Mary, Princess Royal, and Countess of Harewood were King George V and Queen Mary’s only daughter. She was the sister of King Edward VIII and George VI and the aunt of the current British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. At a young age, she helped service members and their families during World War I. But did you know why she wanted to raise funds during the First World War?
In 1914, Princess Mary, then 17, decided to distribute tin boxes containing small Christmas gifts to British Empire troops fighting in WW1. She eventually established a fund, went public, and raised about £17 million in today’s money.
A Personal Appeal to the Nation by Princess Mary
Princess Mary, the daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, was concerned about the soldiers and sailors serving in the First World War and wanted to give them a Christmas gift. Princess Mary wished to pay for the assistance with her personal allowance at first, but this was deemed impractical. Instead, it was decided that Princess Mary would lend her name to a public fund.
Princess Mary saw this project as providing a gift for service personnel and employment at home.
For many weeks we have all been greatly concerned for the welfare of the sailors and soldiers who are so gallantly fighting our battles by sea and land. I want you now to help me to send a Christmas present from the whole of the nation to every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front. On Christmas Eve, doubtless their thoughts will turn to home and loved ones left behind. 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. Please will you help me?Princess Mary, Her Appeal to the Public
This personal appeal to the nation appears to have struck a chord with the public, with a fund of £162,591 12s 5d raised, the equivalent of around £17 million in today’s money. This was an incredible sum of money to be donated during such a dark and challenging time. More funds were raised than were needed, so the excess was donated to Queen Mary’s Maternity Home, which cared for the wives and infants of soldiers, sailors, and airmen. (Source: The National Museum of the Royal Navy)
The Tradition That is Carried Until Today
The idea is still in use today. Individuals and a British charity have been sending Christmas boxes filled with gifts to our troops stationed overseas since 2005. Simple items such as a Christmas hat are included in the charity boxes and valuable items such as wind-up torches and razors. These gifts continue the tradition of providing morale boosts to our troops, just as they would have done in the First World War. (Source: The National Museum of the Royal Navy)