Some 4,500 members of the British armed forces are spending Christmas away from home this year on operations around the globe.
The total includes around 1,000 engaged in the fight against the Islamic State terror group, including military trainers working with Iraqi security forces and air personnel flying missions over Iraq and Syria from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
Troops from the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (2 Lancs) are in the Middle East training Iraqi and Kurdish security forces a year after spending the Christmas period helping victims of flooding in the UK.
The 3,700 sailors, Royal Marines and Fleet Air Arm personnel on duty over the festive season is double what it was last year, in large part because of the deployment of HMS Ocean with marines and helicopters to the Persian Gulf. It means one in eight of the 29,400 men and women in naval service is either away from home on patrol or on duty.
HMS Ocean held its Christmas festivities a few days early, with the flagship’s 700-strong crew served their turkey dinner by Captain Rob Pedre and the ship’s officers in line with Royal Navy tradition.
“The atmosphere on board is very good – we’ve got Christmas decorations all around the mess and everyone is super-excited at having Christmas in Dubai,” said 21-year-old Able Seaman Alexia Dooley, from Wickwar in Gloucestershire.
“It is going to be a strange Christmas in a hot country and I’ll miss my family loads, but I’ll make sure I celebrate with them when I get home in the spring.”
Also overseas for Christmas are around 1,200 personnel in the Falkland Islands, military trainers in Afghanistan, the crews of 18 ships and submarines, and troops on operations from Somalia and Nigeria to Kuwait and Ukraine.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said: “For our armed forces, duty never stops and we pay tribute to their unerring determination and professionalism in dealing with the threats Britain faces.
“This Christmas, like any other day, our brave servicemen and women are securing our skies, patrolling the seas and hitting Daesh terrorists hard. At Christmas, it’s particularly important to take a moment to think of those deployed on our behalf across the globe and to let them know how grateful we are for everything that they do to keep Britain safe.”
First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones sent a message to naval personnel: “I understand the commitment you are making, the sense of duty you are showing and just as importantly the impact this has on your loved ones back home. So you are in my thoughts throughout this period.”