World War One Holiday Care Packages

The contents of a Christmas tin

World War One Holiday Care Packages

Care package and news from home are always appreciated during wartime, but never as much as they are around the holidays.

For the men and women serving overseas during World War I, care packages might have been their only means of celebrating the holiday season.

When the war began, there was widespread belief that it would be over quickly.

Even Kaiser Wilhelm II held this belief.  He told Germany’s troops, “You will come home before the leaves have fallen from the trees.”

By Christmas, it was clear the war would drag on into the foreseeable future.

Princess Mary Christmas Tin

Princess Mary was the teenage daughter of Britain’s King George V. For Christmas 1914, she wanted to supply each soldier serving overseas with a gift from the British people. Her solution was to create the Soldiers and Sailors Christmas Fund and to solicit the public for donations.

The public responded enthusiastically, and enough money was raised to supply each service person with a brass, embossed box.

Those who qualified for a box included:

  • All servicemen on the front line
  • Nurses
  • Soldiers in hospitals or on leave
  • Parents and widows of those killed in service

The fund had one month to deliver the tins on time, and 355,000 were delivered before Christmas. As the war dragged on, however, brass became scarcer and some tins weren’t delivered until 1919.

The contents of the packages varied somewhat. Nurses, for example, received chocolates while Indian troops received spices and sweets. Packages typically contained, however:

  • A Christmas card or, if delivered after Christmas, a New Year’s Card
  • A photo of Princess Mary
  • Smokers: Tobacco, cigarettes, a pipe and lighter
  • Nonsmokers: Sweets and a bullet pencil

By the end of 1918, the fund had collected $303,649 for Christmas packages.

Red Cross Parcels

A World War One Red Cross parcel
“Greetings from the Australian Red Cross Society – Xmas 1918”

The Red Cross provided care parcels to prisoners of war. The contents and distribution of the packages depended upon the soldier’s nationality. In some nations, soldiers or their families had to pay for the parcels.

In general, these parcels contained any of the following:

  • Sweets
  • Condensed milk
  • Cheese
  • Tobacco
  • Canned meats
  • Tea or coffee
  • Sugar
  • Soup
  • Shirts
  • Underwear
  • Soap
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Oatmeal
  • Jam
  • Canned vegetables
  • Socks
  • Towels
  • Bread
  • Sewing kits
  • Shaving brush and soap

By the war’s end, millions of packages had been delivered.

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Updated:  20 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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