Have you heard about "Princess Mary's Tin"? It was a gift box from a 17-year-old princess designed to bring a little cheer to soldiers on the front line of the Great War.
In the context of an unofficial armistice on the front line on Christmas Day 1914, this simple gift reached almost mythical proportions and became a symbol of a moment of peace in an escalating war, according to Ziare.
From India to Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, these small brass boxes, stamped with the young princess's face, can be found in drawers all over the world. Some contain mementos and artifacts from the war, which have been treasured for over a hundred years.
Princess Mary's Tin - The Origins of the Concept
When the world was plunged into the Great War, Harewood's contested Princess Mary was just 17. She was the only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary.
Mary was an intelligent, educated, and strong young woman. The Princess dedicated herself to charity work in the war and eventually became interested in giving a Christmas present to all the British soldiers fighting in World War I.
In her biography of Mary, Elisabeth Basford called her "the first modern princess".
The remarkable Princess Mary's Christmas tin for soldiers began with a simple appeal to the nation. On 16 October 1916, the British press announced the idea by publishing a simple letter. The heartfelt letter was composed by the young Princess herself.
"For many weeks we have all been deeply concerned for the welfare of sailors and soldiers who are fighting bravely by water and by land. I want you all to help me send a Christmas present from the whole nation to every sailor on the waters and soldier on the front. Is there anything that will cheer them more in battle than a gift received directly from home on Christmas Day?"
The effect of the letter was electric. Half of the funds needed were raised by the end of the month. But what was the motivation behind the gesture?
The Gift Box - An Idea Inspired by Queen Victoria
The idea for the gift came to the Princess after a meeting at Buckingham Palace on 8 October 1914. At the meeting attended Queen Mary, the Prince of Wales, who would become Edward VIII and later abdicate, and the Prince's treasurer, Walter Peacock, was held to set up a fund to send pipes and tobacco to sailors and soldiers.
But why a Christmas present? In 1899, the first year of the Boer War, Queen Victoria wanted to give a unique gift to the soldiers who were then fighting in South Africa. The sovereign's gift, chocolate in a brass box, became one of the most beloved artifacts of the war and had a positive impact on Princess Mary.
Although the queen paid for the gifts herself, Mary had no way of funding the idea herself and appealed to the public, turning the gesture into a national campaign during a traumatic year of the war, with defeats at the front and at sea.
The initial number of recipients of Marry's Christmas gift box was estimated at 145,000 sailors and 350,000 soldiers, so at least 495,000 gifts were needed. But in the end, 2.6 million gifts were distributed to servicemen around the world by the end of the war.
Inside Princess Mary's Tin
On 26 November, the Manchester Evening News wrote about the progress made on the Christmas gift boxes.
"The gift comprises an engraved, brass box, a wooden lighter, a pipe, cigarettes, and tobacco, with various alternatives for non-smokers, together with a Christmas card."
At the time, 96% of soldiers were smokers. Boxes were also designed for non-smokers, and instead of pipes and cigarettes, they received sweets or writing instruments. Eventually, four variations of the gift were designed.
Marry's gift boxes continued to be sent to British troops until 1920, and after the war ended.
Check out this interesting video about Princess Mary's tin.