40 Powerful Photographs Of Soldiers Celebrating Christmas Miles Away From Home

Whether it’s Santa alighting from a helicopter, dinner eaten off a jeep’s hood or reindeer antlers on a tin helmet, soldiers find a way to celebrate Christmas wherever they are. Even in the midst of combat zones, carols are sung, turkey is eaten and presents are opened. Browse through these 40 amazing images which show how the military always manages to mark the holiday season.

40. It’s tiny, but it shouts “Christmas!”

It’s Christmas Day 1967 on Hill 875 near the Dak To base in Vietnam. That’s a long way from America, but these two G.I.s are determined to observe at least one tradition from back home – the Christmas tree. It might be tiny, but it’s instantly recognizable as one of the holiday season’s most iconic symbols.

39. Airborne holly

This British Royal Air Force fighter pilot gets a seasonal makeover from a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Just how comfortable a garland of spiky holly around the neck is might be open to question. But at least it’s firmly in the Christmas spirit. Let’s hope he made it back safely to the airfield during World War II.

38. A prince on the frontline

Here’s Captain Wales, an Apache attack helicopter pilot, on active duty at Christmas time at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. You might know him better as Prince Harry. And his fetching Santa Claus headgear does little to disguise the prince, probably one of the most instantly recognizable people in the world.

37. Christmas in France

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These are men of the British Expeditionary Force, the soldiers sent to support the French in 1939 in opposing Hitler’s invading army. This Christmas shot shows them enjoying a festive party. It’s fortunate they don’t know what the future holds. The British were overwhelmed by the German Blitzkrieg just a few months later, followed by the legendary Dunkirk evacuation.

36. Incoming parcels

It’s Christmas Eve 2013 and airborne G.I.s are delivering parcels to troops on the ground somewhere in Afghanistan. The care packages, as they’re known, include mail from home and Christmas stockings. The U.S. Army goes to great lengths to make sure that frontline troops don’t feel forgotten during the holiday season.

35. Red Cross Christmas

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Where would the frontline troops be at Christmas time without the Red Cross? A lot more miserable, that’s where. But these doughty Australian volunteers are packing up Christmas boxes in 1942 which will be forwarded to grateful soldiers. The gifts include everything from a tin of 50 smokes to a half-pound of chocolate and three packs of chewing gum.

34. Santa Claus in Iraq

What would Christmas be without a visit from Santa Claus? It wouldn’t really be Christmas, would it? And that’s just as true for troops on deployment as for anyone else. This jolly trio, including Kris Kringle himself, are taking the time to celebrate. It’s no doubt a welcome diversion from the fact that they were on active service in Iraq with the 25th Infantry Division in 2008.

33. Rabbit stew

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It’s World War I and these German soldiers are preparing an improvised Yuletide meal of rabbit stew cooked over an open fire. They’ve taken the trouble to decorate a somewhat anemic looking Christmas tree. Soldiers everywhere have a habit of ignoring the inconvenience, not to mention the misery of war, to make merry at Christmas.

32. The Bob Hope Show

Swedish-American actress and 1960s’ sex bomb Ann-Margret wows the crowd at a Christmas concert for G.I.s in Vietnam in 1968. This was actually one of the many events that Bob Hope organized for American troops. The comedian laid on entertainment for the U.S. Army for more than five decades, starting in WWII.

31. A tug-of-war

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Christmas Day celebrations for the troops are nothing new – this image takes us back to 1899. It’s the Boer War in South Africa and British soldiers have come up with an unorthodox way to celebrate – a tug-of-war. Looking through the archives, it’s surprising how often frontline troops choose to mark Christmas with a sporting event of one kind or another.

30. Wartime Santa

A rather unconvincing Father Christmas – he’s seldom portrayed with a rifle and a tin helmet – hands out gifts to a couple of G.I.s somewhere in England during WWII. Forgetting about the military trappings for a moment, at least this version of Santa looks full of Yuletide cheer. Although his beard could use some work.

29. A game of soccer

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This unlikely soccer match between German and British soldiers has become one of the most well known stories of World War I. It’s easy to see why this spontaneous sporting event has become so famous. That men opposed in deadly conflict can set aside their differences for the festival of Christmas is universally appealing.

28. Christmas decorations

The formidable M1A1 Abrams Main Battle tank, nearly 70 tons of armored steel, perhaps doesn’t immediately make you think of Christmas. But soldiers seem to be endlessly ingenious when it comes to improvising Yuletide joy. It’s amazing what a few strings of colored lights can do to transform the appearance of a deadly weapon of war.

