Author Archives: Museum Administrator

New Special Exhibition – All Fired Up!

Essex Fire Museum and Saffron Walden Museum have collaborated to create a unique presentation of the history of Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, which will go on display at Saffron Walden Museum from Saturday 2 April. 

Research for this exhibition has been undertaken at Saffron Walden Library, Essex Record Office Access Point based at Saffron Walden Library and at the Gibson Library and the Essex Fire Museum. Staff and volunteers also visited the Saffron Walden Fire Station and met current serving fire fighters. Local people have also generously lent archival information and related artefacts for the displays.

Visitors to the exhibition at Saffron Walden Museum will be able to explore some of the fascinating stories of firefighting across Essex. The exhibits include a wide range of artefacts, photographs, uniforms and equipment which trace the history of firefighting from Victorian times to the present-day. It will also feature private and works’ fire brigades, which were particularly prominent in Essex during the 20th century.  

Along with discovering some of the technological developments which have influenced firefighting, visitors will also be able to discover heroic stories of bravery and the human stories behind some of the major incidents which have occurred in the county’s history. The exhibition also touches upon some of the more obscure aspects of local fire-fighting history, including a troupe of fire-fighting scouts, a famous fire-fighting Vicar and the story of how an obscure family pet caused a local mansion to go up in flames.

The exhibition will be held in the temporary exhibitions gallery at Saffron Walden Museum, Museum Street, Saffron Walden, Essex, CB10 1BN from Saturday 2nd April to Sunday 3 July 2022.

A launch event for the exhibition is to be held on Saturday 2nd April, 10am-3.30pm. Vintage Fire Engines and Equipment will be on display on the museum’s forecourt. Standard Museum Admission charges apply.

For more information about the exhibition please contact: Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) joxley@uttlesford.gov.uk 01799 510333

More information can also be found on the Museum’s website www.saffronwaldenmuseum.org and on our social media feeds.

Object of the Month – April 2022

The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to

explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores. 

April’s Object of the Month chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) is a charred key fob discovered after the Rose & Crown fire in the town on Boxing Day 1969. It forms part of the museum’s new exhibition, All Fired Up, by Essex Fire Museum, which charts the history of Essex Fire & Rescue Service (see more below).

At 1.40am on Boxing Day 1969 a fire broke out. Sadly 11 people died in their sleep, unaware that the fire had even taken hold. 29 people were rescued, some having climbed down from the upper floor windows using knotted sheets. The inquest ruled that the fire was caused by a faulty TV in the resident’s lounge overheating.  Three Saffron Walden firemen received commendations. The fire resulted in the government strengthening the fire safety regulations governing hotels and they passed a new Fire Precautions Act (1971). 

The building erected in its place became Boots the Chemist from 1973 onwards. A bunch of grapes carved in oak and a door canopy are all that remain of the original building. 

More detailed information including eyewitness accounts of the fire can be found in Zofia Everett’s 2008 article published in the Saffron Walden Historical Journal and in Paul Wood’s book, titled From Station Officer Drane

The fire understandably still has a major emotional impact on the town’s residents over 50 years on.  

To find out more visit the Museum in April to see this item on display in our new exhibition, All Fired Up. 

Object of the Month – March 2022

The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores. 

March’s Object of the Month chosen by Curator Carolyn Wingfield features three clay tobacco pipe bowls, all recently found in the Castle Street area.

Last autumn, archaeologists monitoring building works at the Fry Art Gallery, Bridge End Gardens recovered two pipe bowls.

In December, sharp-eyed pupils from Year 5 at St Mary’s C of E Primary School discovered a clay tobacco pipe while digging in the school grounds.

In early January, the Museum was delighted to welcome a delegation from Year 5, who very kindly gave their find to the Museum.

Fragments of clay tobacco pipes, especially pieces of broken stems, are common finds. The earliest pipes date from the 17th century, following the introduction of tobacco from America.

Clay pipes continued to be made into the 20th century, although by World War I, smokers were turning to cigarettes and briar pipes.

The three pipe bowls from Castle Street date from the 19th century, when clay pipes were made in great quantities all over the country, and many were decorated with designs or motifs moulded in relief.

The pipe bowl from St Mary’s School probably dates from the later 19th century and has a fine band of leafy decoration within a border running down the front and back of the bowl.

The two pipe bowls from the Fry Art Gallery are very different. One is plain, though a small ‘spur’ beneath the bowl is stamped with the maker’s initial ‘W’.

