Long way to Tipperary for first World War soldier's cigarettes

Wed, Sep 12, 2012, 01:00

CIGARETTES SENT to a Tipperary soldier serving in the trenches during the first World War have turned up after almost 100 years.

The soldier, Frederick Bennett of Roscrea, who was on active duty in northern France never smoked the cigarettes, survived the war and brought them home to Ireland when he was discharged from the British army in 1919.

The cigarettes – now crumbling – are in a brass box found among a small collection of first World War memorabilia to be sold at Sheppard’s auctioneers in Durrow, Co Laois, later this month. The boxes were made as Christmas presents for the troops at the request of her royal highness, Princess Mary – daughter of King George V – who launched a public appeal to fund the project in 1914.

The boxes were mass-produced and shipped to soldiers serving overseas. The lid is embossed with a profile of the princess and the words Imperium Britannicum (British Empire). Each was filled with a packet of 20 cigarettes, a foil- wrapped pack of pipe tobacco, a photograph of Princess Mary and a card inscribed “With Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Victorious New Year. From The Princess Mary and Friends at Home”.

The envisaged victory in 1915 was not to be and the war dragged on for another four years. Many of the boxes have survived and occasionally turn up for sale – but, inevitably, without the contents.

Auctioneer Philip Sheppard said he had not previously seen one with the contents intact. While the box “isn’t particularly valuable”, he said it was of great historical, cultural and sentimental value.

The sale also features a poignant postcard sent by Bennett to his mother in Tipperary.

The card is of a type known as a “Silk”, which were handmade by women in France and Belgium and sold to Allied troops. It is decorated with hand-embroidered silk depicting flowers – forget-me-nots and pansies – and an image of a house ringed by trees.

Bennett, who was a private in the Irish Guards, sent the card to his mother, Elizabeth, and wrote in pencil on the reverse: “To dear mother, from loving Fred.”

Bennett died of TB in 1920 – like many soldiers who had suffered gas poisoning from the chemical weapons deployed during the first World War.