Wishing you a happy New Year from Canon Jim Foley and Queen Victoria

Wishing you a happy New Year from Canon Jim Foley and Queen Victoria

South Africa 1900

Victoria Reg.

R9 No4 349850

by Canon Jim Foley

I boasted in an earlier Post that I was the proud owner of a Penny Red postage stamp dated 1864. My Penny Red, however, pales into insignificance when compared with another piece of Victoriana in my possession. It is a box of Cadbury’s Chocolates presented to my great great uncle and to all those serving in her Majesty’s forces during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) to mark the beginning of a new century in 1900. The lid is embossed with an effigy of the Queen, still facing in the same direction as on the Penny red and still not amused, with her thirty-six extra years beginning to show. It also carries the message in her handwriting: Wishing you a happy New Year. Almost concealed on the bottom trim of the lid is a serial number: R9 No4 349850.

Many thousands of war-weary troops benefited from this New’s Year’s gift from the Queen and as many presentation boxes will have survived. But soft! My box of chocolates has a feature not shared with many others. The original Cadbury’s chocolates are still intact inside the box, wrapped in their original silver paper. This has to be something of a miracle, not only of hermetical sealing of chocolate boxes in those distant times, but of survival in a household of many generations of children. I myself and my three older brothers were often to be seen closing in on the pantry in which the box was secured but we knew better than plunder this family treasure.

I was still at primary school when George VI was crowned on 12 May 1937 and I remember each pupil was presented with a round tin of sweets with a new penny set into the lid. We had the sweeties eaten and the penny squandered before we got home from school! If I had been a bit more streetwise I would have held on to both and added them to my collection of memorabilia to await the arrival of eBay. My great great uncle showed greater restraint in the battlefield of South Africa than I did in the playground of St Bridget’s Baillieston.

I understand that three companies were commissioned to provide these chocolates for the troops: Fry, Rowntree and Cadbury. All three companies were run by Quakers with strong pacifist sentiments to the extent that, while they were happy to play their part in this initiative to raise the moral of the troops at the beginning of a new year and a new century, they declined to accept payment for the chocolates on the strength of their anti-war convictions. There is plenty of evidence of just how much this meant to the recipients. Many immediately appreciated their value as souvenirs and looked after them carefully till the end of hostilities and beyond. Others sent them home to their families.

There is also evidence of a particularly sad use to which these same tins were put when empty. The few effects of those who died in combat were placed in their Victorian Chocolate tin and returned to their next of kin. These would often include an identity tag, a few pages of letters from home, the photograph of a loved-one and little else.However, one surviving Victorian chocolate box tells a different story. The tin lid has been partially pierced by a bullet. The box and the soldier both survived the war. Vivat Regina!

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