4th October 1939. Dig for Victory.
One of the sorry side-effects of the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign was the loss of gardens as at Great Maytham Hall, Rolvenden, Kent, the inspiration for the ‘Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, responsible for their restyling between 1898 and 1907.
Today in 1939 the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign was launched in a broadcast by Agriculture Minister, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith.
The key figure was John Raeburn, Head of The Agricultural Planning Branch, who in 1941 was instrumental in converting estate gardens into 1.5m allotments.(1)
Signs announced fines for those damaging allotments under The 1939 ‘Cultivation of Lands Allotment Order’, which empowered Councils to take over unoccupied land.
By the end of May 1941 Bristol had 15,000 allotments, Nottingham 6,500 and Tottenham, London 3,000, many utilised playing fields and bomb sites.
The London Midland Scottish Railway (LMS) had 22,000 allotments; the wife of the Keeper of Coins and Medals at the British Museum, planted rows of vegetables in the forecourt, with some 10% of all food produced in this way.
People with chickens were at first ‘invited’ to forgo egg rations, but by the end of 1942 supplies of poultry food was dependent on proof that family and friends had registered with them as their egg provider; the alternative was American dried eggs, which tasted as just that!
By 1944 more than a quarter of the Nation’s fresh eggs were laid in garden chicken sheds.
The more ambitious were part of 6,900 pig clubs, raising pigs in the back garden and communal pig-swill bins appeared.
Many official guides appeared with householders receiving the Ministry of Agriculture’s, Growmore Bulletins, produced in collaboration with The Royal Horticultural Society aimed at the amateur gardener. (2)
Restrictions brought new menus with The Farmer and Stockbreeder Magazine helping farmers’ wives make use of every part of the animal by printing recipes for sheep’s heart in pastry, fried bullock brains, fried bacon with dock leaf pudding, stuffed pig’s trotters and lamb’s tail brawn; anything growing wild such as dandelion was eagerly scavenged.
Peek Frean’s puddings were advertised as the ‘saviour to marriage’, when the husband complains to his air-raid warden wife of ‘cold dinner again’!, under the heading, ‘Can a Warden be a Good Wife’?
A bespectacled ‘Doctor Carrot’ strode across the pages of recipe books carrying a bag marked ‘Vit A’, as a substitute for sugar.
He was often seen in the company of ‘Potato Pete’ part of a Woolton Pie (named after the Minister of Food), which comprised potatoes, carrots, turnips, and parsnips in an oatmeal stock, cooked in pastry and served with gravy.
Many memorable jingles reminded of waste: ‘Knowing that the sight of peelings deeply hurts Lord Woolton’s feelings…’ (3)
(1) Raeburn died at 93 in 2006.
(2) Produced in a hurry it was riddled with misprints.
(3) Potato rationing didn’t begin until post-war: 10th November 1947, ceasing 30th April 1948.
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