By Judith Phillips
I love browsing in second-hand bookshops – there’s always the possibility of finding something interesting. I was recently spending a happy hour or so doing just that – browsing, not looking for anything in particular when I made a lovely discovery quite by accident – a really serendipitous moment.
‘Princess Mary’s Gift Book’ was printed on the spine of a cream-coloured hardback book. I don’t know what made me pick it off the shelf but it’s a real find. On the front cover it clearly states ‘All profits on sale given to the Queen’s “Work for Women” Fund’ which is expanded on the frontispiece to say ‘which is acting in conjunction with The National Relief Fund’.
The book contains twenty stories, some with an obvious connection the war but several with no clear connection at all. Some of the authors are perhaps still well-known today, such as J. M. Barrie, A. Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, A.E.W. Mason and Baroness Orczy. All the stories have illustrations and some coloured reproductions of paintings which seem to have been commissioned specifically for the book. I’m sure that the sentiments of some of the stories are less acceptable today than they would have been a century ago but they do give us another insight into civilian activities for the war effort, particularly in terms of fund-raising and propaganda.
Clearly more research is needed to put the book in the wider context of relief efforts during the war. Does anyone know more about the book and/or the various funds? If you have, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone 01833 690606 or contact us through the project website www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk.