Princess Mary’s Christmas Gift – 1914

Princess Mary
Princess Mary

This embossed brass ‘tin’ – the Princess Mary Christmas gift 1914  – is currently (and very generously) on loan to our museum for the upcoming  exhibition that we are holding in August to mark the outbreak of World War 1. It is only one of many artefacts that will be on display. These artefacts, including letters, postcards and photographs, really do provide a rich and quite fascinating local perspective to an event that was the first real test of Australia as a nation.

Description: The ‘tin’ itself is approximately 37 mm (Height) by125 mm (Width) 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.Decorative brass tin sent by Princess Mary to members of the British, Colonial and Indian Armed Forces for Christmas 1914. Over 426,000 of these tins were distributed to those serving on Christmas Day 1914. The tins were filled with various items including tobacco, confectionary, spices, pencils, a Christmas card and a picture of the princess.

The Gift Box currently on loan to our museum
The Gift Box currently on loan to our museum

History: The gift box was the initiative of Princess Mary, the 17-year-old daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. Princess Mary organised a public appeal which raised the funds to ensure that ‘every Sailor afloat and every Soldier at the front‘ received a Christmas present. Due to the strong public support for the gift, which saw £162,591 12s 5d raised, the eligibility for the gift was widened to include every person ‘wearing the King’s uniform on Christmas Day 1914’, about 2,620,019 servicemen and women.

The Christmas card sent by Princess Mary with the gift box.
The Christmas card sent by Princess Mary with the gift box.

The large number of people who were to receive the gift made it impossible to manufacture, supply and distribute the gifts by Christmas Day 1914. So recipients were divided into three classes: Class A (received the gift on or near Christmas Day): comprised the Navy, including minesweepers and dockyard officials, and troops at the Front in France, the wounded in hospitals and men on furlough, prisoners and men interned (for whom the gift was reserved), members of the French Mission with the Expeditionary Force, nurses at the Front in France and the widows or parents of those who had been killed. Class B: all British,

Colonial and Indian troops serving outside the British Isles, who were not provided for in Class A. Class C: all troops in the British Isles Class B and C gifts were not sent out until January 1915, they contained a Happy New Year card.Having used or consumed the contents, servicemen and women then used the tins to carry other small items.

During World War I, Princess Mary visited hospitals and welfare organizations with her mother, assisting with projects to give comfort to British servicemen and assistance to their families.

Make sure that you visit our museum during August to see this beautiful piece of history.


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