By Bethany Lane, University of Glasgow MSc Museum Studies postgraduate student
When it became clear that the war was not going to be over by Christmas in 1914, Princess Mary wanted to give the soldiers at the front and the sailors at sea a gift for Christmas. The gifts were planned in October and distributed in time for Christmas. The gifts were extended to include all of those on active service, POWs, and the next of kin of those who had died in 1914. In total, an estimated 2,620,019 tins were circulated across the empire.
In her public fundraising appeal for the gifts, Princess Mary stated:
‘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.’
For smokers, the tins contained a card, photograph of the Princess and gifts such as tabacco, cigarettes, pipe and lighter. For non- smokers, the tins contained a card, photograph of the Princess and acid tablets and writing material. Minority groups were respected, for example Sikhs receiving sugar candy and spices. Nurses received chocolate and a card in their tin. When items became difficult to locate, substitute gifts were collected. Examples of these are shaving brushes, combs, pencil cases, postcards, and purses.
The contents from the tin in Erskine’s collection have been long gone but, as a treasured item, it was kept and contained World War One medals, photographs, and letters.
For more information and study resources, see the Imperial War Museum’s page on the Christmas tins of 1914.