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Welsh soldiers celebrate St David's Day in Helmand

Welsh soldiers deployed to Afghanistan have celebrated St David's Day in the traditional way by munching their way through whole, raw leeks.

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Beneath a fluttering, sun-faded Welsh flag, the men of B Squadron, 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards (QDG), based at Main Operating Base Price in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province, took on the challenge today of each chewing through a whole leek to celebrate their national day - washed down with a can of non-alcoholic beer.

And, once the chef managed to find the biggest leeks possible, the race was on between the QDG’s finest, with the winner being young Trooper Andrew Williams, aged 19.

Major Patrick Bond, Officer Commanding B Squadron, said that his soldiers would be avoiding the crunchy vegetable for the foreseeable future. He added:

St David’s Day has always held a special place in the calendar for the Queen’s Dragoon Guards and being deployed on operations makes it even more important.

The regiment normally celebrates the day in true Welsh style when we are back in Germany and it is a real family affair that brings everyone together, which is so important in a small regimental family like ours.

Being in Afghanistan, we were determined to celebrate the day as best we could and although there was no opportunity to enjoy the day with our loved ones we still managed to complete one of the main events - the leek-eating!

Warrant Officer Class 2 Squadron Sergeant Major Robert Mansel, aged 35, said that when in Germany the QDG take on challenges set by the commanding officer for the day, but in Afghanistan operations come first. He added:

This year we find ourselves in Afghanistan, but being a proud Welsh Regiment that will not stop us celebrating St David’s Day, albeit happening in a gap between patrolling around Helmand.

This is the second time I have been in Afghanistan for St David’s Day. The last time was two years ago, but we were on an operation that day. However, we still managed to get the leek-eating in.

It is heartening to see the progress that is being made since the last time we were here.

Sergeant Wayne Davies, 31, from Carmarthen in West Wales, said:

St David’s Day has always been a big part of my life and I’m glad that the regiment celebrates every year. Whatever we are doing there’s always time to get the leek-eating done.

Captain Richard Chambers is the B Squadron Second-in-Command. The, 27-year-old, from Llandeilo in West Wales, said:

The regiment has an incredible ability to continue traditions under any circumstances.

I look forward very much to a reminder of the green, green grass of home as I spend my ‘R and R’ [Rest and Recuperation] in Carmarthenshire, perhaps looking down over the Towy Valley from the misty heights of Castell Dinefwr, or walking the fields around Salem.

Corporal Ryhs Lang, of 1st Troop B Squadron, comes from Cardiff, South Wales. The 29-year-old said:

For the QDG this day is quite an event and celebrated regardless. Whether in a small patrol base in the Green Zone or in the middle of the sandy desert, some time is taken from this busy operation to think of Wales and what it means to us.

For me it’s home and spending some valuable time with my friends, family and beautiful girlfriend Kathryn.

Lance Corporal Nick Maunder, aged 21, of 3rd Troop B Squadron, from Abertawe in South Wales, said:

Even though we are all thousands of miles away from home, the day still reminds us all why we are proud to be Welsh and proud to be serving our country here in Afghanistan ensuring the population has a better quality of life.

To all those at home, your support and well-wishes are much appreciated, for which I thank you all.

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Published 1 March 2012