Christmas Quad Bike DATE 25112022 CREDIT MOD Crown Copyright.jpg
Christmas mail arrives on a quadbike (Picture: MOD).

Christmas with the Taliban: What it's really like being deployed overseas at Christmas

Christmas Quad Bike DATE 25112022 CREDIT MOD Crown Copyright.jpg
Christmas mail arrives on a quadbike (Picture: MOD).

Christmas is almost here and will see thousands of British Armed Forces personnel deployed on operations overseas and spending this special time of year away from their loved ones – but what is it really like?

Here Julian Perreira, who spent 14 years serving all over the world with the Grenadier Guards, describes in his own words just one such Christmas serving overseas on military operations.

Helmand Province Afghanistan was my first overseas Christmas deployment away from family and friends and was during Operation Herrick 11.

The tour had been a very busy one. Our Regimental Sergeant Major Darren Chant had been killed by a rogue Afghan National Policeman only weeks prior, known as an 'insider attack', and morale right across the battalion had plummeted in the lead-up to Christmas.

Because of the five members of the battalion who were killed, things just didn't feel the same.

Getting into the festive spirit just didn't feel right, that was until 'morale boxes' from home or from the charity Operation Christmas Box began to arrive.

It was a hive of activity around Patrol Base Pimon after a Chinook dropped off all the mail – which also included handwritten letters or 'blueys' from loved ones.

The vast quantity of Royal Mail bags being unloaded by the Loadmaster at the rear of the aircraft left me wondering how they even managed to squeeze anyone else into the airframe.

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Handwritten Christmas 'Bluey' letter Julian received from loved ones back home (Picture: Julian Perreira).

Some of the lads within the company didn't receive any mail, although there was always plenty to share around.

My mother always used to add in some extra items to mine, which she asked me to pass on to anyone who didn't receive any mail.

Receiving parcels and letters from back home is what was called a 'force multiplier', meaning morale is high and the unit has become a more effective fighting force.

As the helicopter was unloaded, the morale around the patrol base was a sight to be seen – everyone was donning their newly acquired 's*** Christmas jumpers', wearing them over their military uniform, Santa hats, tinsel around the neck, and flashing lights.

Not to mention the vast quantities of toiletries (we all smelt and needed deodorant), sweets and dried snacks – just a little taste of home, even if only for a few minutes, felt great.

On Christmas day, it wasn't uncommon to see Santa Claus flying a helicopter, driving armoured vehicles, or delivering Christmas presents on a quadbike and trailer!

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British forces deployed overseas making their own entertainment (Picture: MOD).

Before the day, there was lots to do, for example, Royal Logistic Corps Chefs were working hard behind the scenes, to acquire all the necessary ingredients to serve up a cracking Christmas lunch.

The horror stories and rumours suggesting the Christmas turkeys hadn't made it out in time added to the drama.

The night before, everyone in the company booked their 20-minute slot to use the satellite phone on Christmas Day to speak to their mum, dad, kids, or spouse – on a dodgy or broken line it's not the best, but we made do.

Christmas morning started just like back home, but without the hangover. Although some families have been known to try and send out miniature vodka, disguised in travel-size mouthwash bottles, with food colouring added to conceal the real content, so that their loved ones could have a small tipple on Christmas Day.

After spending the morning drinking tea and coffee, playing board games, sharing funny stories, and discussing where or what is the first thing we would be doing or eating when we got back home to blighty, we sat down to eat our Christmas lunch. Although it was good, no-one can beat your family’s Christmas dinner, right?

I remember how bitterly cold it was as we all sat down on a mish-mash of tables and chairs of differing sizes, fashioned out of Hesco Bastion.

We all sang carol songs badly as we all dug into our freshly cooked meal (minus those on sentry duty still keeping watch, who were then quickly swapped out with those who had eaten their Christmas lunch the quickest).

It definitely beat eating ration packs, like we had done for the previous few months. The RLC Chefs had cooked up a delicious Christmas meal with all the trimmings and, as the tradition has it, it was served to us by the officers and senior non-commissioned officers.

We managed to get through our Christmas day meal without any tragedy or the daily firefights with any Taliban interrupting the day – I still like to think that they kind of knew we'd be busy celebrating and gave us Christmas Day off.

However, just as the sun set and we all started to settle down for the evening, a volley of Rocket Propelled Grenades and machine-gun fire, including tracer rounds, came cracking over the patrol base and all of the members of our company 'stood to' – donning body armour and helmets – some still wearing their Christmas jumpers while shooting back.

The firefight didn't last long and was most likely just a quick message from the Taliban, letting us all know they were most definitely still there, and as a warning that normal activity would resume the next day, which it did.

Spending Christmas morning opening your presents and having Christmas lunch with your military family isn't quite the same, but you're sure to have one or two stories for your grandchildren at future family Christmas gatherings.

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