It wasn’t only the armed forces that were mobilised when the First World War began on 4 August 1914, writes Frances Bevan, who describes the beginning of a huge movement in the nation’s hour of need.
By October the Committee for the Comforts for the Troops of the Wiltshire Regiment was established at Swindon Town Hall, one of hundreds of voluntary groups to spring into action across the land.
By the end of the year volunteers from the Swindon district were busy collecting eggs to send to military hospitals in both England and France. Beaten egg white was sometimes the only food men with facial injuries could swallow.
The Swindon branch of this national campaign was headed by Mrs AM Sellers at headquarters in Stratton St Margaret. A collector was appointed in each village, with a committee headed by Edith Arkell, wife of Kingsdown brewer Thomas Arkell.
In January 1915 the first list of donations was published, recording that 101 eggs and £1.5s.6d (£1.27p) had been collected. By the end of the year, nearly 5,000 eggs had been despatched, and more than £122 raised.
Some eggs were kept back for use by hospitals at Milton Road Baths and Stratton, but the bulk were sent to central London for distribution.
In his book, Swindon’s War Record, WD Bavin tells some amazing tales of coincidence, such as the Swindon soldier serving in France who received an egg donated by his young niece, Kathleen Sawyer, and a letter written by T Tucker of Wootton Bassett, whose first hospital meal after being shot through the head was an egg from Swindon.
“I wish you could see the joy on the poor fellows’ faces when they get the eggs,” he wrote.
By 1918, Swindon and district volunteers had collected 161,651 eggs – the eleventh highest total out of 2,000 depots nationwide.
In all, the scheme sent an amazing 41 million eggs to military hospitals.