TROOPS in Afghanistan can look forward to a warmer winter thanks to a local “social knit-work”.
Several ‘Knit and Natter’ groups hosted by libraries across the city have joined forces with Edinburgh charity Parcels4Troops to provide hundreds of warm woolly hats to soldiers serving in 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 Scots).
Infantry from the battalion left Dreghorn Barracks last month for a six-month tour of Helmand province, where temperatures regularly drop below freezing in the winter months.
Representatives from 1 Scots visited Wester Hailes Library yesterday to pick up more than 250 woolly hats, which will soon be winging their way to keep heads warm in Helmand.
Also in attendance was John Robertson, vice-chairman of Parcels4Troops, which has been providing care packages for Scottish troops in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2008.
He said: “I’d quite often seen the knitting group when I was in the library and one day I asked them to create a Parcel4Troops blanket for us to auction off. When they wanted to know how else they could help, we suggested making the hats. Since then it’s gone city-wide and the response has been amazing.”
Joyce Mackay, organiser of the Wester Hailes Knit and Natter group, continued: “When John mentioned knitting hats I sent an e-mail out to all the other libraries and got a great response, with Oxgangs, Newington, Granton, Ratho and Sighthill libraries all pitching in.
“Most of the hats we’ve been knitting here are quite brightly coloured. We didn’t want anything drab, so these are for the soldiers to wear when they are in their tents at night. However, the group at Granton Library have knitted darker coloured hats that will fit under a regulation helmet, so they can be worn on duty.”
In the last four years, approximately 15,000 parcels, donated by churches, schools, and individual members of the public have been sent to the Middle East by Parcels4Troops. Along with the winter warmers, the shoeboxes contain basic items such toiletries, sweets, dehydrated foods and condiments, along with a letter from the person or group who donated the goods.
John continued: “We feel the letter is just as important, if not more so, than the other items. We’re all about boosting morale, and this helps remind the troops that they haven’t been forgotten by the people back home.”
Sergeant Chris Potts, of 1 Scots, who received packages from the charity on a previous tour of Afghanistan, said: “The parcels certainly help lift your spirits when you’re over there.
“The letter lets you know that people, other than your friends and family, are thinking of you and the job you are doing, and the other items definitely come in very handy. Winters in Afghanistan are extremely cold, and these hats will do a lot to ease that.
“On behalf of the battalion I would like to say thank you to the individuals who made them for the time and effort they have put in. The hats are greatly appreciated by our soldiers and will be warmly received.”
Councillor Norma Austin Hart, the city’s vice-convener of culture and leisure, added: “It’s fantastic that the groups from libraries across Edinburgh have come together for this worthwhile cause.”
Accolade for royal regiment
The Royal Regiment of Scotland, 1st Battalion (1 Scots) are to be given the Freedom of East Lothian.
The proposal was put forward by the provost and seconded by leader of the council Willie Innes, and will be put before the council on Tuesday. It also recommends that a parade and presentation ceremony be held following the return of the battalion from Helmand province next April.
1 Scots’ mission is to mentor and train Afghan security forces prior to military withdrawal from the country planned for 2014.
The honour of freedom of a city or council area is the highest accolade a municipality can offer. Though it was historically associated with ancient rights and privileges, the title is now largely honorary, and awarded to those who have strong associations with the area and have made outstanding contributions.
More than 100 soldiers took part in a parade when the battalion was granted Freedom of West Lothian in May 2011.
The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment), one of the regiments who merged with others to create 1 Scots, were awarded the Freedom of Haddington in 1947 and Musselburgh in 1971.