A weekly’s photographer has celebrated her birthday 2,000 miles from the office while covering a special training mission with Royal Navy personnel in Norway.
Laura Jones jetted off to the freezing climate with reporter Rob Golledge, both from the Somerset-based Western Gazette, to spend a week with servicemen and women from their local regiment at RNAS Yeovilton.
The troops are currently stationed at the Bardufoss Air Station in Norway and will be training in the snow there for the next few months in preparation for when they are deployed to Afghanistan.
And they threw a special party for Laura when they found out she would be celebrating her 26th birthday while 160 miles inside the Arctic Circle – even baking her a cake shaped like the torso of a buff Royal Navy officer.
“They called us all into a meeting room and I didn’t really think much of it, but then they came out with this enormous cake,” she said.
“Apparently they had been preparing it since they knew I was going on the trip, so I think Rob tipped them off it was going to be my birthday while we were there.
“I knew there was a chance of the trip falling on that date when I agreed to go out there, but I wasn’t going to say no – it’s the chance of a lifetime and I wasn’t going to miss it.”
While the pair were out there, they got to experience a night flight, travel in a Sea King helicopter, witness the tough military training regime, and even caught the spectacle of the Northern Lights.
“It was absolutely amazing, I loved it,” Laura added.
“I went to Lapland in December so was pretty much prepared for the cold. It was just brilliant.”
Rob and Laura filed photographs, stories and video to the Western Gazette and the Western Daily Press throughout their trip, including a piece containing Valentines messages from the Marines to their loved ones back in Somerset.
Over the coming months, the troops will be taking part in a series of exercises to improve their survival skills, including trekking through the snow with packs and sledges.
The exercises are designed to help them to prepare for freezing conditions in Afghanistan over the winter months, particularly for those stationed in the mountains.