Second World War Easter egg could be sweet success

A chocolate egg which has survived uneaten and unbroken since the outbreak of the Second World War, is set to smash its estimate in an ipcoming sale at Hansons Auctioneers in May.

The egg was given to nine-year-old Sybil Cook in 1939 but, with war clouds looming, her uncle advised her to ration it slowly and savour every morsel.

A Second World War chocolate Easter egg
Credit Hansons

Dutifully, despite loving chocolate, she didn’t just ration it, she never ate a single piece. And after managing to treasure the sweet treat for six years during the Second World War – September 1, 1939 to September 2, 1945 –  she never touched it for the rest of her life.

When Sybil Rees (nee Cook), from Neath, South Wales, died at the age of 91 in 2021 the ‘Mary Mary Quite Contrary’ egg in blue and white paper remained intact, complete with decorative garden scene of a little girl with a watering can. The box still bears her name, ‘Sybil Cook’, written in pencil, and the year ‘1939’.

Sybil Cook in 1938 – Credit Gill Bolter/Hansons

Now, as a tribute to Sybil, her family have decided to part with the Easter egg to celebrate their mother’s life and a special family memory. The 84-year-old egg will be offered with a guide price of £600-£800.

One of Sybil’s two daughters, Gill Bolter, 61, a director of a hospitality company from North Rise, Cardiff, said: “Mum loved life and chocolate. She was born on March 4, 1930 and would have just turned nine when she was given the egg in 1939.

“With war looming her uncle said, ‘You be careful with that my girl, there might not be any chocolate around soon’. He told her to ration it. Amazingly, she was so disciplined and respectful to her elders she never ate a single piece.

“When we asked mum how she’d managed to keep the egg for so long she told us that having kept it all through the war it didn’t seem right to eat it. She did scratch a bit of the paper off the front when she was little, just to check there was chocolate behind it.

Sybil Rees (nee Cook) in Christmas 2019 – credit Gill Bolter/Hansons

“The egg was very precious to her. Having kept it safe through her childhood she took it with her when she left home to get married in 1955 and for 60 years had it tucked away on a shelf in her bedroom in Bilton Road in Neath. The egg has now ended up in a cupboard in my bedroom.

“After we lost her one of the care home nurses wrote a lovely tribute. She said, ‘I would offer her a piece of chocolate after her evening medication. She’d always smile mischievously at me and say, ‘Why not? It’s the best medicine after all’.

“It was very hard on us all during Covid. Sadly, like thousands of other families, for 18 months we kept in touch with weekly visits outside the care home when rules allowed. But mum deteriorated in early 2021 and sadly passed away a week after her 91st birthday. I still get upset at the memory of us trying to sing happy birthday to her through a window.

“Her Easter egg brings back happy memories for us all including my daughter, her only grandchild. Mum loved antiques shows on TV and would have been thrilled to be part of this. It would be lovely if the egg went to a museum alongside mum’s wartime memories.”

Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, said:  “The story surrounding this Easter egg  melted my heart. It’s a wonderful reminder of wartime austerity, respectful obedience and a little girl who was so strict with herself she would not allow herself the tiniest nibble of her favourite treat. Food rationing lasted for 14 years in Britain, from 1940 until 1954 – nearly 10 years after the war ended. In 1946, when food was just as short as during the preceding years, bread was added to the ration and the sweet ration was halved. Sybil’s egg is a reminder of those difficult days. She came from a generation who understood hardship. They learned to cherish and appreciate the smallest things. That’s a very fine character trait to have.”

The Antiques and Collectors Auction takes place on May 18-23.