Robert and Yvonne Skellern (left) visited the Langley Centennial Museum to share their story with arts and heritage curator Jasmine Moore.

Soldier’s family visits Langley museum

During the First World War, Her Majesty Princess Mary decided to do something nice for all soldiers serving under the Commonwealth.

Shared Commonwealth war experiences are highlighted at the centennial museum.

Sometimes the best things come in the smallest packages.

During the First World War, Her Majesty Princess Mary decided to do something nice for all soldiers serving under the Commonwealth.

In November 1914, she started the Sailors and Soldiers Christmas Fund to raise money so every Commonwealth soldier might receive a gift on Christmas day.

Due to the fact that there were well over two million soldiers fighting for the Commonwealth, and a shortage of brass at the time, some did not receive their Christmas gifts until the following year. It is thought that between 300,000 to 400,000 brass gift tins were distributed in 1914 while a total of 2.5 million gift tins were distributed by the end of the war.

Inside the brass gift tins everyone received a card and a photo of Princess Mary. 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, while Indian troops enjoyed sweets and spices.

Almost 100 years later, Robert Skellern of Rotura, New Zealand, received one of these gift tins from a family in Wellington, New Zealand.

Inside 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, 2015. On Aug. 8, Robert and his wife Yvonne Skellern will be in Chunuk Bair, Turkey, where his uncle was killed in battle.

“It is likely to be quite an emotional experience,” Yvonne said.

Robert and Yvonne Skellern recently visited the Langley Centennial Museum to share this remarkable story with curator Jasmine Moore and to explore some of the items in the museum’s collection.

Robert was delighted to discover similar medals and a Princess Mary gift tin in the collection of the Langley Centennial Museum.

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

Estimates are that one in 10 men who enlisted from Langley died in action, died of wounds, or perished from wartime disease.

While visiting Langley, Robert gifted two poppies from New Zealand to the Langley Centennial Museum, welcome additions that may appear in the upcoming exhibit on the war, set to open in April 2017.

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