As a former army officer, I know how much soldiers on operations relish receiving parcels from home. When serving in Iraq over Easter, I was sent a Swiss chocolate Easter bunny wrapped in gold foil, with a red ribbon and bell around its neck. Apart from the amusement of receiving such an incongruous item in a war zone, chocolate has never tasted, and will never taste, so good. I was lucky my bunny arrived intact, as, during seasonal holidays, the system can become inundated with gifts from a generous public and, due to operational priorities, personal parcels can take time to be delivered.

 

soilder cartoon

L/Cpl Kevin Deacon (1st Battalion The Rifles), Afghanistan
Best present A regular copy of the Swindon Advertiser (my local paper)
Present I’d like Any sort of lads’ magazine
Most memorable experience News of the birth of my daughter and going back to see her for the first time on R&R
Greatest challenge Going back on tour

Staff Sgt Garry Cron (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers), Iraq

Best present A toy duck that quacked when you patted it
Present I’d have liked Desert boots
Most memorable experience Looting during the invasion of Basra. I saw people trying to row across the Euphrates in a bullet-ridden rowing boat with a fridge-freezer in it, which consequently sank
Greatest challenge Not being allowed to give stuff to the Iraqi children

Lt-Col Sacha Tomes (Blues and Royals), Iraq
Best present received An old-fashioned sweet jar full of apples
Present I’d have liked A long gin and tonic, although it wouldn’t have been allowed, and Trumper’s shaving cream
Most memorable experience Visiting the ambassador in Kuwait and seeing a luscious green lawn with sprinklers, then removing my boots and socks and walking on it
Greatest challenge The heat (up to 50˚C). The worst moment was the silent drive to the airport for the flight home-with everyone praying that this wouldn’t be the time for an Improvised Explosive Device (IED)

L/Cpl Tyron Van Greune (Queen’s Royal Hussars), Iraq
Best present A box full of goodies from my wife-sweets, books, DVDs, letters and drawings from my kids
Present I’d like A cold swimming pool
Most memorable experience A two-night stay in a five-star hotel in Kuwait during operational stand-down
Greatest challenge Going out on that first patrol, not knowing what surprises would be thrown at us over the next seven months. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life

Cpl Rachael Dalziel (RAF Regiment), Afghanistan
Best present Magazines from my mother, and five bags of sweets a week that I’d give out to the boys
Present I’d have liked DVDs-there weren’t many chick flicks about!
Most memorable experience Going on patrol with one of the combat-rifle flights, as my role as the squadron’s clerk didn’t really involve going outside the wire
Greatest challenge The heat, the smell and missing friends and family

Maj Tim Jones (9th/12th Royal Lancers), Iraq
Best present Pictures from my children, Earl Grey tea
Present I’d like A new ‘Flashman’ book
Most memorable experience The space, the mess, the countryside along the Shatt al Arab river, the Marsh Arabs and shooting partridge over the desert scrub
Greatest challenge Losing one of my soldiers

L/Cpl Jack Walpole (2nd Royal Tank Regiment), Iraq

Best present Letters from home
Present I’d like Food
Most memorable experience The end. The period of decompression in Cyprus
Greatest challenge The heat inside a Challenger 2 tank in the middle of an Iraqi summer

L/Cpl Aidan Peers (1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards), Afghanistan
Best present A big bag of Haribo sweets
Present I’d like Up-to-date magazines
Most memorable experience Christmas Day 2008 in Camp Bastion. The Christmas dinner that the chefs managed was one of the best I have ever had, and the majority of it was composed of rations
Greatest challenge Supplying Battle Group South from Camp Bastion with only eight men, loading at least two helicopters with four tons of food, water and general spares

Fl/Lt Dale White (RAF Regiment), Afghanistan
Best present A new iPod and a selection of English teas
Present I’d like The Daily Telegraph, every day
Most memorable experience Taking command of the squadron on operations
Greatest challenge The six-month separation from family and friends

Cpl Oliver Bouch (RAF Regiment), Afghanistan
Best present Homemade cakes
Present I’d have liked Decent lip balm and suntan cream
Most memorable experience The view across Afghanistan from the top of the local mountain range
Greatest challenge Being the front vehicle on patrol, which included navigation, route-checking and also checking vulnerable points where IEDs were often hidden

Rifleman Jack Cherry (1st Battalion The Rifles), Afghanistan

Best present An iPod Nano from my mum
Present I’d have liked A PlayStation
Most memorable experience Finding an (IED) on patrol, and realising that it had been activated, but had failed to function
Greatest challenge The strain of carrying so much kit on three-day patrols

Rifleman Scott Reading (1st Battalion The Rifles), Afghanistan
Best present Magazines
Present I’d have liked Books
Most memorable experience Providing security for the Helicopter-borne Incident Response (IRT) and Medical Emergency Response Teams (MERT)
Greatest challenge Working when it was my friends who were seriously injured

* For more features like this every week, subscribe and save