The other bowl has elaborate moulded decoration. On one side is the badge of the Prince of Wales, three ostrich feathers and the motto ‘Ich Dien’ (‘I serve’). On the other side, a soldier fires a rifle from behind a tree. He wears the tall hat of an early 19th century infantryman.

The archaeologists (Archaeological Solutions Ltd) who were monitoring the works, dated the pipe to around 1820-1840 and suggested that it commemorated the Napoleonic Wars.

Such pipes would have been popular with former soldiers, or might be marketed to landlords of pubs named the Prince of Wales. A clay pipe with a plug of tobacco would be sold over the bar for a penny. There was a Prince of Wales pub in London Road, Saffron Walden in the 19th century, but there were also a number of pubs in Castle Street where pipes would be sold and smoked.

Image (left): all three clay pipe bowls found in the Castle Street area. 

Image (centre): St Marys School pipe bowl, showing the distinctive leafy style design 

Image (right): Detail of the Fry Art Gallery pipe bowl, showing an infantry soldier firing a gun

Many thanks to the pupils, staff and governors of St Mary’s C of E Primary School, and to John Ready and the Fry Art Gallery Society for the donation of these pipes and information on their discovery.

Andy Peachey of Wardell Armstrong LLP Archaeological Solutions Ltd provided the identification of the decorated pipe bowl from the Fry Art Gallery.

To find out more visit the Museum in March to see them on display…  

 

Victorian Valentines and more

A bit of Valentine’s related history for February from our collections!

 

An invitation to a Valentine’s ball at Wimbish Village Hall, 12 February 1943.  Miss McQueen was well-known locally she had a small farm at Rowney Corner from which people could buy fresh eggs and she also played the organ in the 1970s at the church in Wimbish.

 

 

 

 

We also have a selection of Victorian Valentines cards. These 19th century designs typically include floral decoupage, lace doilies, ribbon details and lace trimmings. Inside the cards are lovely little poetic verses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February’s object of the month shows gemstones which are associated with love and romance, to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

 

4 mineral specimens on a white background. Lines of shade cross the image.

Amethyst geode (top left), sapphire (bottom left), ruby crystals in sheet of mica (middle), lapis lazuli (top right).  

They have been chosen by James Lumbard, one of the museum’s Natural Sciences Officers.  Amethyst is the birthstone for February, but as a symbol of love, St Valentine is said to have worn an amethyst ring so Christian couples in Ancient Rome could identify him. Valentine was a priest who carried out forbidden Christian marriages and married young couples, when the Roman empire persecuted Christians and preferred their soldiers to be unmarried men.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lapis lazuli can represent truth and friendship, and in Christianity represents the Virgin Mary. With the blue of the sky and gold of the sun, it represents success in Jewish traditions, while beads found in the ancient town of Bhirrana from 7500 BCE are its oldest known use by people. The remains of Bhirrana are in the Indian state of Haryana.

Sapphires are popular for engagement rings, as used for Lady Diana’s engagement ring from Prince Charles. Sapphire is the traditional gift in the UK for a 45th wedding anniversary and can symbolise truth and faithfulness.

In Ancient Greece and Rome, the word sapphire was used for lapis lazuli, as sapphire was only widely known from the Roman Empire onwards.

To find out more visit the Museum in February to see it on display or check out the Object of the Month Blog article on our website.

Holocaust Memorial Day 27th January

Following the occupation of Poland, the Nazis introduced anti-Semitic laws against the country’s Jewish population. Jewish people were segregated, forced from their homes to live in squalid crowded ghettos and had to wear a Star of David to identify themselves. 

In 1942 the Nazis began what they called ‘the Final Solution’ – a plan to exterminate all Jewish people across Europe. Roma gypsies, gay and disabled people, as well as black and mixed-race people were also persecuted and killed. Many Jewish people were taken straight from the ghettos and packed into trucks and trains to be transported to the death camps.

As persecution of Jewish people had become more extreme, the Anglo-Jewish founder of the Central British Fund for Jewish Relief (CBF), Leonard Montefiore, had set up a mission known as the Kindertransport (children’s transport). The CBF provided refuge to 10,000 children before the war, with the first Kindertransport children arriving by ferry at Harwich, Essex, on 2 December 1938.  Nearly 2,000 of these children spent their 1st weeks in Britain at the Dovercourt holiday camp close to the Harwich docks, whilst others were taken directly by train through Essex to London’s Liverpool Street Station to meet their new foster parents.

