Dig for Victory
It is over 60 years since the beginning of the Second World War. Nobody could ever have foreseen just how long this war would be fought and the hardships that were to follow. Great Britain, being an island, had its advantages as far as natural sea defences were concerned but it was not producing enough of its own food and relied on imports from overseas. With merchant vessels having to negotiate the Atlantic and the German submarines there were many losses and Great Britain had to look inwards and start producing more of its own food if the people of the nation were not to starve.
And so the Dig for Victory campaign began and the call went up for everyone to cultivate whatever spare patch of ground they had and to start growing their own food. Formal gardens, lawns and sports pitches were dug up and transformed into makeshift allotments. In September1939 householders received Growmore Bulletin No 1, produced as a collaboration between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Royal Horticultural Society to give amateur gardeners simple instructions on how to grow vegetables in their back gardens or allotments. By 1940 the ‘Dig for Victory’ slogan was adopted, first coined by a newspaper, and in early 1941 a second bulletin was published, bearing the sturdy booted foot of Mr W.H.McKie of Acton in West London. By the end of the war, over 24 more leaflets had been distributed giving advice on all sorts of suggestions for the wartime gardener. Apart from these information leaflets the only other way of getting the message across was by the radio. No television back in those days. In a broadcast on 4th October 1939 the Minister of Agriculture said he was confident that ‘half a million more allotments properly worked will provide potatoes and vegetables that will feed another million adults and one and a half million children for eight months of the year’.
I can only imagine what the feeling must have been like in the country at that time. The Nazis were chomping at the bit to invade us and were only a hop, skip and a jump away from the shores of Blighty and we were being told to ration everything and start digging and growing our own food in order to feed ourselves. Incredible. It would never be like that again but l wonder how the population of Great Britain would react to a situation like this today?
This campaign was launched by the first celebrity gardener , Mr Middleton, on the BBC’s Home Service attracting over 3 million listeners. He encouraged thrift and good old fashioned hard work. ‘ An allotment is like the Army’ he states: ‘The first month is the worst: after that you begin to enjoy it’.
Allotments were dug everywhere; in public parks, school playing grounds, railway banks, football pitches wherever there was room to grow a few veg. By the middle of the war it was estimated that over half the nation’s manual workers had an allotment or garden, and by the end there were probably 1.5 million allotment holders producing some 10% of all food produced in Britain. It was not just vegetables that Britain’s gardeners yielded; hens were kept for their meat and eggs, some kept goats and there were 6,900 ‘Pig Clubs’ around the country.
Overall, the national effort was enormous; it was estimated that in 1944 British gardeners produced between 2 and 3 million tons of food.
So over 60 years later there is a new ‘war’, a war against unhealthy convenience food, a war against climate change and food air miles, against child obesity. There is a new resurgence in people wanting to grow their own food; to eat locally and seasonally. People feel they need to in the light of the economic climate and they need to have some element of control in what they eat. They want to know where it has come from and how it was produced. People don’t always want to be eating green beans flown in from Kenya in January. There is a genuine concern about the climate and the future of this planet.
Councils have become inundated with demands for an allotment. In some areas the waiting list exceeds 10 years. The books written by Mr Middleton during the Second World War have been reprinted. Dig on for Victory shows gardeners of all skills and experience how to keep a vegetable patch by planning their work week by week. I intend to follow this book in my own garden and record the progress as each week passes. I won’t be able to grow all the same varieties or use the same pest prevention methods as advised by Mr Middleton but l will follow his advice on what to grow and when according to the weather conditions. I will include links relating to the war and the Home Front and hopefully have a garden full of fresh home grown produce that will feed us throughout the year.