Christmas is traditionally a time for getting together with family and friends to eat, drink and fall asleep in front of the Doctor Who Christmas special. But for the British Armed Forces, things are often a little different.
For thousands of UK servicemen and women, Christmas will be spent away from home – but that doesn’t mean they won’t be celebrating. Throughout history, the Armed Forces have found ways to spread Christmas cheer no matter how far away from loved ones they are.
Here’s a look at some of the military traditions and activities, past and present, that help to give the Armed Forces a festive morale boost.
Members of the British Army often kick off Christmas Day with a cuppa – but with a festive twist. ‘Gunfire’ is a cocktail made of black tea laced with rum, traditionally served to soldiers in bed by their officers on Christmas Day.
The drink dates back to at least the 1890s, and is also served by officers to lower ranks to give them Dutch courage before morning attacks. Cheers!
A Christmas feast
Even though deployed troops have to stay vigilant and maintain their duties over Christmas, an effort is always made to make the day special. Troops will sit down to a festive lunch together and, as is tradition, the officers will often serve the soldiers.
92-year-old Bob Bloomfield from London served in the Army for five years during World War II. In 1942 he was stationed at the Black Watch Depot in Perth. He describes how the officers waited on them on Christmas Day, serving a fabulous lunch of turkey, goose, chicken, Christmas pudding, trifle, mince pies and beer. This was followed in the evening by a buffet and dancing. Bob said: “It was the first time I’d tasted turkey. It was good, all of us getting together and enjoying ourselves.”
Getting dressed up
Christmas jumpers have enjoyed a comeback in the last few years, and it’s no different in the military.
Pictures from the Ministry of Defence in 2015 show military personnel stationed around the world donning Christmas jumpers, Santa hats and festive onesies over their uniforms, and getting together to sing carols in between duties.
A charity fun run
In 2012, troops serving in Lashkar Gah in Afghanistan organised the Lash Dash, a 5K run for charity.
Participants and spectators alike sported festive costumes for the event. Lash Dash organiser Captain Emma Wardall said: “We thought it would be a good excuse to get out of the office on Christmas morning and into the sunshine.
“All of the money we’ve raised will go to the Black Rat brigade charity and the Lashkar Gah orphanage.”
Recreating a classic
During World War I, British and German soldiers famously held an unofficial truce at Christmas time in 1914, singing carols, exchanging gifts and playing football in no man’s land.
In 2014, on the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce, British and German soldiers deployed in Afghanistan gathered in a dusty field for a commemorative game of football.
Brigadier James Stopford said: “A hundred years on to see German soldiers and British soldiers again on operations do this is just symbolic of progress and what can be achieved.”
No matter where in the world our brave Armed Forces are on Christmas Day, we’ll be thinking of them and giving thanks for everything they do to keep us safe. Merry Christmas!