27. Christmas in a bunker

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Wherever they are and whatever they’re doing, soldiers will go to great lengths to mark the Christmas season. These WWI German soldiers have found a way to make their shelter in the trenches into something that at least approximates home, sweet home. But the armed guard in attendance is a stark reminder that there is actually a war on.

26. Jeep dining

Okay, so there’s no crisp white linen, fine flatware or table service. There isn’t even a table. But these G.I.s in France during WWII seem to be entirely happy to eat their Christmas meal off the hood of a jeep. Which makes perfect sense since the jeep was renowned for its seemingly limitless adaptability.

25. Christmas steel helmet

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It has to be said that military camouflage gear topped off with a steel helmet does not immediately say “Christmas.” But this creative G.I., based in the Iraqi city of Tikrit in 2003, has found a way to make us immediately think of the season of goodwill. What better way to get into the holiday mood than to slap a pair of reindeer antlers onto your helmet?

24. A Cossack Christmas

Cossacks have a fearsomely warlike reputation. But even they’re apparently prepared to tone it down a little to mark Christmas. They certainly seem to be full of Yuletide cheer in this photograph from World War I. Although this shot is from December 25, 1914, Christmas is still 12 days away for these Russians, members of the Orthodox Christian faith.

23. Christmas in Kosovo

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It’s 2009 and these U.S. soldiers are stationed in the Kosovan city of Ferizaj. They’re part of a peacekeeping mission in the aftermath of the chaotic break-up of Yugoslavia. What better way to forget that you’re a long way from home than to observe a favorite tradition? Step forward the Christmas stocking, stuffed with gifts and goodies and guaranteed to raise a smile.

22. Carols in the trenches

These German troops on the Eastern Front in 1914 have abandoned their rifles and gathered around a Christmas tree. That’s appropriate enough since it’s believed that Germany established the Yuletide tree we’re so familiar with. And the soldiers are engaged in another cherished tradition – carol singing.

21. Parcel pleasure

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Is it possible to fall in love with a parcel? This G.I.’s besotted expression would suggest that the answer is a resounding “yes.” The fact that he’s stationed in Italy in December 1944 as WWII rages on may well explain why he’s so elated to receive a package from home. Let’s hope he obeys the strict instruction on the wrapping.

20. Santa’s chopper

Father Christmas drops in on a U.S. base in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on Christmas Eve 2007. No doubt security concerns mean that he had to forswear his more familiar reindeer-powered sleigh in favor of a helicopter. But as long as he delivers the gifts to the troops, it’s unlikely that anyone will mind this break with tradition.

19. Christmas choo-choo

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We’re at Staten Island’s Halloran General Hospital where WWII servicemen recovering from combat wounds are gathered around the Christmas tree. The way some of them are engrossed by the electric train set proves one thing; there’s no kid like a big kid. Show us the man that doesn’t enjoy model trains and we’ll show you someone who probably doesn’t understand Yuletide joy.

18. Yuletide minstrels

Just because these guys of the Third Infantry Division are stuck at Patrol Base Hawkes south of Baghdad in 2007 doesn’t mean they can’t serenade their buddies with a few Christmas tunes. “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” probably won’t work in the Iraqi desert but “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night” just might. But shouldn’t somebody give the bald guy one of the Santa hats?

17. Turkey in the jungle

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G.I.s sure got to some far-flung parts of the world during WWII. These guys are somewhere in the jungles of northern Burma, now known as Myanmar. The soldiers served alongside the Kachin Scouts, a Burmese guerrilla force which fought the Japanese. Even in this remote location, canned turkey has been dropped by plane so that troops could conjure up a rudimentary Christmas dinner.

16. An Afghani feast

Few of us would opt to spend Christmas in Afghanistan’s remote and mountainous Nuristan Province on the border with Pakistan. But that, of course, is a central part of being a U.S. soldier. You don’t get to choose where you spend the holiday season. Even in Nuristan, it looks like the G.I.s were served a feast on Christmas Day 2009.

15. The mailman calls

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When you’re thousands of miles from home at Christmas time, you’ll be missing family and friends even more than usual. And in 1945 few things could have been more welcome for G.I.s in Belgium than a letter or parcel from home. Plus these guys certainly deserved a Yuletide boost. They’d chased the 1st Panzer SS division out of the town of La Gleize on Christmas Eve. They probably didn’t even wish the Nazis a “Merry Christmas.”

