'A Box of Conflict Memories' - Materiality, Memory and Princess Mary's Gift Box 1914-2020.

  • Martin N Barry

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


On 25 December 2014, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II gave her traditional
televised Christmas message to the people of the nation and commonwealth.
This broadcast carried several references to the centenary of the outbreak of
the First World War, with specific mention of the Christmas truce as well as
events such as the Commonwealth Games, that foster the spirit of peace and
reconciliation. On the table next to Her Majesty were a floral display and two
framed photographs, one of King George V and the other of Queen Mary.
Propped up in front of these two photographs was a small rectangular brass
box with an embossed lid. It was a Princess Mary’s Gift Box that was given to
all serving military personnel on Christmas Day 1914 as a gesture of comfort
and seasonal cheer from friends at home. Why was this specific object on the
table? Was it the significance of the date with the original issue being exactly
a century ago? Was it the family connection? The Gift was, after all, the idea
of the Queen’s aunt. Or was it because the Gift Box has become an iconic
and easily recognised material object from the conflict? This research seeks
to place the Princess Mary’s Gift Box (PMGB) as a significant example of
material culture from the First World War and investigate the role it has
played, and is still playing as a focus, conduit or trigger of memory. What has
made this object such a cherished and much revered item of remembrance
for the families still having the PMGB given to their relatives over all the other
souvenirs, examples of trench art, letters, photographs and memorabilia from
the First World War?
Date of Award6 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorNicholas J Saunders (Supervisor) & Graeme Were (Supervisor)

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