In September 1914, a seventeen year old Princess requested a meeting with some of the most influential figures of the day including the Duke of Devonshire and the Prime Minister, Hergert Asquith. The new display at Harewood, which coincides with this meeting 100 years on, tells the story of how the young Princess Mary was able to raise significant funds to produce and deliver gifts to all the soldiers, sailors and nurses on the front line. This amounted to 2.5 million people! It’s a fascinating piece of social history which combines factual accounts from the trenches with the aspirations of the Royal family.
David Lascelles, Earl of Harewood said: “My grandmother had a very strong sense of public duty, never more evident than when, aged just 17, she raised £31,000 by public appeal (the equivalent of over £3m today) to send these gift boxes to every serving soldier for the first Christmas of the war in 1914.
She became very involved with the war effort, later forming her own Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) to help provide field nursing services and visiting the front herself immediately after the war ended in 1918. Other famous 1st World War VAD nurses include Agatha Christie, Amelia Earhart (the first woman to fly the Atlantic) and the explorer Freya Stark.
These boxes, for tobacco or sweets, are still a poignant and very personal memento of a terrible war, carried by many hundreds of thousands of soldiers as they went into battle.”
The gift boxes took the form of a 5-inch, embossed brass tin which included luxury items such as tobacco. As the scheme progressed the list of contents began to develop and more unusual items such as bullet-cased pencils and spices were added. The display includes several complete examples of the gift boxes alongside personal correspondences and photographs from soldiers, original sketches used to manufacture the boxes and paintings of Princess Mary before, during and after the First World War. The exhibition is housed on the State Floor in rooms which were previously part of the Princess Royal’s private apartments.
In 1922, shortly after the end of WW1, Princess Mary married Henry Lascelles, the 6th Earl of Harewood. They moved to Harewood in 1930 and Harewood House Trust is now custodian of many of her personal belongings.