Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 22nd 2013 Contents Christmas is a time for fam-
ily and friends and is
largely associated with
goodwill and much fes-
tivity. For many others, however, the
day is mundane and it is even grimmer
for the soldier at war.
On June 28, 1914, a very tense peace
between the great realms of Europe was
destroyed when Archduke Franz-Fer-
dinand and his wife, the Countess
Sophie, were assassinated in Bosnia.
The Archduke was the heir to the pow-
erful Austro-Hungarian dominion. His
death precipitated the commencement
of hostilities which snowballed into out-
right war. Great Britain (of which T&T
was then a colony) was sucked into the
The Colonial Government in T&T
immediately plunged into the war
effort---Trinidad being strategically vital
due to its oil resources. Training began
at the St James Barracks and Queen s
Park Savannah for volunteers to head
to the front. The subjects in Trinidad
donated money to purchase an ambu-
lance for joint use by St John s Ambu-
lance and the British Red Cross. Sir
George Le Hunte, Governor of T&T
commented in the Legislative Council
"The subjects of His Majesty in this
colony are showing their love and fidelity
for the crown by giving of themselves
to ensure that our soldiers in the trenches
need not fear for themselves."
The Great War was one of the last
which was fought without a large
mechanical slant and soldiers were
exposed to the horrors of the trenches
along the Western Front.
The trenches were hell on earth, being
miles of deep, muddy ditches behind
fences of barbed wire that offered no
protection from the constant rain and
Moreover, if soldiers were to move
forward in an offensive sortie, they
would have to leap out and run towards
enemy lines only to be cut down by
machine gun fire. In the trenches there
was no protection either and more often
than not, the living were forced to sleep
near the putrefying remains of the dead
who had been killed by mustard gas or
From across the British Empire, nearly
half a million men were sent to fight
and the casualties were heavy. The
Christmas of 1914 was certainly a dismal
affair since so many were dying, and in
Buckingham Palace, the young Princess
Mary, daughter of King George V, decid-
ed that a bit of cheer for the brave war-
riors in the king s uniform was necessary.
Her father visited Trinidad once in 1880
as a teenaged midshipman, the HMS
Bacchante called at these shores.
He and his brother, Prince Albert,
visited several places and planted two
poui trees in the yard of St Stephen s
Anglican Church with the name of the
village being changed from Mission to
Princes Town to mark the occasion.
Across the colonies, advertisements were
placed appealing for contributions to a
Sailors and Soldiers Christmas Fund.
The liberal donations poured in from
rich and poor alike.
The Christmas present of the princess
was a small brass box five inches long
by four inches wide and little more than
an inch deep. The tin was durable
enough to be taken into the field and
was meant to contain part of a gift which
varied according to receiver.
For the smoker there was a parcel of
tobacco, 20 cigarettes, a lighter and a
pipe. Non-smokers got a packet of
antacid tablets, a writing case, paper
and pencil. All boxes were supplied with
a Christmas card and a photo of Princess
Mary. On the lid there was a relief image
of the princess while Imperium Bri-
tannicum, with a sword and scabbard
either side, was stamped across the top.
The bottom bore the words Christmas
1914, while in the corners were the
names of the allied countries: Belgium,
Japan, Montenegro and Servia; France
and Russia .
Because brass was needed for ammu-
nition casings, the supply was limited
and this affected the manufacture and
distribution of the boxes and contents
which was done by the army commis-
Some were delivered in 1915 and yet
others by 1916. Soldiers lying wounded
in hospitals were not forgotten nor were
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt December 22, 2013
gift to a soldier
This image appeared in the Trinidad
Guardian in 1917, a year before the
war ended and shows a heavily armed
Santa in an officer's cap, flying the
Union Jack with a bag of presents
slung over his shoulder.
One of the 1914 Christmas tins showing the embossing and image of Princess Mary on the lid---from the
Angelo Bissessarsingh Collection.
the widows, orphans and sorrowing
parents of those who had fallen.
Over two million boxes costing a
staggering two hundred thousand
pounds were eventually distributed
by the time the war ended.
It would be difficult to appreciate
now, the value of this small gift to
the soldiers who had given life and
limb to fight for a cause. The boxes
became treasured souvenirs after
the war, and several survive as heir-
looms in Trinidad families whose
ancestors shed blood in the trenches
of Europe nearly a century ago.
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