London (AFP) – A brass tin that once contained cigarettes and a pencil is the only relic Melanie Henwood has of her great-grandfather Enoch Davis, a British soldier who fought in World War I.
“My mum gave me the tin some years ago,” Henwood, 60, told AFP at her home in the village of Hartwell in central England.
She calls the decorative box “one of my treasured possessions”.
Born in 1871 in Staffordshire, central England, Davis served in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, organising guns and ammunition supplies.
The well-preserved little tin carries a dedication and a message from Princess Mary, daughter of then King George V, reading: “Best wishes for a victorious new year”.
Such tins were sent to all British soldiers for Christmas 1914, funded by donations, when it became clear the conflict would drag on.
The lid is embossed with a profile of Princess Mary and the names of the countries engaged in the theatres of war.
The pencil it used to hold was inside a bullet case.
“It was the first Christmas. War began in… 1914. They used to say it will be over by Christmas,” Henwood said.
“Nobody expected it to go on for four years but when it became apparent that things were going on, this was the gesture that they were not forgotten by friends at home.”
A century later, the box has become a family tradition.
“There’s still, when you open it, a slight aroma. You can still, I think, smell tobacco in it,” Henwood says.
“I always open it at Christmas and imagine him having done the same thing all those years before. It is a real connection with previous generations,” she says.
“I am very moved by it. I find it deeply affecting to think of the history behind it”.
As the 100th anniversary of the end of the war approaches on November 11, Henwood wants to pass the tin on to a new generation.
She is planning to give the box as a gift to her nephew and niece, both in their 30s, so they too will treasure the memory.
Davis was serving in the army in India when the war broke out.
Henwood has found few details of where he served during World War I. He died in the 1950s, aged 88.