A Gift for Every Soldier and Sailor: 1918


Christmas in the little American sector of the trenches, Christmas on the battle-ships, on the rolling, tossing Yankee destroyers in the North Sea, Christmas in many a snow-sprinkled village of France where American soldiers are billeted, in our training-camps behind the lines in Europe, and in the great cantonments here in the United States, will be a brighter, merrier Christmas because of the American Red Cross.

It is the ambition of the American Red Cross and of its thriving new junior Red Cross to give a Red Cross Christmas present to every American soldier and sailor, a gift all round. To each soldier and sailor the gift is to be an earnest of the loving protection which the Red Cross expects to throw around him for the duration of the war, a token of the affection of the American people.

What an interesting thing it would be to see the American soldiers in France receive their Christmas presents this year! Many of them are billeted with French village families. We can imagine these peasant children, whose ideas of Christmas gifts are sketchy compared with those of an average American child, crowding around “their American” while he opens the parcels that the mail has brought to him. One of those gifts will be the Red Cross present, perhaps one prepared by an American boy or an American girl. We can picture the admiration that such a gift would receive under such circumstances.

But while this is one scene in the military Christmas this year, a more familiar one—and one that may be witnessed by many American boys and girls—will be the Christmas at the cantonments. Here the Red Cross will not only contribute to the happiness with presents, but it will take charge of the cantonment celebration.

The American Red Cross has undertaken to erect in every cantonment, at every aviation field, and at every place, in fact, where American soldiers are quartered on American soil, a community Christmas-tree. Most of these cantonments now have at least thirty thousand inhabitants, so that a great, sparkling, and splendidly decorated tree will be needed to do justice to its responsibilities. All through the holiday week the Christmas trees will stand in front of the Red Cross warehouses in each cantonment, symbols of the nation’s greetings, reminding the soldiers that everywhere in the nation the Red Cross is behind them. It is the largest contribution ever made to the municipal Christmas-tree movement. The Tree of Light in Madison Square, New York, is an old and happy story to most of the men at Yaphank cantonment, who saw it sparkle last year in the square beneath the clock-tower and heard the carolers raise their voices in Arthur Farwell’s hymn “joy, Brothers, joy.” And, no doubt, when these young men of the nation go home after peace comes, they will remember the Red Cross Christmas-trees at the army camps, and thus become leaders in the community Christmases in their own cities and towns.

For numerous reasons the Red Cross has standardized the Christmas present for soldiers just as it has standardized other supplies. The gifts that the Red Cross is asking its members to prepare should be uniform in size for convenient packing and uniform in price, so that what any one soldier receives from the Red Cross will be about equal in value to what any other receives.

It is not proposed to single out the men not likely to receive many gifts from home -to be the recipients of the Red Cross presents. No matter how generous the supply of gifts from families and friends some of the men may receive, it is believed that the Red Cross gift will be welcomed by all. So, because hundreds of thousands of these Christmas parcels will be needed, if every soldier and sailor is to receive one of them, the Red Cross is asking all to contribute.

Each standard Christmas package is to be wrapped in a khaki-colored handkerchief, twenty seven inches square, as a container. The handkerchief, of course, will be one of the presents. As a hard bottom for the bag now to be improvised, use a pad of writing-paper, about seven by ten inches in diameter. This is for the letters that will warm the hearts back home as nothing else can; so a package of envelopes should by all means be included in the parcel. The standard khaki handkerchief and the writing-paper pad are supplied by the Red Cross, and are on sale at most Red Cross chapters.

Then select various articles either from the Red Cross list of suggestions or according to individual taste, but have a number of them, all of such a modest character that the total value of them will not exceed $1.50.

These articles should be arranged on the pad so that the entire package is the width of the pad and five or six inches high. The parcel should then be wrapped and tied with one-inch red ribbon, with a Christmas card under the bow. Again wrap the parcel in heavy, light-brown manila paper, tie securely with red, green or gilt cord, and seal with Christmas labels or American flags.

For gifts to be placed in the Christmas packets, the Red Cross suggests the following: pencil, postals, paper-covered book, home-made scrapbook (containing short stories, jokes, etc.), boy scout knife, steel mirror, khaki handkerchiefs, neck-ties, mouth-organ, electric torch, compass, playing cards, mechanical puzzles (a dozen of which can be bought for fifty cents), other games, tobacco, pipe and pipe-cleaners, cigarette papers, water-tight match-box, chewing-gum, cracker confections in original packages, fruit-cake, preserved ginger, salted nuts, prunes, figs, dates, raisins, hard candy, chocolate in tin-foil, and licorice.

The Red Cross itself sells for five cents the Red Cross checker-board, a combination set of checker-board, checkers, chessmen, and dominoes made of heavy cardboard. St Nicholas, Vol. 45, Part 1, Mary Mapes Dodge, 1918.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  This piece was obviously written well before the Armistice in November, 1918. However, many soldiers were still abroad at Christmas, 1918, as it took time to arrange for their return and demobilisation. Mrs Daffodil is made vaguely uneasy by the apparent puffery for the products sold by the American Red Cross despite its laudable aim of cheering the soldiers. Tobacco, chewing-gum, and candy were certainly welcomed by their war-weary recipients, but a cardboard checker-board for the notoriously muddy trenches of France? One thinks not.

The British Red Cross was less involved with Christmas parcels, which were largely sent by private British citizens. To receive parcels, soldiers could advertise themselves as a “Lonely Soldier” in the newspapers. As one soldier defined this: “A soldier who advertises himself as “lonely” through the medium of some English newspaper. If he is clever and diplomatic by this method he generally receives two or three parcels a week, but he must be careful not to write to two girls living on the same block or his parcel post mail will diminish.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.

1 thought on “A Gift for Every Soldier and Sailor: 1918

  1. Pingback: Reginald on Christmas Presents by Saki: 1904 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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