July 21, 2015 · Updated 2:11 PM
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Robert and Yvonne Skellern (left) visited the Langley Centennial Museum to share their unique story with Arts and Heritage Curator Jasmine Moore (right). / Submitted photo

Two New Zealand travellers brought new life to Langley’s First World War history during a visit to the Langley Centennial Museum in June.

Robert and Yvonne Skellern, from Rotura New Zealand, popped into the Fort Langley museum and were delighted to find war medals and a Princess Mary gift tin in the museum’s collection.

These tins not only hold historical significance for all Commonwealth countries, but personal significance for the Skellern family as well, the couple told museum curator Jasmine Moore.

The tins were founded by Her Majesty Princess Mary, who wanted to do something nice for all soldiers serving under the Commonwealth in the First World War.

In November 1914, she started the Sailors and Soldiers Christmas Fund to raise money for Christmas gifts for every single Commonwealth soldier.

The gifts created were brass tins that included a card and a photo of Her Majesty Princess Mary inside.

Smokers also received a pipe, a package of cigarettes, an ounce of tobacco and a tinder lighter.

Non-smokers received a packet of acid tablets, a pencil made from a shell casing and a khaki writing case.

Nurses received chocolate, and troops from India enjoyed sweets and spices.

At the time, there were more than 2 million soldiers fighting for the Commonwealth and a shortage of brass, so some did not receive their Christmas gifts until the following year.

Between 300,000 and 400,000 brass gift tins were distributed in 1914, and by the end of the war, 2.5 million gift tins had been handed out.

Almost 100 years later, one such tin was given to Robert and Yvonne from a family in Wellington, New Zealand.

This particular tin contained something of deep personal significance, items far more valuable than tobacco and trinkets.

Robert discovered a 1914-1915 Star, a British war medal and an Allied Victory Medal — items awarded to his great uncle Sydney Skellern for service in the Gallipoli theatre.

Robert proudly wore the medals at the annual ANZAC day celebrations in New Zealand on April 25.

On August 8, Robert and Yvonne will be in Chunuk Bair Turkey, on the very spot where his great uncle fought and died in 1915.

It is likely to be quite an emotional experience, Yvonne told Moore.

The First World War had a profound effect on all communities in Commonwealth countries, including Langley.

It is estimated that one in 10 men who enlisted from Langley died in action, died of wounds or perished from wartime disease.

While at the museum, Robert gifted two poppies from New Zealand to the Langley Centennial Museum, which may appear in the upcoming exhibit on the First World War in April, 2017.

To see war medals and a Princess Mary gift tin, visit the Langley Centennial Museum at 9135 King St. The museum is open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.



 

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