Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Princess Mary Christmas Box

The Princess Mary Christmas Box

Sunday, June 16, Father's Day, was also the death anniversary of my step-father.  Among his possessions was this brass box.  It was one of the very few personal items he brought with him when we left Sri Lanka.  I must have been 9 or 10 when I first saw it, back in Sri Lanka.  I was told it was  an old toffee tin and I knew his father's service medals were kept in it.

But, it was much later that I found out exactly what it was - a Princess Mary Christmas Box.  I was reading a magazine and I came across a picture of a similar box and I recognized it!  Apparently, the then 17 year old daughter of King George V and Queen Mary wished to send a Christmas gift to all the soldiers and sailors in service on Christmas Day 1914.  As a result, a fund was set up, donations to the fund were solicited, and these boxes were made and sent along with tobacco and cigarettes to some, a bullet shaped pencil and sweets to some (non-smokers), sweets and spices to Indian troops, and chocolates to nurses.  All, apparently included a greeting card and a picture of the Princess.  Only some received their boxes on Christmas Day; others received theirs much later, especially as the list of those receiving them expanded.

The box is brass, about 5 inches by 3 inches by 1 inch, embossed, according to one source that I read, based on a design by Messrs Adshead and Ramsey. 

The surface of the lid contains a portrait of the Princess Mary, in the center, surrounded by a wreath of laurel leaves and her monogram "M" on either side:


Portrait of The Princess Mary

At the top edge of the lid, there is a decorative cartouche containing the words, "Imperium Britannicum", with a sword and scabbard on either side.

Top Edge of the Box
On the lower edge, there is another cartouche with the words, "Christmas 1914", with the bows of battleships on either side:


"Christmas 1914"



Close Up of the Battleship Bow

In the corners and on the side edges are the names of the allies: France and Russia on the two sides and Belgium, Japan, Montenegro, and Servia in the corners.

I don't know when my step-father's father received his box.  The original contents are long gone.  What is inside the box, now, is a collection of badges, medals, and deteriorating ribbons, that he had received:

The Collection
Apparently, he was in the service of the Ceylon Sanitary Company, which, from the little research I've been able to do, were attached to the Royal Army Medical Corps (according to the British National Archives) and served in the "Mesopotamian front (Iraq) from 27 September 1917 - 31 January 1919"

Medals and Ribbons

Which helps to explain this particular medal:


"Baghdad 1917-1918

And why this medal mentions service during the Great War of 1914 - 1919:


"The Great War of 1914-1919"

When my daughter was in school, studying about World War I, I gave her the box and the medals to take to school with her as a "show and tell" item.  I hoped that seeing (and touching) these items from a long ago war made what they were learning in a book seem more real.

I haven't done a lot of research into this, but, I might look into the British National Archives to see if they have more information.  I have his name, service/serial number, and the company he served in.  I wonder if my step-father's sister knows more about it.  I should check with her (I called her, just now, and left her a message as she didn't answer her phone; I'll call her back another time).  I shall also ask her what she wants me to do with the box and its contents.  My step-father didn't have any biological children and neither does his sister.  However, they had other siblings who had children.  I shall ask my aunt if she would like me to send these items to her to be given to her nieces or nephews or their children.   After all, these items belonged to their grandfather and great-grandfather and should be their heirlooms to cherish.  There is a photograph of my step father's mother, too, among all the various papers I have, as well as photographs of his grandparents' graves.  I need to find them and send them off, as well. 

Have you seen one of these Princess Mary Christmas boxes? 




22 comments:

  1. How kind of Princess Mary to think of all those serving and to want to send a Christmas gift to them. That box is a real treasure and I hope that you will be able to find someone of your stepfather's family to give it to, as well as the photograph. Often in a family there is someone who is really interested in genealogy and the history of their own family, someone who will cherish such items.

    A couple of weeks ago I became convinced that the top-filling hummingbird feeder was useless, since it had leaked all the sugar syrup out onto the porch. I bought another of the old style and installed it. But I had to hold onto the other one like a true clutterer, didn't I, and this week I decided to test it out with water one last time. I tightened everything well and pressed each of the bee guards carefully, noting that one needed to be pressed in. Sure enough, that had been the problem. It stood up to the test and I refilled it with the sugar solution and now my lucky hummingbirds have two feeders, one in the backyard and one in the front, so that an aggressive bird can't dominate both of them at once as they sometimes do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it was kind of her to want to send a gift to those serving. I haven't heard back from my aunt; I'll try calling her again and ask her.

      Good thing you held on to that hummingbird feeder and now have two for them! I saw a hummingbird in my garden, yesterday, feeding from the white agapanthus flowers that have started blooming. Which reminds me, I need to take more garden pictures for an update on the garden!

      Delete
  2. Those are definitely family heirlooms. I hope they will be cherished.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, they are, aren't they? I hope one of my step-cousins will want them.

      Delete
  3. Yes! I have one - found at a thrift store in Vancouver, Canada about 10 years ago. I love it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How wonderful that you have one, too! I'm glad it found a home with you. :)

      Delete
  4. How utterly beautiful - I've admired these tins in museums but never actually held one. The imperial War museum, round the corner from my daughter's London home has some. You may find this interesting. https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/look-inside-the-princess-mary-gift-fund-1914-box

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Angela. Yes, that is one of the websites I've visited a few times. It's fascinating to see the items included in these tins, isn't it?

      Delete
  5. I've never seen or heard of those before, but what a treasured possession. I can understand you wishing for your step-cousins to have the box and medals and I hope you manage to gather more information from the archives. X

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Jules. I love history and am hoping to find out more, if I can.

      Delete
  6. Wow!!! That is real treausure, so beautiful!☺

    ReplyDelete
  7. My maternal grandfather served in WW1 and was a recipient of these tins. It was passed on to my uncle, his second child but oldest son, on his death. I assume it has now been passed on to his son and will stay in that branch if the family. It still had the chocolate inside!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Eileen, that's great! It's hard to imagine that the chocolates were kept!

      Delete
  8. That is a beautiful box filled with treasures. It is so kind of you to try and pass them on to one of his blood relatives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the box and its contents are treasures. I know my step father treasured it, and I do, too. But, I think it is only right that it should go to his blood relatives, don't you? What they do with it will be up to them.

      Delete
  9. What neat history. I hope one of his grandchildren/great grandchildren will want it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope so, too. I will try calling my aunt again to see what she wants done with the box.

      Delete
  10. I have never seen these before, but their history is quite interesting. It's very kind of you to offer the box to his blood relatives, but your step father was very important to you, also, so I think it's okay for you to keep it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. America had not joined the war yet when these boxes were first made, but, some of the brass intended for them was bought from America and a shipment of it was lost when the Lusitania was sunk! Actually, I would love to continue to keep the box, as, to be quite honest, I don't know if any of my step cousins appreciate the history behind it, but, I feel obliged to at least tell my aunt I have it and ask her if she wants it. I've no guarantee what will become of it once I am gone - I really don't expect my daughter to keep it, either.

      Delete
  11. My uncle GW Edema was in Mesapotemia with the Ceylon Sanitary Company. Died in early 60s. I searched for the Ceylon Sanitary Company emblem everywhere but could not find any.It was engraved in a war grave in a Iraqi cemetery but not clear. Could you help me to get at least a line drawing of the emblem?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Anton, I'm sorry, but, I've since forwarded all the box and the contents to my stepfather's sister and am unable to provide any further information. Perhaps the UK National Archives might be able to help:

      https://livelb.nationalarchives.gov.uk/first-world-war/a-global-view/asia/ceylon/

      Good luck!

      Delete

Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. Your comments are much appreciated.