Marines thankful for Shirley's gifts sent in shoeboxes
MINI Cheddars, flypaper and shower gel are not standard fare for troops in a warzone.
But hundreds of British Marines serving in Afghanistan have gratefully received shoeboxes crammed with creature comforts thanks to a modest Burwash woman.
They paid tribute by inviting her to a special homecoming parade on May 17.
Shirley Viney, of Garston Park, has been posting boxes full of toiletries and snacks to service personnel abroad since 2007.
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"I don't think any of us have any idea of what kind of environment they are in," she said. "Some soldiers don't have anybody. I want them to know people do care about them."
Mrs Viney, 64, began mailing the luxury parcels after her husband died and she had given up working at a community college.
She said: "I had been sending shoeboxes with Christmas presents to children in Eastern Europe for about ten years and I decided to move on to soldiers."
Everything from deodorant to crisps is stuffed into the boxes and posted to soldiers whose details she is given by the Army. The treats are then handed to company members who do not receive parcels from their families.
Mrs Viney insists she does not want any recognition for supporting the troops. "I don't expect them to because they are doing their job but they do find time to thank me. I do get some lovely thank-you letters," she said.
"I remember one saying how wonderful it was to have some Mini Cheddars.
"I like to think if one of my sons was in the Forces people would be remembering him as well."
Soldiers from 40 Commando Royal Marines received Mrs Viney's gifts on their recent tour of Afghanistan and to thank her she was invited to their homecoming parade in Taunton on May 17. A bottle of 12-year-old Scotch whisky was also sent as a sign of the unit's thanks.
"We were in the centre of town and about 15,000 of us were there," she said. "It was very emotional with lots of families there welcoming their sons, boyfriends and husbands home. It was lovely to share in their joy."
Mrs Viney's friends have rallied to support her shoebox endeavour over the years, with £964 raised at a Shoebox Supper in April. In an average week, around 12 shoeboxes of goodies wing their way from Burwash to Afghanistan.
"It's a fantastic village effort," she added. "I am no one special – the soldiers who serve in Afghanistan are."