Object of the Month: December 2020

1 December 2020

Princess Mary’s Christmas Gift to Soldiers (1914)


Christmas is a time for compassion, generosity and for helping those less fortunate than ourselves. Our Object of the Month this December is Princess Mary’s Gift Fund Box, in celebration of the power of charitable giving.

On 14th October 1914, the seventeen-year-old Princess Mary, the third child and only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, launched the Christmas Gift Fund, with the aim of sending a personal Christmas gift to each soldier and sailor fighting for Britain during the First World War. As she explained in a letter released by Buckingham Palace, the gifts would be “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?”. Fundraising proved a great success and approximately £162,591 was raised, most of which came from small individual donations from members of the public. 

The boxes, which were made of silver for officers and brass for all others, such as this example, were designed by Messrs Adshead and Ramsey, and were embossed with a profile portrait of Princess Mary. They each contained one ounce of pipe tobacco, twenty cigarettes, a pipe and a tinder lighter, as well as a Christmas card from the King and Queen and a photograph of the Princess. Alternative gifts were sent to non-smokers and nurses, and some contained sweets, especially for Indian troops. Distribution was not completed until 1920 by which time approximately 2.5 million had been delivered.

A Princess Mary Gift Fund Box was a treasured possession and while many troops sent them home to their wives and families, others continued to use them even after their original contents had run out. In distributing these gifts, Princess Mary brought joy and hope to many during a turbulent time.

Image; Princess Mary’s Christmas Gift Fund Box