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Medical choir boosts troops' morale
Troops in Afghanistan are enjoying some festive cheer thanks to their very own choir.
The UK Joint Force Medical Choir has been boosting morale in the run-up to Christmas with some entertainment for fellow troops, including a carol service at the hospital in Camp Bastion, the UK's main base in Helmand Province.
The choir, who call themselves Only Medics Allowed, is predominantly made up of members of 203 (Welsh) Field Hospital, who staff the medical facility.
It was only set up at the start of the tour a few months ago but has gone from strength to strength.
Founder Captain Lyndon Davies, an officer in the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps, came up with the idea.
He said: "I've always had a love for singing myself. I sing in a choir back home - the BBC National Chorus of Wales - and when we've been going away in the mission, specific training and readiness for this mission, we always got people together and had a bit of a sing-song back home.
"It was always our intention to carry on with that spirit on tour.
"The commanding officer gave her support to it so as soon as we got into theatre we set up a choir quite early on.
"We were rehearsing twice a week and it sort of took off from there."
The choir joined with the Royal Artillery Band and started rehearsing with their bandmaster, continuing even when he returned to the UK, and put on a full carol service at the main base's hospital.
It will put on other events over Christmas to bring a bit of festive cheer to troops missing their families and friends.
Capt Davies, 42, from Cardiff, South Wales, who works on the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) Medical Development Team, said: "It's been absolutely amazing, I couldn't have wished for it to be as good as it's turned out.
"The choir's gelled, it's been something that's helped with the morale of everybody out here."
And he said being involved in the choir helped boost spirits in tough times, especially over Christmas.
"It's helped the weeks tick along because everyone looks forward to the next rehearsal or spends a couple of days talking about the last rehearsal.
"It's often a very helpful and positive distraction from the work we do out here which can be difficult and challenging.
"There's many of us who have never been here before, it's our first tour. We've been taken away from our normality back home, and it's good to put that normality back into days and help morale.
"The choir, the way it's turned out, it's been a real boost to people's spirits on tour."
And he said it was a reminder of home for the Welsh staff at the hospital.
"There's a bit of a tradition the Welsh have with singing, and being a Welsh field hospital tour, it was only right to carry on with that tradition.
"What's impressed me more than anything is that a number of people in the choir have never sung before and they're people who have just come together, given it a go, and surprised themselves with the talent that they've got."
One of those people is Sergeant Donnie "Bomber" Harris, an operating department practitioner in the ANSF Medical Development Team.
The 36-year-old, who is also a physical training instructor, said: "I had a little deal with Captain Davies that I would come and sing in his choir if he would come to the gym.
"I kept up my end of the bargain and he's not been to the gym once.
"For me, to start with, it was just a bit of fun but then we started taking it seriously because we actually started sounding really good.
"Being a soldier, the only singing we do is a bit of karaoke after a few beers down the pub. So to get into it and to learn how to sing properly is great."
Sgt Harris, from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, added: "It's good to take people's minds off the job we're doing out here because it can be very demanding, both physically and emotionally, so to have something to concentrate on is good.
"The days here are very fast but the weeks are very long, so it breaks the week up.
"For the time that you're in the church and practising you're almost lost for that hour or hour and a half and you forget exactly where you are."
And he said he will carry on with his singing after he leaves Afghanistan.
"I go to the church with my wife every now and then, and I used to be one of the mumblers but I think I've got a new-found confidence to actually sing up now."