After the war, Montefiore appealed for funds to transport 300 surviving orphans from Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland, who became known as the “Windermere Children” to the Lake District in Cumbria, a plan which was put into action in the summer of 1945.  

They were the first intake of a pioneering rehabilitation scheme, which aimed to use the tranquillity of the English countryside to provide a restorative environment for the children after the horrors they had endured.  Heavily traumatised and with none of their own clothes, toys or possessions, and with many of them under 5 years old, it must have been terrifying for them.  The children grouped together and formed their own self-sufficient family unit. Their behaviour was analysed by child psychologists, such as Anna Freud, who later published a study centred around them in 1951. 

The CBF continued its work after the war, with another 432 child survivors brought to Britain. They continued to fund raise, finding the children new homes, schools and apprenticeships.

By January 1946, all the children had left Windermere. Settling into their adult lives during the 1950s and 60s, they put down roots and started families, businesses and careers.

Recounting the stories of the Windermere children and others is essential to ensure that what happened during the Holocaust is not forgotten, or ever repeated. 

(BBC documentary, The Windermere Children, 1st aired 2020)

It is estimated that six million Jewish people died in the Holocaust.

The Red Cross traced the Nazis’ victims, piecing together the extent of the Holocaust and tried to reunite survivors with their families.

A few Saffron Walden connections…..

The Harwich Kindertransport Memorial Appeal

The appeal is currently fundraising for a statue to go on public display at Harwich quayside to commemorate the kindertransport.  The artist commissioned for this project is Ian Wolter who has his studio in Saffron Walden.  It will be a life size bronze of five children arriving in Harwich just before the outbreak of the Second World War.  His work has received numerous prizes including the Arte Laguna Prize (Venice, 2016) and the RomArt Sculpture Prize (Rome, 2017).  One of his bronze life-size sculptures can already be seen on display in the town, it’s called The Children of Calais, which echoes The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin, but in Wolter’s version the children are dressed in contemporary clothing , with one of them holding a lifejacket instead of a key to the city, to provoke debate about the inhumanity of our response to the children caught up in the ongoing refugee crises.

The Association of Jewish Refugees Journal, Volume 14 No.1 January 2014:

Herta Oschinski (b. 1901?) arrived in England from Berlin in June 1939 as a domestic worker at the home of Stanley Thorne, who was connected with the Quaker school in Saffron Walden.  Herta’s daughter Lore arrived in England in August 1939 aged 15 and was interned in Rushen Camp, Port Erin, until April 1941, when she joined her mother in Saffron Walden. 

 

SW Reporter, February 4, 2010:

Otto Deutsch

A survivor of the Kindertransport scheme who lived in Saffron Walden, spoke of leaving his family in Vienna and his gratitude to the English couple who had taken him in and brought him up.

 

SW Reporter, February 7, 2008

Francis Deutsch

13-year-old Francis Deutsch waved goodbye to his mother in Vienna in 1939 with no idea that he would never see her again.  The plan had been for her to join him 3 months later in England and for them to then head to America to start a new life together. But they didn’t realise how close to the outbreak of war it was. 

In July 1939, Francis got on a train bound for the Hook of Holland, before getting a ferry to Harwich as part of the Kindertransport and met his foster carers in London.  He received half a postcard every 6 months from his mother once the war began, until one day the postcards stopped, and she was deemed missing, presumed dead.

He went on to study at University, became a lawyer, had a family of his own and later retired to Saffron Walden.  For the 2008 Holocaust Memorial Day, at the age of 82, Francis had an exhibition at the Friend’s Meeting House in the town, telling local school children about the Kindertransport operation and his experiences.

 

“Veteran Staff Room” (Friends School) by Richard Wright pg. 49-64:

“Out of Nazi Germany and Trying to Find My Way” (book) Irene David, Minerva Press (2000)

Irene David

Irene’s Jewish parents went into hiding in Germany and sent her to safety in England with her non-Jewish step-grandmother, Tanta Julia.  On the way over, at the Belgian border they were beaten, interrogated and strip searched by troops.  Irene arrived in Saffron Walden in 1942 and stayed for two years. She did not find it easy. She found that some youngsters did not accept her strong German accent and in her words, she had to fight for her place in society. However, the Friends School must have made a positive impression on her. She later sent her son to the Junior House, run by Jeanne Barrie, and he stayed on, through the main School, to become Head Boy.

