A BATTALION stationed in Afghanistan has sent a heartfelt thank you message to a Penarth woman and the army of local helpers behind her ‘Hats for Heroes’ initiative.

The scheme, set up locally in October 2010 by Tina Selby, has so far sent out nearly 4,000 home-knitted woolly hats to soldiers based in the war-torn country - in one of the best welfare packages to date, according to the servicemen and women.

2nd Battalion The Rifles are currently deployed on a six-month tour to advise and develop a brigade of the Afghan National Army ready for the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) to take the lead for security responsibility by the end of 2014.

And the soldiers sent a bundle of pictures and letters to Penarth, to thank the knitters for their Christmas donations.

Battalion press officer Roz Ashworth was put in touch with Tina through a Navy contact, before receiving more than 100 knitted hats of different colours and sizes – each containing a chocolate bar.

Roz said the troops had been 'truly touched', and added: "It’s a great morale boost for the soldiers on the ground, to know that people are thinking of them and have taken the time to show their support by doing something worthwhile.

“It is very cold in Afghanistan in the winter. The nights drop well into minus degrees, and we lack the heating that most people in the UK enjoy. Therefore the hats have been really useful.

“The great thing is the variety of colours – there is something for everyone, whether it is their favorite colour, football colours, or the fact that it matches our new military uniform almost perfectly!"

Corporal Darryl Jones from North Wales said the hats had been out in force.

“The women of Wales are a great bunch!” he said.

“Thanks very much for thinking of us and showing your support, they are lovely and warm. They are one of the best welfare packages we have been sent. We are so grateful.”

Lieutenant Corporal Ryan Murphy from Pontpridd said: “I’m not sure how many sheep they have gone through to make these hats, but what a great idea. Its Baltic over here, I wear mine in the morning. Any chance of some socks to keep my toes warm?”

Knitters from all over the UK now send hats to Tina, who said she has been amazed at how the project has taken off.

“They all say it is a great way to support our soldiers and let them know that they are not forgotten,” said the Clive Place resident.

“Non-knitters have given me donations which I use to buy wool and then pass it on to some of my more elderly knitters.

"I have even received donations from California from a former Penarth resident, and it has encouraged her to start a knitting circle to help her local charities there! “Some knitters have told me how much they are enjoying it, and several people have mentioned how it has been a lifesaver for elderly relatives as they now have something to focus on," she added. “And some say their grandchildren now want hats 'just like the soldiers'!”

The ongoing project has become an overwhelming success.

“My initial aim was to send 500 hats, but we received more than 1,000 after the first appeal,” said Tina.

“They were sent to the Welsh Transport Regiment, 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh, Welsh Gunners, Royal Irish Regiment, 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment and the Defence Medical Welfare Service.

“We have received some lovely photos, letters and emails from the soldiers thanking us for our support - the knitters are over the moon, it really makes their day," she added.

“We are just glad to put smiles on their faces.”

To contribute to Tina’s ‘Hats for Heroes’ initiative or for more information visit the website www.hats4heroes.co.uk or email contact@hats4heroes.co.uk