The families of soldiers preparing for war have hit out at the "extortionate" postage costs to send morale-boosting parcels to their loved ones.

Relatives yesterday begged the military to scrap the charges which are double those paid by US families.

British families have to pay £6.89 to send a two-kilo package out to the Gulf but Americans pay the equivalent of only £3.50.

Pamela Dixon's 19-year-old son, Daniel, was one of the first ground troops in the Gulf. So far she has sent four parcels, costing nearly £28 .

Pamela, of Hetton, near Sunderland, said: "I really don't begrudge sending him parcels, but when I am paying over £6 a week to send out food and Army T-shirts, it is a bit much.

"At first he was on an American base and he had everything he could wish for - even burger vans. But he was moved a month ago and I have to send a parcel a week.

"Morale is really low out there, and perhaps if parcels were free the soldiers would get a boost. At the minute the cost is just extortionate."

Mary Stothard's son Stan, a member of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary serving on the Sir Percival, is also in the Gulf.

She says that she has spent hundreds of pounds sending parcels to her son - who also served in the last Gulf War and The Falklands conflict - over the past 30 years.

More recently Mrs Stothard, a pensioner from North Hylton, Sunderland, paid £2.28 to send four copies of his local paper - the Sunderland Echo - to the Gulf.

Mary said: "It has cost me a small fortune to send parcels out to Stan in the Falklands, Sierra Leone and the Gulf.

"I don't begrudge it for a second - it's a way of still being able to do something for him -but it is really expensive, especially for a pensioner."

A spokesman for the US forces said parcels were seen as an important morale booster.

He said: "We make every effort to keep the spirits of our servicemen up, and parcels from home are a good way to achieve this."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: "At the moment we are only taking parcels of up to two kilos out to the Gulf. It would be very difficult to take anything larger.

"The cost for a parcel is £6.89, which is the same as sending it first-class within the UK.

"We believe this is very good value.