A tradition which dates back more than 300 years was maintained when Chelsea Pensioners were given small mountain of cheese to devour.

This year’s Ceremony of the Christmas Cheeses saw the residents of the Royal Hospital Chelsea receive nearly 250kg of cheeses from up and down the country to enjoy over the festive period, including a 40kg of Cathedral City Cheddar from Dairy Crest.

The tradition celebrates the role of cheese in the feeding of the armed forces and began in 1692 when the Royal Hospital asked a local cheesemonger to provide the Pensioners with the dairy product as a Christmas treat.

Mary Johnston creates history when she cuts open the ceremonial cheese - a 24kg Montgomery Cheddar donated by J.A. & E. Montgomery - while watched by Dairy Council chairman Ash Amirahmadi

Cheesemakers across the UK have continued this tradition ever since .

This year’s ceremony was made all the more special when Chelsea Pensioner Mary Johnston cut the ceremonial cheese, becoming the first woman to do so the tradition’s long history.

The 92-year-old joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service in January 1942 and was stationed at Aldermaston and then Hounslow.

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She moved into the Royal Hospital in January, and said: “The cheese ceremony is a great day for us all at the Royal Hospital and we are delighted that Military Wives Choir have joined us in this year’s celebrations.

Chelsea Pensioners Mary Johnston and John Morris with 40kg of Cathedral City Cheddar

“Cheese has been handed out in rations since the First World War and has always been a favourite among British soldiers.

"I am extremely proud to be representing the Chelsea Pensioners today, we cannot thank the cheesemakers enough for their generous donations.”

Ash Amirahmadi is chairman of The Dairy Council, which has organised the ceremony for more than 50 years.

He said: “The Ceremony of the Christmas Cheeses is one of the dairy industry’s most treasured events.

"It is a delight to be kicking off the festive season with such a joyful and colourful occasion.

“Cheesemakers from across the country have once again done us proud by donating an outstanding 246kg of fine quality British cheese.

Chelsea Pensioner Mary Johnston, who became the first woman to cut the ceremonial cheese in 300 years, conducts the Military Wives Choir at the ceremony

“Cheese and dairy products represent a very important part of the veterans’ diet and it has been great to celebrate this with the Chelsea Pensioners."

Chelsea Pensioner, John Morris, also took part in the celebrations.

He said: “The military is known for its traditions, but the cheese ceremony is one of my favourites.”

The ceremony took place on Wednesday (December 7), where the Military Wives Choir were guests of honour, singing classics such as Winter Wonderland and Jingle Bells.

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