Parcels to troops - a force to be sure

FOR servicemen stationed overseas, getting a letter or parcel from a loved one is a lifeline to home, something to be eagerly anticipated and treasured.

By Jo Macdonald

FOR servicemen stationed overseas, getting a letter or parcel from a loved one is a lifeline to home, something to be eagerly anticipated and treasured.

However, confusion at post offices about the services available have left many people dismayed at not being able to airmail their gifts to men and women serving in foreign countries.

Davinia and Georgina Brundle, the fiancée and girlfriend of two men serving in Afghanistan, faced this problem when they were visited Tower Ramparts Post Office to post packages to their partners using the British Forces Post Office (BFPO) service.

They were told that all airmail to servicemen and women in the war-torn country had been stopped and that the packages would have to be sent by the Royal Mail. It would cost £12 to send them across land, a service which could take weeks to deliver the mail.

It came as a shock to the sisters, who have been sending gifts and reminders of home to the servicemen at least once a month during the time they have been serving in Afghanistan.

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The sister's father, Mike Brundle, himself a serviceman for the RAF for 26 years who now runs Abbey Blinds, in St Nicholas Street, said: "There was one package for Davinia's fiancée and one for Georgina's boyfriend. They've sent about two or three packages in the time they've been out there.

"We were told there is now a directive saying that no more packages can go by BFPO and the only way they can go is overland by the ordinary Royal Mail route.

"I served in the RAF and I've never before had anything like these restrictions on a package."

The parcels are taken out to bases by RAF flights or civilian aircraft to ensure they get there as quickly as possible. And Mr Brundle said he understood forces' mail was given the highest priority because of its ability to raise morale of troops serving abroad.

"Apparently it's a hell hole in Afghanistan," he said "It's an unpleasant job the forces do and in unpleasant surroundings, therefore mail and packages from home are very important.

"I remember servicemen in the Falklands absolutely waiting for that mail.

"Mail and packages to British forces have been treated with the same priority as urgent replacement spares for aircraft and that's priority one."

The packages Mr Brundle's daughters hoped to send contained little more than sweets, earphones and after sun lotion, things which cannot be bought in Afghanistan and are considered personal items.

Mr Brundle said: "For them not to be permitted to receive luxury items from home, from kith and kin is totally unacceptable."

A spokesman for the BFPO today reassured the family, friends and loved ones of men and women serving abroad in the forces that they are still able to send letters and packages, of up to two kilos in weight.

He said there had been a number of complaints from people being told at post offices across the country that their mail could not be sent, particularly to Afghanistan, but that information about the service was gradually beginning to filter through.

He said: "We believe the problems are due to a misinterpretation of information being fed over by the BFPO. It is the parcel service only that is not available. Letter and packages of up to two kilos in weight can still be sent and at the cheaper European rate.

"There may also be some misinterpretation due to the fact that in the civilian service no mail at all can be sent to Afghanistan. It is possible that some people ask to send their mail to that location and the post office staff hear Afghanistan and say there is no service available.

"On BFPO post, however, you are not supposed to include the destination country on the address, just the number, rank and name of the person it's going to, the unit and the BFPO number. The counter clerk should have no idea where it's going."

He added: "There may not be a service to Afghanistan but there is to the BFPO number in Afghanistan, for any letter or package weighing up to two kilos."

A spokesman for Consignia confirmed that any guidelines and advice given to post office staff regarding mail to the armed forces abroad came from the BFPO.

He said: "We go with their guidelines. Any international restrictions come from government departments and organisations."

Every British force site in the world, whether it is a trouble spot, a base or a ship, has its own BFPO number to guarantee the direct and speedy delivery of mail. The BFPO also offers the same efficient service to mail being sent by servicemen and women to home.

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