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The Princess Mary Christmas 1914 Gift Tin
Christmas 1914 was a unique period. Britain had gone to war against the Central Powers some four months previously, and with optimism it was believed this would be over soon and the troops would be home to enjoy their respective celebrations. The festive period produced a relaxed atmosphere on many parts of the Front, and there were many reports of fraternisation with the enemy.
In Britain and its Empire, the hearts of the People went out to troops who were facing a Christmas away from loved ones back home. Various organisations and members of the public were generous in their supply of food, tobacco, warm clothing and other treats for the soldiers at the Front and the sailors afloat.
In November 1914, an advertisement was placed in the national press inviting monetary contributions to a "Sailors and Soldiers Christmas Fund", which had been created by Princess Mary, the 17 year old Daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. The purpose was to provide everyone who would be wearing the King's uniform on Christmas Day 1914 with a "gift from the nation".
The response was truly overwhelming, and it was decided to spend the money on an embossed brass tin box, based on a design by Messrs Adshead and Ramsey. The contents varied considerably - Officers and Men On Active Service afloat or at the Front received a tin containing a combination of pipe, tinder lighter, 1 ounce of tobacco and 20 cigarettes in distinctive yellow monogrammed wrappers. Non-smokers and boys received a bullet pen/pencil, a packet of acid tablets and a khaki writing case. Indian troops often received sweets and spices, whilst hospital nurses, who were included as recipients, were treated to chocolate. Many of these items were despatched separately from the boxes themselves.
Every tin contained a Christmas card and a photo of Princess Mary, (apart from those issued after Christmas, which contained a "Victorious New Year" card !)
Orders for brass strip were placed with the USA, who were not yet involved in the War, and a large consignment was lost with the sinking of the ship "Lusitania". As so much brass was being consumed in the production of weapons and munitions, the quality of the tin boxes which were manufactured late, was poor, being of a plated inferior alloy when compared with the earlier pure brass examples. It has been stated that the superior quality brass tin boxes were reserved for the Officer Class, although no evidence now exists to support this.
When the Fund finally closed in 1920, almost £200,000 had been donated for the provision of more than two and a half million tin boxes with contents.
The tin box itself is approximately 12.5 cm long x 8.5 cm wide x 3 cm deep with a double-skinned, hinged lid. The surface of the lid depicts the head of Princess Mary in the centre, surrounded by a laurel wreath and flanked on either side by the "M" monogram. At the top, a decorative cartouche contains the words "Imperium Britannicum" with a sword and scabbard either side. On the lower edge, another cartouche contains the words "Christmas 1914", which is flanked by the bows of battleships forging through a heavy sea. In the corners, small roundels house the names of the Allies: Belgium, Japan, Montenegro and Servia; France and Russia are at the edges, each superimposed on three furled flags or standards.
After the War, when the Armed Forces returned home, the tin boxes were used to house other items which could include virtually anything. Very rarely, tin boxes were brought back with their full contents still intact ! Now quite valuable, (especially when the contents are intact), the tin boxes are often tracked down by antiques' enthusiasts and collectors of First World War memorabilia, who should be on guard to watch out for modern replicas !!!