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?
Letter from HRH The Princess Mary addressed to the nation
In October 1914 the 17-year-old Princess Mary announced her intention to send a gift to the nation’s servicemen on the first Christmas Day of the war, and called on the British public to lend their support. The Christmas Gift Fund was established to organise a scheme that would post out a specially designed brass box packed with presents to ‘every sailor afloat and soldier at the front’.
The standard gift would, the committee decided, comprise an embossed brass box, one ounce of pipe tobacco, twenty cigarettes, a pipe, a tinder lighter, a Christmas card (wishing its recipient a ‘Happy Christmas and a Victorious New Year’) and a photograph of Princess Mary. Non-smokers would receive a packet of acid tablets and a khaki writing case containing pencil, paper and envelopes in lieu of the tobacco and lighter. Indian servicemen would be gifted sugar candy and spices, while nurses were to be sent a box packed with a bar of chocolate.
A nationwide fundraising campaign targeted wealthy individuals (7,000 personalised appeals went out to households with more than five servants), social clubs, Masonic Lodges and businesses. So overwhelming was the public response to the call for donations that half the initial project cost was raised within a fortnight, and by the end of November there was a surplus of £37,000, more than half the starting budget.
The generosity of the nation allowed the committee in charge of the production and distribution of the presents to extend the scheme’s eligibility to include the two and half million men and women wearing the king’s uniform. In all, nearly half a million gifts were distributed on Christmas Day 1914, with the remainder delivered later.
The Christmas Gift Fund continued to raise funds for servicemen throughout the First World War. In total it received £162,500, mostly from small donations from individuals, families and businesses across the country. Upon its dissolution, the remaining monies were donated to Queen Mary’s Maternity Home, founded to support the wives and children of servicemen.
To find out more about Princess Mary’s Christmas Gift Fund browse our list of links to other resources:-
1. A podcast on Christmas at War
2. A run down on Christmas gifts in 1914 from The First World War Galleries
3. An educational resource from Oxford University Press and JISC on Christmas in the trenches
4. Detailed blog post on Princess Mary’s Christmas Tin: A Festive Gift for Thousands
5. Somerset Remembers posts about the Princess Mary box: ‘It’ll be over by Christmas’
7. Detailed look at the contents of The Princess Mary 1914 Christmas Gift
9. The Australian War Memorial give their run down on the Princess Mary’s Christmas Gift
10. From the Museum of Victoria, Melbourne: Princess Mary’s Christmas Gift, 1914
11. Detailed images of Princess Mary’s Gifts To The Troops, 1914
12. Images of the Princess Mary and the Royal Family 1914, from the National Portrait Gallery