 

“Veteran Staff Room” (Friends School) by Richard Wright pg. 49-64:

Ruth Michaelis

“I came to England with my brother, Martin, three years older than me, in 1939 as part of the Kindertransport. At the time of my coming to England my only thoughts were about how to survive after my parents, home, language and everything familiar had disappeared – except my brother upon whom I relied as a substitute mother.  The world had suddenly gone mad. Nothing made sense anymore.”

Ruth goes on to tell how she and her brother were fostered by 3 families. She tells of the first family she lived with, that she wet the bed and was beaten by her foster mother.  She chose to believe that as they had had no children of their own they were ignorant rather than cruel.  She later went to the Friends’ School and found comfort from the staff there.  She went on to become a teacher in her own right and gained a GCSE in Child Development, wrote a text book and became a chief examiner for the SW CSE Board. Before later switching to a new career as a psychotherapist.  She speaks about attending her first Kindertransport Reunion in 1989 and having to come to terms with survivor’s guilt as well as her work counselling and educating people about the holocaust.  She believed it was probably the Quakers who originally sponsored her and her brother coming to England with the Kindertransport and that’s how she ended up going to the Friend’s School.  In 1995 there was a reunion of all the Friends’ Schools pupils from the war years.

Collections Focus: 1514 Charter

This beautiful illuminated 1514 Charter can be seen on display in the museum’s Local History gallery.

Here are a few facts about what is contained in the charter…

When Henry VII came to the throne in 1485, he introduced charges for traders, brewers and bakers in
Saffron Walden. The townspeople were not happy about this, as people went elsewhere to sell their goods.

In 1513, a group of townspeople, led by John Leche and his sister Dame Joan Bradbury, petitioned Henry VIII to withdraw these charges but he refused.

The group then devised a plan to form a religious guild in the name of Katherine Semar, a wealthy widow in the town who wanted to leave money for a chantry in her will. They petitioned the king for the right to form this guild.

The petition was successful and on 24 March 1514, Henry VIII granted a charter allowing the Guild of the Holy Trinity to be formed.

The charter allowed the guild to hold land to the value of 20 marks without paying the normal charges and to act as a body in court.

Two months later, on 12 May 1514, Henry VIII granted a second charter to the guild.

The second charter allowed the guild to run the town’s market, a windmill and a malt mill and to keep the profits from them all. This meant that the townspeople no longer paid charges to the king.  In return Henry VIII demanded £10 per year.

More about the 1514 Charter: 

The charter is hand-written in Latin onto parchment and it is decorated with gold leaf and illustrations, including:

Saffron crocuses: Saffron crocuses can be seen on the left-hand-side of the charter. They
symbolise the town of Saffron Walden.

Bodley coat-of-arms: The Bodley coat-of-arms is on the left- hand-side of the charter. Thomas
Bodley was the first husband of Dame Joan Bradbury.

Saint Ursula: Saint Ursula can be seen sheltering her companions with her cloak. The guild was connected with Saint Ursula because they celebrated a four-day fair at the time of her feast-day.

Henry VIII granted the charter. His coat-of-arms: coat-of-arms is at the top of the charter
and his signature is at the bottom.  

Saint Katherine: Saint Katherine, who can be seen with her wheel at the top of the charter,
represents Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s wife at the time. One of the responsibilities of the guild was to pray for the souls of Henry and Katherine.

Katherine Semar: The figure on the right of the charter is probably Katherine Semar. The guild was formed using the money that Katherine left in her will for a chantry.

Object of the Month – January 2022

Ptarmigan in Winter Plumage

Our ‘Object of the Month’ for January is a Ptarmigan in white winter plumage. This bird was collected between 1835 and 1899, after Saffron Walden Museum opened in 1835 and before the end of the nineteenth century. It is a stuffed specimen mounted on an imitation rock with a painted wooden base. Sarah Kenyon, one of the Natural Sciences Officers at the Museum, chose it because snow has already fallen in Britain this winter.

 

Ptarmigan Lagopus mutus

SAFWM : NB229C © Saffron Walden Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Feathers and Fur

As cold temperatures and snow descend over Britain animals put on their winter coats. In Scotland several species change the colour and thickness of their fur and feathers to stay hidden, or camouflaged, and warm. They are the Mountain Hare, Pine Marten, Stoat, Reindeer and Ptarmigan. This adult male Ptarmigan, Lagopus mutus, shows the white winter plumage which helps the bird blend in with the snow and remain safe from predators, especially birds of prey. The feathers around their legs also help to keep in warmth. These small, plump game birds can be found on Scottish mountains, such as the Cairngorms, and on heather moors at high altitudes. They have a characteristic walk. In summer their feathers are speckled grey and brown which blends in with rocks, scrub and heather.

