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WW1 at Black Country Living Museum

Christmas & New Year

A 1914 Christmas Gift

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In 1914, 17 year old Princess Mary, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, was keen that "every Sailor afloat and every Soldier at the front" received a Christmas present from 'home' on December 25, 1914. She worked with the British Government to create "Her Royal Highness the Princess Mary's Sailors' & Soldiers' Fund" to raise funds through public donations.

The initial public response was overwhelming raising nearly £170,000. This enabled a Christmas gift to be sent to all British and Imperial military personnel - an estimated 2,620,019 service men & women.

The Christmas gift box was manufactured with a design that contained Princess /media/ww1/library/141219_230_christmas_gift_1914_2.jpgMary's silhouette and mongram in the centre, with the names of various 'Allied Powers' embossed around the edges. There were two basic sets of gifts. Smokers received one ounce of tobacco, a packet of 20 cigarettes. Non-smokers received a packet of acid tablets, a khaki writing case and a lead bullet pencil, while nurses received chocolates. All boxes received a picture of Princess Mary and a Christmas card.

Inspired by this, the following year in 1915, a charity set up the The Overseas Club to supply men on the front line with Christmas gifts to raise their spirits.

In 1915, the charity sent out an appeal to schoolchildren, asking them to raise money so that gift boxes could be purchased and sent to servicemen. Sir Edward Ward, who was in charge of the Overseas Club, wrote to children, asking them to imagine ‘how unhappy [the soldiers] must be…when they have to stand hour after hour, in the trenches, often deep in water, with shells bursting all around.’

The money raised was used by the charity to fill the boxes with small, useful presents to make soldiers’ lives more comfortable, such as socks, chocolates and cigarettes (at the time people did not realise that smoking caused health problems).

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School Children that raised over a certain amount of money received a certificate praising their effort to bring happiness on Christmas day to our brave soldiers who were fighting for honour, freedom & justice.The certificate shows two children passing presents to a soldier and a naval officer. On the bottom left is a seal of approval and the aims of the Overseas Club are written out, including: ‘to help one another’ and to ‘draw together in the bond of comradeship British people the world over’.

Today, Christmas boxes are still sent to troops serving in overseas conflicts.

 

New Year's Day 1915

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One hundred years ago - the Walsall Observer reported that on New Year’s Day 1915 at Walsall Town Hall, presents were distributed sent over by the children of Americans.

One little girl saw a number of soldiers at the entrance and made her way toward them. When asked where she was going, she replied “I want to ask the soldiers where my daddy is”; she was a war orphan. For other children the event was a happy one; with Punch and Judy and conjurers providing entertainment, enjoyed by children and their mothers alike.

The estimated number who attended was 4000. There were 550 presents allocated to Walsall for this party, but that was not enough for the children of the 736 fathers who were at the front. So the Mayor and Mayoress (Alderman and Mrs JN Cotterell) led a local committee to provide presents for all 2554 children, as well as 44 Belgian children living in Walsall. Some of those children had been orphaned; some were babies less than 2 months old and maximum age for presents was 16 for girls and 14 for boys.

The hope expressed by the Mayor was that 1915 would be a happier and brighter year than 1914 had been. The children were also given a silver sixpence, to spend or save. The children were finally invited by the officers of the Walsall Band of Hope to a picture show at the Imperial Hall the following Monday afternoon. That event was also covered in the press. There were some 1300 children in attendance; the Mayor spoke about doing their best to make the children of soldiers happy and the children, in their turn, could make others happy by being good girls and boys. At the end of the show each child was handed an orange and a bun.

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