One in every ten sailors, Royal Marines and Fleet Air Arm air and ground crew will be on duty this festive season – more than 3,000 men and women in all.
From the sands of the Gulf and the struggle against ISIL and modern-day pirates to the edge of the frozen continent, the sandy beaches and palm trees of the Caribbean to the depths of the Atlantic and snow-tipped peaks of the Highlands, a good 20 warships, auxiliaries, Fleet Air Arm squadrons and Royal Marines units are deployed, on call, or on duty as 2014 draws to a close.
All end the year with a big ‘thank-you’ from the country’s most senior sailor, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas for a “magnificent team effort… from fighting floods at home to helping in the fight against ISIL and Ebola abroad, and much more besides” during “another busy – and very successful – year.”
Ships away over Christmas stocked up with many of the things they needed to celebrate before leaving the UK – crackers, cards, presents, decorations, frozen turkeys – while British Forces Post Office has delivered parcels and post to the four corners of the globe to bring some welcome cheer on the big day.
Santa has already dropped in on Portsmouth minehunter HMS Atherstone, deployed to the Gulf for three years. Assisted by elf-for-the-day AB(D) Gary Chambers, he clambered down the ship’s funnel and into the mess decks to distribute gifts to the 40 or so souls aboard – presents not just from families, but Plymouth Royal Naval Association, Fortnum and Mason and UK4U.
“Spending Christmas away from our families is never easy, but the ship’s company enjoyed a great day, making the most of the festive season during a well-earned break in our busy operational tour here in the Middle East,” said Lt Cdr Simon Pressdee, the Crazy A’s Commanding Officer.
“We are all very grateful for the generosity shown by our families and the many Service charities who sent gifts out to us, and of course to our special visitor.
“The whole ship’s company of HMS Atherstone send their heartiest ‘Merry Christmas’ back to all our friends and family, and we look forward to celebrating with you in the New Year.”
At sea, Christmas Day in a surface ship is typically a relaxed affair – although watch routines are, of course, maintained as normal – with the age-old tradition of officers serving ratings their dinner maintained (and in some cases the most junior or youngest member of the ship’s company is permitted to be captain for the day).
All those away get an extra 30 minutes to call home over Christmas – on top of the 30 minutes a week they receive every week as part of the welfare package for all units while deployed.