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UK soldiers build front line chapel

01 March 2012

Father David Smith stands in front of a mural of St Martin with its artist, Staff Sergeant Jones Lee of the United States Marine CorpsSoldiers from 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (2 MERCIAN) have built and decorated a 'Swiss-style' log cabin chapel at their forward operating base (FOB) in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand province.

The new chapel, at 2 MERCIAN headquarters at FOB Ouellette in northern Nahr-e Saraj district, has been dubbed the 'Chapel of St Martin of Tours', and has quickly won admirers from other British bases across Helmand.

St Martin was a young Roman Christian soldier who, while out riding, came across a poor beggar. Remembering the words of Jesus, 'I was naked and you clothed me', he cut up his cloak and gave half to the man.

Celebrated on 11 November, St Martin's day coincides with Armistice Day, adding further relevance to the new chapel's name.

The new building provides a private setting in which soldiers can attend religious services or simply talk with the chaplain in a confidential environment.

"haven of peace"

Father David Smith, 49, from Suffolk, is no stranger to the needs of the men and women to whom he provides pastoral care, having deployed on seven operational tours.

He said: "Whether religious or not it is important for soldiers to have a place which provides peace, quiet and privacy to collect their thoughts. I wanted to ensure that there was a military connection and St Martin's was an obvious choice for a name.

"The services used to take place outdoors or in the cookhouse. The new chapel is a worthwhile investment for the soldiers and is a haven of peace and quiet away from the busy operational environment.

"It is a huge privilege to be with my soldiers on the ground, and I hope to be of some support to them during what can be a very testing time for them."

Many soldiers have come to visit the new chapel, including Staff Sergeant Jones Lee of the United States Marine Corps, who offered to paint a mural of St Martin to add to the welcoming atmosphere.

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