The idea was the initiative of Princess Mary, the 17-year-old daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. Princess Mary organised a public appeal which raised the funds to ensure that ‘every Sailor afloat and every Soldier at the front’ received a Christmas present. The tins were filled with various items including tobacco, confectionery, spices, pencils, a Christmas card and a picture of the princess.
Due to the strong public support for the gift, which saw £162,591 12s 5d raised, the eligibility for the gift was widened to include every person ‘wearing the King’s uniform on Christmas Day 1914’, about 2,620,019 servicemen and women. The large number of people who were to receive the gift made it impossible to manufacture, supply and distribute the gifts by Christmas Day 1914. So recipients were divided into three classes:
Class A (received the gift on or near Christmas Day): comprised the Navy, including minesweepers and dockyard officials, and troops at the Front in France, the wounded in hospitals and men on furlough, prisoners and men interned (for whom the gift was reserved), members of the French Mission with the Expeditionary Force, nurses at the Front in France and the widows or parents of those who had been killed.
Class B: all British, Colonial and Indian troops serving outside the British Isles, who were not provided for in Class A.
Class C: all troops in the British Isles
Class B and C gifts were not sent out until January 1915, they contained a Happy New Year card. Having used or consumed the contents, servicemen and women then used the tins to carry other small items.
During World War I, Princess Mary visited hospitals and welfare organizations with her mother, assisting with projects to give comfort to British servicemen and assistance to their families.