sent a message to parents, Fraser and Zoe, brothers, Steven, Rhys and Lee, and wife, Jenna, 21:

"Merry Christmas, looking forward to getting back and having a good drink. See you all in the New Year," he said.

One carol service was held on Christmas Eve at the British army base of Lashkar Gar.

Padre Neil Allison said: "People want to get together with other people at Christmas time, when you can't have your family around."

Many soldiers will be opening Christmas presents and cards sent from their loved ones back home. This year the Royal Mail agreed to waive postal charges for items being sent to service personnel abroad.

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