The fur of Mountain Hares turns from grey-brown to completely white in winter as they also need to avoid being caught by birds of prey. They live on heather moorland and in woodland above 300-400 metres in Scotland.

The Pine Marten is found in the north and centre of Scotland. Numbers of this predator are low but stable now that they are protected from persecution. They live in old native forests where the trees lose their leaves in winter. Their fur is brown with a yellow ‘bib’ on the chest. The brown fur becomes lighter in colour during winter to help blend in with the trees and snow. A thicker coat is grown to keep warm.

A herd of Reindeer live in the Cairngorm mountains. In winter they grow a thicker, lighter coloured coat of fur to protect against cold mountain temperatures and harsh arctic winds.

Stoats are predators in the same family as Pine Martens. The fur is light brown, white on the belly, and the tail has a black tip. This distinguishes them from Weasels which are smaller in size and have a brown tail.

In northern Scotland the fur of Weasels and Stoats turns white in winter to blend in with the snow, except for the black tail tip. This white fur colouration of stoats is called ermine and the fur was used to trim robes.

 

Weasel from Barley, Hertfordshire

(SAFWM : 1982.164)

 

You can see a Weasel and Stoat in the wildlife display case in the museum

 

Stoat from Newport, Essex               

(SAFWM : 2009.23)

 

 

Stoat in its white winter ermine fur 

(Image Wikimedia Commons)

 

Collections Focus: John Harvey’s Carved Mantlepiece (c.1570)

 

In 1855, Robert Driver Thurgood, decided to demolish his mansion in the centre of Saffron Walden, between Market Street (Market End) and Common Hill, to sell the land to provide additional space for the town’s cattle market.

The house was one of several previously owned by John Harvey (d. 1593). Harvey was a gentleman farmer, master rope-maker, and notable as well as the father of Gabriel Harvey (c.1550-1650) a famous scholar and poet.

During the demolition work sections of oak panelling were removed from the house, which revealed underneath them, three heavily carved chimney pieces. One of these carved overmantels was rescued and has been on display in the museum ever since. It is referred to by specialists as one of the earliest examples of “Alciato” emblems, based on Andrea Alciato, an Italian humanist’s writings, being used in England.

The overmantel has been made from clunch, a form of limestone which was used because it was relatively easy to carve. The central section depicts Harvey’s rope-making business.  A ropewalk is shown, the area where the master roper and his assistants’ twisted hemp, jute or flax yarn into ropes and cordage. The figures shown are dressed in late 16th century clothes, with winged and tabbed doublets or jerkins, breeches, stockings and latchet-secured shoes.  Presumably the ropemaking scene is being used to symbolise the value of labour and effort, and the link to its owner’s profession. Around the rope-making scene are depicted flowering plants and what appears to be a silk moth. There is a small building and an oak tree with a pig beside it eating fallen acorns. The motto in Latin here reads NEC ALIIS NEC NOBIS (Neither for others nor for ourselves).

The scene on the left of the rope making features a mule eating a thistle, a goose-like bird perched on a single tree branch, a series of stylised flowering plants and a tree full of oranges. The motto in Latin which reads ALIIS NON NOBIS (For others not for ourselves), could refer to the idea of not benefitting from your own labours, essentially doing something for the common good. To the right of the rope-making scene is pictured a deciduous tree with birds, a swarm of bees going backwards and forwards to their straw beehive. Here the Latin motto reads ALIIS ET NOBIS (For others and for ourselves), which makes sense with the image of the bees, as their honey benefits the bees themselves as well as humans.

Beneath all three sections of the symbolic emblems, the Latin motto appears to read NOSTRI PLACENTE VNT LABOR, but there are some letters and words missing, it possibly meansOur cakes are our labour,” presumably meaning labour brings its own rewards.

The recessed panels feature a cockatrice (a mythic beast which was said to have plagued Saffron Walden before it was killed) and a gryphon segreant (combined eagle and lion), which both appear to have been used in the design like heraldic crests, as there are twisted ribbons pictured around them. Other emblems carved here include flowers, leaves, fruit and trefoils.

