In November 1914 an advertisement was placed in the national press inviting monetary contributions to a ‘Sailors & 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 wearing the King’s uniform and serving overseas on Christmas Day 1914 with a ‘gift from the nation’.
The response was overwhelming, and it was decided to spend the money on an embossed brass box with Mary’s motif as the central focus, along with:
- The legend ‘Imperium Britannicum’
- The names of Britain’s allies (France, Belgium, Russia, Serbia, Montenegro and Japan) plus their flags
- Representations of a sword and bayonet (for the Army)
- The bows of two Dreadnoughts (for the Royal Navy).
The contents varied considerably; officers and men on active service afloat or at the front received a box containing a combination of pipe, lighter, 1 oz of tobacco and twenty cigarettes in distinctive yellow monogrammed wrappers. Non-smokers and boys received a bullet pencil made from a 303. Shell and a packet of sweets instead. Indian troops received sweets and spices. Nurses would have received chocolate. Not every serviceman or servicewoman received their box on Christmas Day 1914, and it was reported that some boxes were received as late as 1920.
The designers of the tin, Stanley Davenport Adshead and Stanley Churchill Ramsey, were established architects who worked in partnership on many notable buildings in England. The partnership began in 1911, when Stanley Davenport Adshead was invited to design the Duchy of Cornwall Estate in Kennington and run until 1931.
Very few of the 1914 tins with their contents remain intact today. For the centenary of World War One in 2014, the Daily Mail issued a replica of the Princess Mary gift box. Each box is stamped on the underside with Daily Mail. In the same year, at an event organised by Onslows auctioneers, Lady Kitchener, the great-great niece of Lord Kitchener, opened a cardboard carton containing 80 embossed brass tins sparking much public interest.
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