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25 December 2016, 04:13
Portsmouth-based Royal Navy sailors, away for Christmas Day on deployment, have been sending messages for their loved ones back home.
Five Portsmouth warships are away - HMS Daring, Mersey, Middleton, Chiddingfold, and Clyde.
Twice as many sailors, Royal Marines, and Fleet Air Arm personnel are on duty this festive season than last - more than 3,700 men and women in all at home and abroad. A total of 18 warships, submarines, auxiliaries, Fleet Air Arm squadrons and Royal Marines units are deployed, on call, or on duty as 2016 draws to a close.
They are operating from the sands of the Gulf and the struggle against Daesh to the edge of the frozen continent, the sandy beaches and palm trees of the Caribbean to the depths of the Atlantic, the shores of the Aegean and central Mediterranean, the windswept Falklands and equally unforgiving Western Approaches.
Last year 1,700 men and women in the Senior Service were on duty over the Christmas period. This year - thanks in part to the deployment of a capital ship (HMS Ocean) and her Royal Marines and helicopter air group to the Gulf, where the carrier leads the US Task Group 50 - that figure has more than doubled.
There is also one of four strategic nuclear deterrent Vanguard-class submarines on patrol, conducting a mission the Silent Service has performed around the clock for nearly half a century, plus a couple of hunter-killer submarines.
It means one in every eight of the 29,400 men and women in the Senior Service's trained strength is either away from home on patrol or on duty.
Watch these messages from sailors deployed on board Portsmouth-based HMS Mersey.
They all end the year with a big 'thank-you' from the country's most senior sailor, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones, who said from the many Christmases he spent away from home earlier in his career, he knew what those deployed were going through.
"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," he said.
"If 2016 was a busy year for the Royal Navy, 2017 promises to be busier still, not least as we commission a 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier. This will provide a huge opportunity to demonstrate the role the Royal Navy plays to protect the UK's security and prosperity, and to support our growing global ambition."
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 the 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.
Commander Nick Stone is responsible for choreographing supplies for all Royal Navy ships, units and squadrons in the Middle East.
He and fellow staff at the Royal Navy's headquarters in Bahrain will be marking the big day with Christmas carols followed by turkey baguettes.
"I'm disappointed that I will miss the one time of the year when I get to see all the wider family, but on the bright side, I will be home for the summer," said the 40-year-old from Lymm in Cheshire.
"We will do our best to make sure the day is as fun as possible."
Half a world away, Lieutenant Guy Dimmock will be opening the present his wife Jacqui gave him before he joined Antarctic survey ship HMS Protector.
"I am obviously sad to be away from my family, but I will be surrounded by the 80 other members of the ship's company who will also be away from home so I am sure we will celebrate in our own unique way," said the 36-year-old.
"I think it will be a Christmas of good moral and joviality. We are all away from our families and we have to enjoy the time despite that and make the most of the spending Christmas in a different and unique part of the world."
Christmas Day 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).
Apart from submariners on a nuclear deterrent patrol, everyone away gets 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.