For more information:

  • Peter Daly and Bari Hooper. John Harvey’s Carved Mantle-piece (c. 1570): An Early Instance of the Use of Alciato Emblems in England, Saffron Walden Historical Journal, 2003.
  • Alison Saunders. Emblems in Applied Arts and Crafts with Particular Reference to Alciati. 
  • Peter Daly (ed.,), Andrea Alciato and the Emblem Tradition, New York: AMS Press, pp.177-204

 

Watercolour showing the back of Gabriel Harvey’s childhood house, The Bell, showing the side which faced The Common. The house was pulled down in 1855. The sketch is by GN Maynard in 1886 based on one by Fry. 

 

 

The mantelpiece as it appeared in the museum on display in the late 19th / early 20th century

 

The carved mantlepiece or over-mantel

Object of the Month – December 2021

1914 Christmas Gift Box for the Troops

The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to  explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores.

December’s Object of the Month chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) is a Princess Mary Christmas gift box, an embossed and monogrammed tin which was intended to be distributed to all members of the armed forces of the British Empire on Christmas day 1914, during World War I.

Following the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the British Expeditionary Force was sent to the Western Front and was soon joined by troops from the Empire, those from India arriving before the end of the year.  In October 1914, George V’s 17-year-old daughter, Mary, Princess Royal, launched a public appeal to fund every member of the armed forces receiving a Christmas gift.  Shortly before Christmas 1914, advertisements were placed in the British press seeking donations for the “Soldiers and Sailors Christmas fund” and £513,000 was quickly raised.

The funding was used to manufacture small boxes made of silver for officers and brass for all others.  However, there were metal shortages.  Supplies of 45 tons of brass strip, destined to make more boxes, was lost in May 1915 when RMS Lusitania was sunk off Ireland on passage from the USA.  In the latter stages of the war when metal became even more scarce, some of the tins were made from plated base metals or alloys. 

Each tin was decorated with an image of Mary and other military and imperial symbols.  They were typically filled with an ounce of pipe tobacco, a packet of cigarettes in a yellow monogrammed wrapper, a pipe, a tinder cigarette lighter, and a Christmas card and photograph from Princess Mary.  Some contained sweets, chocolates, and lemon drops.   There were also variations on the contents of the boxes for non-smokers, who received a packet of acid tablets, a khaki writing set comprising a case with pencil, paper and envelopes. 

The Committee was also obliged to consider the tastes of other minority groups and it was recognised that if the dietary rules of various religious groups were to be respected, changes would have to be made in the gifts intended for Indian troops. It was decided that The Gurkhas were to receive the same gift as the British troops; Sikhs the box filled with sugar candy, a tin box of spices and the Christmas card; all other Indian troops, the box with a packet of cigarettes and sugar candy, a tin box of spices and the card. Authorised camp followers, grouped under the title of ‘Bhistis’ were to receive a tin box of spices and the card.

The smokers’ and non-smokers’ gifts were both deemed unacceptable by the committee for nurses at the front in France who were instead offered the box, a packet of chocolate and the card.

However, suppliers of the content items had trouble and it was realised that there were still not enough to go round. The Committee resolved the problem by hurriedly buying in an assortment of substitute gifts: bullet pencil cases, tobacco pouches, shaving brushes, combs, pencil cases with packets of postcards, knives, scissors, cigarette cases and purses.  Those sailors who should also have received the lighter as part of their gift, were given instead, a handsome bullet pencil in a silver cartridge case which bore Princess Mary’s monogram. The ‘pencil bullet’ was not fashioned out of real bullet parts – it was simply a pencil with a rounded white metal end that looked like an unfired round when stored inside a brass tube resembling a cartridge case.   

The boxes were originally intended for “every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front” on Christmas day 1914, but with the charity fun in surplus and some feeling that they had been left out, eligibility was soon extended to everyone “wearing the King’s uniform on Christmas day”, later prisoners of war were included, as well as the next of kin of 1914 casualties.  It is estimated that 400,000 were delivered by Christmas 1914, with full distribution completed in 1920, by which time approximately 2.5 million had been delivered.

A Princess Mary Gift Fund Box was a treasured possession of many veteran soldiers of the First World War, even when the original contents – usually cigarettes and rolling tobacco – had long been used. The embossed brass box was air-tight, and made a useful container for money, tobacco, papers and photographs, so was often carried through subsequent service.  Some troops repacked their tins and sent them home to their wives and families.

Further information and acknowledged sources  here: