Monday, 17 December 2007

We wish you a Mary Christmas - 1914


Princess Mary
In 1914, a lesser-known Member of the Royal family, Princess Mary, the third child and only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, went to great efforts to ensure that troops felt appreciated and not forgotten over the Christmas period.

The Princess's wish was that every serviceman stationed overseas during the first Christmas of the First World War would receive a message and gift from the nation, via the Royal Family. The fund which she instigated inspired the creation of one of the most enduring mementos of the First World War - Princess Mary's Gift Box.

The Princess, who was just 17 when war broke out, was moved by the plight of the troops and by the thought of them spending Christmas away from their families. She decided to pay, out of her private allowance, for a personal gift to each soldier and sailor.

"I want you now to help me to send a Christmas present from the whole of the nation to every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front. I am sure that we should all be happier to feel that we had helped to send our little token of love and sympathy on Christmas morning, something that would be useful and of permanent value, and the making of which may be the means of providing employment in trades adversely affected by the war. Could there be anything more likely to hearten them in their struggle than a present received straight from home on Christmas Day?

Please will you help me?"

The smokers' gift': an embossed brass box, one ounce of pipe tobacco, twenty cigarettes, a pipe, a tinder lighter, Christmas card and photograph. The Christmas card reads 'With best wishes for a happy Christmas and victorious New Year, from The Princess Mary and friends at home.

© The Imperial War Museum

The contents of the giftbox
It was decided that the majority of recipients would be given an embossed brass box, one ounce of pipe tobacco, twenty cigarettes, a pipe, a tinder lighter, a Christmas card from the King and Queen and a photograph of Princess Mary.

However, there were to be some exceptions. The committee agreed that non-smokers should be regarded as a special group and would receive the brass box, a packet of acid tablets, a khaki writing case containing pencil, paper and envelopes together with the Christmas card and photograph.

The committee was also obliged to consider the tastes of other minority groups and it was recognised that if the dietary rules of various religious groups were to be respected, changes would have to be made in the gifts intended for Indian troops.

'The India Committee' was set up, comprising 5 senior Army officers with experience of working with Indian soldiers. They decided that the Gurkhas would receive the same gift as the British troops; Sikhs would receive a box filled with sweets, a tin box of spices and the Christmas card and all other Indian troops would receive the box with a packet of cigarettes and sugar candy, a tin box of spices and the card.

Nurses at the front in France would be given the box, a packet of chocolate and the Christmas card from the King and Queen.

Via: Royal Insight
Also: Kinnethmont
Also: National World War One Museum

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