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Banburyshire Family History

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go back to the last page you were on Mary Box .... Memories of the 40s


He died forty years ago to the day and I miss him still. Born while Cutty Sark was still delivering wool under sail, he survived skirmishes on the NorthWest Frontier and trench warfare in Mons, before leaving us in the age of the Beatles.

Although a registered Old Contemptible (with Clasp & Roses) he clearly held the Army with some distaste. He refused to discuss his service, collect his medals, or participate in any remembrance ceremony and marches. After more than ten years serving with the Warwickshire Regiment, the only time I felt his anger was after being found in bayonet practice with a line of washing and a garden hoe.

His service had ended when he lost an entire arm; but this he claimed to still keep in a bedroom drawer as a good luck charm. I loved to watch as he tucked his shaving mug under the stump and shaved with open razor, before trimming his bushy moustache. Sometimes, when in melancholy mood he sang what I believed to be a traditional Indian lament; but later I discovered that he was completely tone deaf:

Take me over the sea, Where the enemy they won't catch me
Oh my oh my, I don't want to die, I want to go home'.

Princess Mary Box

Princess Mary Box

He enjoyed a colourful vocabulary which included what Grandma stated to be 'unusual foreign words, Joey, best ignored'; and did not suffer fools or Council visitors gladly. On one occasion I used a few of these special words to impress him (we were alone) and after my promise never to repeat them he gave me his 'Mary Box'.

This was a brass box with hinged lid, engraved with royal and military symbols. It contained various items including dried-out cigarettes and tobacco; which immediate Authority quickly confiscated with raised eyes, shaking head and pursed lips. This box served as my treasure chest, holding alleys (taws were used for playing), foreign coins, cartridge cases, and my collection of silk flags supplied in cigarette packets. In later years it gave honourable service as the family button box.

Written by Smokey

Presumably your Grandad Joe! Those Mary boxes are still around, I have one from a paternal uncle and my sister-in-law has one from my Father-in-law, but hers is polished nearly blank. I am not such a good housekeeper and mine is still very visible and the only item missing is the "biscuit". The cartridge case with pencil inserted and the "Good wishes" card is still there. I wonder how many more of us have one, or more. So many of our ancestors and relatives were in the First World War unfortunately.

Written by Barbara Adair

"In reflecting on the holiday times just past, imagine, if you can, sitting in a cold, muddy British trench on the Western Front just a few days before Christmas, 1914. Next, imagine being handed a shiny brass box, about 5 inches long by 3 inches wide and an inch or so deep, a bright, shiny gift box on a dreary day. The war was supposed to be over by Christmas, but it wouldn't be, so the folks at home thought the troops in the field and the sailors should have a Christmas treat.

Princess Mary, the 17-year-old daughter of King George V, took the lead in November 1914, and created a Christmas Fund, asking the country for money. The purpose was "to provide everyone who would be wearing the King's uniform on Christmas Day 1914 with a gift from the nation." The country responded with great enthusiasm and it was decided that an embossed brass gift box would make it through the harshest of conditions.[1]"

The National World War I Museum (opens in a new window)