Royal Christmas Box

13th July 2014 — 19 Comments
Christmas bolx closed

Princess Mary’s Christmas Box – © Dave Clarke

Under rules that punish thousands of responsible pensioners every year, old people are forced to sell their property in order to pay for care. This is what happened to detectorist Dave Clarke’s uncle.

Although Dave didn’t know him that well, he was the one who went to clear the house prior to sale. He found it quite distressing to find so many personal and sentimental items to which any story and attachment had been long since forgotten. Let’s just say that the uncle now has ‘big gaps’ in his memory, and that’s a shame.

In the attic, Dave came across a World War 1 medal, but didn’t recognise the name inscribed upon it. He also found a Princess Mary Christmas Box containing a combination of pipe, lighter, tobacco and cigarettes sent overseas in 1914 to everyone wearing a King’s uniform.

Christmas Box copy

© Dave Clarke

Princess Mary, the 17-year-old daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, had created the fund and posted notices in the press inviting monetary contributions. The response from the public had been overwhelming.

Non-smokers and boys received a bullet pencil and a packet of sweets. Indian troops often got sweets and spices, and nurses were treated to chocolate.

The box is approximately 5″ long by 3¼” wide by 1¼” deep with a double-skinned, hinged, lid. The surface which depicts the head of Princess Mary in the centre, surrounded by a laurel wreath and flanked on either side by the ‘M’ monogram. How times change! This kind of gift wouldn’t even be considered today.

Christmas Fund 2 copy

© Dave Clarke

The box discovered by Dave appears to have the tobacco intact, but that from the cigarettes has disappeared. I don’t see a lighter or pipe either, but I believe the latter was only given to officers. Thanks for sharing your poignant find, Dave.

A Victorious New Year!

Great efforts were made to distribute the gifts in time for Christmas, and huge demands were made on an already stretched postal service. More than 355,000 were successfully delivered by the deadline. As time pressed on, a shortage of brass meant that many entitled personnel did not receive their gift until as late as the summer of 1916, and in January 1919 it was reported that ‘considerable’ numbers had still not been distributed. Those which were not distributed until after Christmas were sent out with a card wishing the recipient a ‘victorious new year’.


The Daily Mail Commemorative Coin

To mark the centenary of the start of World War I, the Daily Mail offered purchasers a replica of the famous King’s shilling, providing the paper was bought from a participating store.

War Shilling

Picture © JW

This offer was quite an ‘exquisite gift’ and ‘stunning commemorative replica’ – Daily Mail language. Also, (on the front page) they said that there was ‘plus’ a FREE Royal Xmas (sic) box to collect, just like the one given by Princess Mary. I’m not a Mail reader, but I was persuaded to pick one up just for the freebie. Alas, I was so taken by the weasel words that I blundered to the counter (ignoring the self-service thingy tills) and bought a copy. The small print said:


Beggar that for a game of soldiers! To qualify all I had to do was buy another 14 copies of the newspaper, send some numbers and post them with a cheque for £2.50 to claim my ‘free’ tin. I was aggrieved … especially since I had just forked out over £400 on a new pair of glasses!

UPDATE from MailOnline 10 August 2014

X-ray images of unopened cardboard box reveal treasure trove of First World War Christmas gift tins sent by Royal Family to British soldiers fighting in the trenches 100 years ago … click HERE for more on this story.


The resurrection of the ‘Royal Christmas Box’ has been enhanced with the addition of extra material


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19 responses to Royal Christmas Box

  1. What a neat thing to have found .. and the additional items posted are wonderful! All new to me, John! Thanks for posting them for us to enjoy.

  2. Am I right in thinking that, as of this Christmas, there will be a commemorative coin, plus the box.?

    Caught something on the tele’ yesterday.

    Great to see you back again John, love to Mrs John

  3. First of all John you should have gone to “Specsavers!
    The soldiers of the First World War by offering up their lives surely were entitled to some small token of gratitude. This token was not a State paid gift, which it should have been, but was through public subscription.I’m not sure if I would like one of the boxes currently being offered “free” or otherwise as I didn’t, like our brave forebears, earn it! If I found an original albeit in a rusty state that would different. As is true with a lot of what we find, we ponder on who lost it and the circumstances involved.

  4. Another good read John.

    The box is free of you enter the codes online. The £2.50 applies if you collect the codes and send throught the post.

  5. Another great post John, alas you have fallen to the persuasive powers of the tabloid print. The Mail says that it is “just like the one given to every Briton at the front” – does that mean it will contain tobacco and cigarettes? I think not! I am reminded of the TV ads which you can buy a monthly magazine and free with every issue are parts to construct your very own replica model of HMS Victory. I was almost tempted but I fear I may run out of either money, years or patience in obtaining the 150 issues I would require to complete it!

    • I have been taken-in by words on several occasions … you’d think I’\d have learned my lesson by now. Last year it was the ‘talking watch’. Maybe i’ll share the ignominy sometime. 🙂

    • Hedgehunter – The adverts clearly mention how many monthly issues there will be and if I remember correctly HMS Victory would have worked out at either £560 or £650. That was just for the magazine. In addition there would be glue and tools etc. to add into the cost and these monthly magazines often end up adding a few more extra editions to buy.

  6. John you should have gone to Specsavers

  7. How do I the christmas box. ive got the nunbers required where do i put them, Derrick Keene

  8. The answer is in the blogpost Derrick.

    “To qualify all I had to do was buy another 14 copies of the newspaper, send some numbers and post them with a cheque for £2.50 to claim my ‘free’ tin.”

    And that”s what YOU have to do. You can’t have ALL the numbers required, because t6hey haven’t been printed yet!

    Who’d have thought I would end up as a PR consultant for the Daily Wail! :-0

  9. is it possible to buy one of the replica tins,my father who is 90 has just found this in a pile of newspapers in the care home he now has to live in due to poor health, he would very much like one as he remmbers his Father having one, but dos’nt know what happend to it,thanks David Best.

  10. These tins were also known by the troops – with a certain measure of gallows humour – as ‘Mingie Mary’s’, owing to the fact that’s all they got for being in the trenches and up to their necks (read bollocks) in shit and bullets. The ‘M M’s’ on the tin are the source of the soubriquet.

    By the way with the same humour, the initials RASC (Royal Army Service Corps) was reckoned to mean, Run Away Someone’s Coming, and RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) stretcher -bearers, as Rob All My Comrades. The Queen’s Oxfordshire Hussars (QOH)….er,… Queers on Horseback. Times were different then!

    July 1st 1916 is the most common date on the gravestones – some 28,000.

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