THOUSANDS of families across Oxfordshire will be celebrating Christmas tomorrow, but for many of our servicemen and women it’s business as usual.
Whether that’s soldiers serving in Afghanistan or airmen working at county bases like RAF Brize Norton, they will continue to work to protect their country.
But despite being separated from their loved ones many of those in the armed forces will have a brighter Christmas, thanks to an Oxford Mail-backed campaign.
Nearly 200 Christmas parcels are on their way to Oxfordshire’s troops in Afghanistan thanks to a successful shoebox appeal.
Jo-Anne Box, from Chipping Norton, launched the campaign to collect gifts for troops after her brother, Andrew Rorke, left for a six-month tour of Afghanistan in September, meaning he will spend Christmas away from home.
The 32-year-old mum of three recruited businesses to become drop-off points and encouraged residents to donate items.
She said: “Thank you to the Oxford Mail for getting the word out.
“The response has been brilliant, I cannot get over it. We had so many people who wanted to help pack parcels.”
She said her family and volunteers packed 197 boxes that should reach the war-torn country in time for the big day, with a further 25 parcels that will be sent in January.
Father of two Mr Rorke, 33, is a staff sergeant in the Royal Logistic Corps, based at Dalton Barracks, Abingdon.
Mrs Box’s mother-in-law Eileen Box, from Chipping Norton, said: “We packed up everything nicely and had something of everything in the boxes. We quite enjoyed it and had a cup of tea and cake at the end.
“I think it is very good. Jo said it will take her mind off him being there and hopefully he will be back soon, safe and well.”
The parcels were collected for the charity Support Our Soldiers.
While the rest of the county tucks into Christmas dinner with their family tomorrow, service personnel at RAF Brize Norton will continue work as normal.
Troops at the West Oxfordshire airbase, now the largest in the country, continue to de-ice aircraft and the airfield and check-in personnel heading out on tours.
But the servicemen and women on duty will take time out during Christmas Day to have a meal served by the Station Commander and other officers.
Group Captain Steve Lushington, Station Commander and waiter for the day, said: “Hopefully we will put a smile on their faces and they will get a chance to rush off and be with their loved ones when they have finished their shift.”
Squadron Leader the Rev Kevin Caplin-Jones, RAF chaplain, said: “It was a great experience last year, my wife was with me and some personnel bought family along.
“There was that family feel – the military family – and everyone was in very good spirits as the portions of potatoes were getting bigger and bigger.
“The best gift at Christmas is ‘presence’. For those who have had loved ones away last year, they will know that having loved ones around is the best gift.”
Business as usual for the heroes keeping us safe
- Corporal Emma Hopkinson, 32, works on the passenger check-in desk at the terminal and knows many will be away for Christmas.
She said: “My job is no different at Christmas, but I try to be a bit more jolly.
“I have done Iraq, Afghanistan and Ascension Islands at Christmas, so I know what it is like being away at this time.”
Cpl Hopkinson will be on shift at Christmas, but has set aside a day in the new year to have a late festivity with her family.
She said: “I remember one year my mum bought a second turkey and it stayed in the freezer until February.
- Cpl John Oliver, 27, works at the Complete Equipment Schedule looking after the maintenance of vehicles and will be on standby during Christmas.
He said: “We have spent the last two months preparing and bringing online all the snow and ice prevention vehicles.
“Getting the airfield cleared is very important, especially for those personnel who want to get home in the last couple of days before Christmas.”
- Wing Commander Stuart Lindsell, 39, Officer Commanding 99 Squadron, has volunteered to work at Christmas.
He said: “It is very much business as usual. We have crews on aeromed standby, a crew based in the Middle East ready for normal tasking, and the squadron engineers are ready to generate an aircraft at short notice should an aeromed mission be called. They will also be manning the engineer control desks as normal.”