The Princess Mary Christmas gift box was a brass or silver tin containing a number of gifts intended to be distributed to all members of the armed forces of the British Empire on Christmas Day 1914, during World War I.
After the outbreak of WWI in August of 1914, the British Expeditionary Force was sent to the Western Front; it was joined by troops from the Empire, with those from India arriving before the end of the year. In October 1914, George V’s daughter, Mary, Princess Royal, who was seventeen at the time, launched an appeal to fund every member of the armed forces so they might receive a Christmas gift. Just prior to Christmas, ads were placed to encourage donations to the “Soldiers and Sailors Christmas Fund”.
The funding was then used to manufacture small boxes made of silver for officers and brass for all others. Each box was decorated with an image of Mary along with other military symbols. The tins were filled with an ounce of tobacco, a packet of cigarettes, a cigarette lighter, along with a Christmas card and photograph from Princess Mary. Some of the tins contained sweets, chocolates, and lemon drops.
Though approximately 400,000 tins were delivered by Christmas, the distribution wasn’t completed until 1920; by that time approximately 2.5 million had been delivered.
To learn more about the gift boxes, follow this link to the Imperial War Museum.