With this being the centenary year of the First World War™, we ask Harold’s oldest living conscientious objector about life in the second best conflict in history.
“Kids these days take a boiled egg for granted I suppose”, suggests George Butler, 119. “But back then, the warmed chicken foetus had only just been discovered, by a chap in Berlin who ate something that fell out of a hen and landed in a kettle.
“They weren’t called eggs straight away, no no no. Until 1915 they were known as ‘kaiser orbs’ or ‘hun balls’ if you were common. Anti-German feeling was so strong that omlettes were eventually considered an act of treason.
“That’s why in Harold, we had the famous ‘chicken trials’ of 1914. All the kids cheered when a bantam broiler was found guilty of Germanism and tied to the church and shot. You could still see the bullet holes in the old vicar right up until his death in 1986.”
When the government changed the name to ‘egg’ it was a huge morale booster, George recollects, as it allowed the public to eat their breakfast with the lights on.
George revealed that back then, eggs were cooked with the aid of an ‘egg timer’. “It was a game-changer as it meant even the most working class families could create a simple meal without the help of a council official. You didn’t need an expensive private education where they would show you how to count and tell the time. It brought controlled simmering to the masses.”
Of course, the patriotic egg and an egg timer weren’t the only things needed. You also needed hot water, which could be very hard to come by in those days.
Much of Britain’s boiling water had been commandeered by the army, and sent to help with the war effort in France. “It could be made into tea, poured into a hot water bottle or used neat to clean the French. We weren’t going to waste it at home when it could be winning us the war.”
“Instead of water, my gran used to cook my eggs in a pan of boiling fox blood. I still remember her wringing the carcasses out on her mangle”, chuckled George. “They were very popular because the government started a rumour that ‘blood eggs’ helped young men to despise the enemy and overcome their objections to killing them. By 1916, the women of the village were feeding me as many as 23 a day.”
George doesn’t think boiled blood eggs did him any harm but they didn’t persuade him to join the army either. “You see, I didn’t really mind the idea of killing the odd German. I’d have happily slaughtered a few, to tell the truth. My main concern was that they would also be trying to kill me.”
“So it was that age-old conundrum: which comes first, the coward or the kraut orb?”