14. Comfort from home

A giant cigar, a pack of Mother’s Oats, cans of Campbell’s soup. They’re all things calculated to give you a taste of home at Christmas time. These G.I.s were serving in the Korean War back in 1952. And they’ve got a little ahead of themselves. This photo is dated December 5, just a bit before the generally accepted day for Christmas celebrations. But who could begrudge them?

13. Remembering Jesus

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The whole point of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. All too easy to forget at a time traditionally marked by over-consumption on a lavish scale. But troops in the field, laying their lives on the line, may have more occasion than most to remember their Christian faith. These soldiers in Vietnam in 1969 worship at a make-shift open-air church on Christmas Day.

12. A respite for German kids

The year 1945 wasn’t a great time for German children. So it’s easy to imagine that Christmas 1946 was a welcome occasion since there was peace in Germany for the first time in years. And American soldiers occupying the former enemy did their best to help the kids have some kind of normal Christmas. At this party, the G.I.s had donated a week’s worth of their candy rations to the children. Sweet!

11. Carols in Baghdad

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What says “Christmas” more than a round of carols? That’s especially so when you’re far from home, serving in Iraq in 2006. These troops had eaten their Yuletide meal safe inside the heavily defended Green Zone in the heart of Baghdad. There’s nothing like a hearty singing session to top off the traditional turkey dinner.

10. Home for Christmas

This lucky British soldier has made it home on leave from his World War I duties. He’s presumably from a Scottish regiment since he’s wearing a kilt and his Tam o’ Shanter-style headgear hangs from his rifle. But why his socks and boots are covered in some kind of white powder remains a mystery.

9. Making merry

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Yuletide cheer positively flows from this image of G.I.s at the table. It’s Christmas 2003, and these happy guys are marking the occasion with hilarity in the Iraqi city of Samarra. The fact that they’re in a tent eating Christmas dinner off mess plates with plastic cutlery has entirely failed to dampen the mood.

8. A peaceful moment

We can interpret this image as the real essence of the Christmas message: peace on Earth. These two soldiers, a German and a Briton, were enemies on the battlefield. But now they’re both wounded at a British field hospital. In an intimately peaceful moment the German lights the Briton’s cigarette for him.

7. A pudding for the Pioneers

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These men are members of the British Royal Pioneer Corps. And their job in 1940 was to clear away the rubble and wreckage caused by the Blitz, the German bombing campaign which hit London hard. The sergeant takes a bayonet to a Christmas pudding that looks hardly large enough to feed all of those hungry mouths. So maybe there were more puddings out of shot.

6. Santas on a plane

We’re aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation on Christmas Eve 2003 as it cruises in the Persian Gulf. Some witty artist has painted a likeness of Santa Claus on the nose of an S-3B Viking fighter jet. And an equally droll crew member has spotted the potential for a great photo opp. Military humor at Christmas is a phenomenon that seems to cross all boundaries of time and place.

5. Christmas chow line

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Some G.I.s in Vietnam in 1966 ham it up for the photographer as they wait in line for Christmas dinner. It doesn’t seem to matter where the U.S. Army is stationed and what mayhem is going down, the Yuletide feast goes ahead. These guys were just back from a 10-day patrol along the Cambodian border, so a sumptuous feed would no doubt have been more than welcome.

4. Noël 1910

“Noël 1910” the placard in the foreground announces, helpfully dating this Christmas celebration by French Legionnaires stationed in Algeria. Of course, it’s the French Foreign Legion, so there’s every likelihood that a selection of nationalities is represented here. And judging by the musical instruments, it would seem that what we are in the presence of a full military band, not to mention some truly splendid mustachios.

3. Christmas in Basra

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Some festively dressed British soldiers open their presents around a Christmas tree in 2008. They’re stationed in Basra in the south of Iraq. The city was no cake-walk for the British. Earlier in 2008 a fierce battle had raged there between the Iraqi Army and local militias while the British remained holed up in their base at the airport. The respite of the Christmas festival must have come as a welcome relief.

2. Elation

Have you ever seen a happier bunch of G.I.s? Especially during the Vietnam War – the year here is 1968. And the joy is thanks to Bob Hope, the legendary trouper who took his entertainment extravaganza to U.S. military bases all over the world. This is one of the Christmas shows that he put on. As you can see, the troops just lapped it up.

1. HMS Mermaid

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British sailors have elaborately festooned their mess aboard HMS Mermaid, a Royal Navy destroyer. It’s Christmas 1916, and the mariners are about to tuck into their Yuletide dinner, by tradition served to them by their officers. Naval custom also dictated that the men should be issued with an extra tot of rum on top of their daily ration. Let’s hope someone stayed sober enough to steer the ship.

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