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A Christmas Gift from the Princess

Princess Mary, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, was only seventeen when the Great War began in August 1914. Her older brothers, the future King Edward VIII and George VI, were away in the military. This troubled Mary. She had a nightmare that George VI had been killed in battle.

Mary decided that she wanted to send a Christmas gift to all of the soldiers and sailors serving the British Empire. “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,” wrote Mary. She had originally wanted to pay for these gifts from her own personal allowance but it was soon clear that this was too large an undertaking, and a committee was appointed in October 1914 to help raise ₤100,000.

To provide a gift to everyone wearing the King’s uniform in service on Christmas Day 1914, an advertisement was placed in the national press requesting monetary contributions to a ‘Sailors & Soldiers Christmas Fund.’ After an overwhelming public response, the gift was agreed upon. The box was made of brass and embossed with Mary’s profile and initials. Thus, this gift was dubbed the Princess Mary Box.

At the top of the box are the words ‘Imperium Britannicum’ with a sword and scabbard on either side. On the lower edge are the words ‘Christmas 1914,’ flanked by the bows of battleships. In the corners can be found the names of the Allies— Belgium, Japan, Montenegro and Serbia (Servia), France, and Russia. The United States does not appear on the box because it remained neutral until April 6, 1917.

By Christmas 1914, nearly half a million Princess Mary Boxes had been distributed. When the fund finally closed in 1920, almost £200,000 had been donated for the provision of more than two and a half million boxes and contents. There were a variety of box types, although some later models of the Princess Mary box did not have Princess Mary’s image and were not authorized by the crown.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ashley, Mike. The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 1998.

Cannon, John and Ralph Griffiths. The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Monarchy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Longford, Elizabeth, ed. The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Weir, Alison. Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy. London: The Bodley Head, 1989.

IN THE COLLECTION

Artifacts:

Two 1914 Princess Mary box with Princess Mary’s image and hinged top

One 1914 Princess Mary box with “G. Juniper, mess 10, H.M.S. Lion” engraved on the inside of the top

One 1914 Princess Mary box without image (not authorized by the crown)

Contents of a Princess Mary box, including 1914 & 1915 greeting cards, cigarette package, tobacco package

Arts of the Great War Collection