World War 1 CIGARETTES FOR SALE
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A special pack of cigarettes, sent to a soldier from Roscrea serving in the trenches of the First World War, are due to go on sale at an auction of Great War memorabilia later this month
A special pack of cigarettes, sent to a soldier from Roscrea serving in the trenches of the First World War, are due to go on sale at an auction of Great War memorabilia later this month.
Frederick Bennett from Gortmullen, Roscrea, who was on active duty in northern France at the time, remarkably never smoked the cigarettes and after surviving the War brought them home to Roscrea when he was discharged from the British Army in 1919.
The cigarettes, which although crumbling inside their original container, are a remarkable find as it is very rare the soldiers did not smoke them and brought them home. They are stored in a small brass box which will be part of a small collection of first World War memorabilia to go on sale at Sheppard’s auctioneers in Durrow, Co. Laois.
The sale will also feature a moving postcard sent by Private Bennett to his mother at home in Roscrea. The postcard is of a type antique dealers call “Silk Cards” which were handmade by women in France and Belgium and sold to Allied troops to send home to their families.
The delicate card depicts an image of a house circled by tress made from hand-embroided silk and was carefully placed inside an envelope with a copy of Mr Bennett’s death certificate before finding its way to Sheppards’ Auctioneers.
Mr Bennett, who was a Private in the Irish Guards, sent the card to his mother Elizabeth and wrote in pencil “To Dear Mother, from loving Fred’.
Private Bennett died of TB in 1920, terribly affected by the chemical gas weapons used in the trenches in the first World War. He lost three cousins in the War and in 1960s his niece Noelle Lucas commissioned a stained glass window dedicated to him in the porch of Roscrea’s St. Cronan’s Church.
Private Bennett, Soldier, Soldier Registration Number 7636 and Guardsman, was awarded the Victory Medal and 1915 Star. He was also awarded the Silver War Badge, which was given to soldiers to be worn on their civilian lapel to protect them from accusations of cowardice in the Great War.
The son of a small Church of Ireland farming family, the soldier who travelled from Roscrea to the horror of the trenches in France and survived, is buried in the shade of the ruined Church gable and Round Tower – iconic landmarks in Roscrea’s tapestry and a fitting resting place for the returned Great War hero.
Auctioneer Philip Sheppard, told the Tribune that although the cigarettes and postcard have little monetary value, they are incredibly valuable from cultural, historical and sentimental perspective.
“They came into us as a part of anonymous lot with several other bits and pieces of First World War memorabilia, Mr. Sheppard explained. “They are going on sale on September 27th and people can tune in and watch the auction live no our website (www.Sheppards.ie)
“It would be great if the items stayed close to their home and it is a remarkable story that Mr. Bennett brought them all the way home. These poor men were mostly forgotten and gave the greatest sacrifice for what they believed was a great cause, he said.
The delicate brass cigarette 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.
They were mass-produced and shipped to soldiers serving overseas. The lid of the cigarette box is embossed with a profile of the Princess and the words Imperium Britannicum (British Empire).
Each box was filled with a packed 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.
However, 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 almost always without the original contents.