The Gift of the Colonies

The Christmas Chocolate Tin

Between 1914 and 1918, the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago donated around £480,000 worth of money and goods – over half of the country’s entire annual revenue. In October 1914, the colony authorities voted to spend £40,820 on cocoa, to be used in chocolate manufacturing in England.

Along with the islands of Grenada and St Lucia, Trinidad’s cocoa was used to make chocolate, which was sent as a gift in a special tin (pictured above) to Allied troops in France. The oblong-shaped tin was manufactured in Mansfield by Barringer Wallis & Manners Ltd. 

Covered in black enamel, the tin is decorated with elaborate gold medallions. Each medallion includes a Latin motto and an image of each island, for instance the picture of Trinidad features a mountainous island with a fort flying a British flag.

The following words are also printed on lid:

The Gift of the Colonies of Trinidad, Grenada and St Lucia to His Majesty's Naval & Military Forces. This chocolate is made from Cocoa grown in Trinidad, Grenada and St Lucia.

This tin provides a link to an often overlooked area of First World War history: the support Britain received from its overseas Empire during the conflict.

The Role of the British Colonies in WW1

When Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, this declaration of war also involved the far-flung countries then under British rule. Although some citizens disagreed with supporting a foreign war, these countries all swiftly offered help to the Allies. Andrew Fisher, the Australian Prime Minister told his voters that Australia would fight alongside Britain, 'to our last man and our last shilling'.

In 1914, Britain had an enormous overseas empire (see the map above of the British Empire in 1897). At that time European powers controlled a huge amount of territory, including almost the entire continent of Africa (apart from Ethiopia and Liberia). On the outbreak of war, British colonies and dominions contributed aid and also troops. Over 1.5 million Indian men volunteered to fight, with 13,000 awarded medals during the conflict. 

The dominions of the British Commonwealth, (former colonies, now ruled by their own governments but retaining links to Britain), including Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland contributed another 1.3 million soldiers, as well as many nurses. The colonies and dominions sent goods too – sugar, rum, oil, lime, cotton, and wood – also donating nine aeroplanes and 11 ambulances. 

All of this represented a huge sacrifice. For example, five per cent of all men from New Zealand aged 15 to 49 were killed in the conflict. The loss of funds also caused severe hardship in some countries, with lasting consequences.


British Commonwealth -  group of countries that used to be British colonies and maintain links with Britain 
Colony – a country or area ruled by a different country
Contribute – to give money or time for a particular purpose
Dominion – a country that is part of the British Commonwealth
Donate – to give something without expecting anything in return
Elaborate – something that is detailed or has a lot of different parts
Medallion – a round decoration
Motto – a short saying that represents how a group or place would like to be
Retain - to keep something
Revenue – income; money that comes in

View other relevant WW1 resources on My Learning or scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic. 

Document icon Learning article provided by: Leeds Museum Discovery Centre | 
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