‘For Every Sailor Afloat, Every Soldier at the Front’

Princess Mary’s Christmas Gift, 1914

FOR the first time, we can now understand the full history behind the royal gift that kept on giving. The small embossed brass box containing tobacco, cigarettes, a pipe and a lighter, devised by the 17-year-old Princess Mary, seemed simple enough, yet it went a long way to securing the hearts and minds of those fighting in World War One.

Just after Christmas 1914, Army Service Corps driver W Powell wrote in a letter to his wife: “Our Christmas was better than we could have expected. Our officers made us as happy as they could, and we had a very nice dinner, tea, and concert. But the best surprises of the lot were the card from the King and Queen and the present from their daughter Princess Mary. This is a lovely gift, and I am sending it home that you may keep it safe, for I would not part with it for anything in this world.”

The boxes also, occasionally, saved lives. Many sent theirs home bearing dents caused by shellfire, while Gunner F Cooper revealed: “A comrade was saved when a bullet passed through the box and just lodged under his skin where it could be pulled out easily. The box was in the upper left pocket.” He also mused: “The picture of the Princess, which shows her seated on a chair, was struck so that it cut her clean off the chair without damaging the portrait. Don’t you think that rather remarkable?”

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