This meeting was called in the context of German U-boats sinking 70,000 tonnes of British shipping in 1939 and early 1940.
The country was beginning to feel the bite of this aggressive campaign, with lemons and bananas virtually disappearing from the nation’s shelves. Even the humble onion, normally imported from countries now occupied by the Nazis, was becoming a luxury item. Food rationing had come into force in early 1940.
It was decided that a crusade to encourage small landowners to bring an extra 1.5million acres under cultivation would have the motto “Dig For Victory”. The aim was to galvanise the nation to defeat the U-boat on land. Minister of Agriculture Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith proclaimed;
“We want not only the big man with the plough, but also the little man with the spade to get busy this autumn.”
The British public rolled up their sleeves and adopted the policy with gusto. New nurseries, allotments and small farms sprang up. Normal gardening ceased with the Gardeners Chronicle even publishing tips on how to grow runner beans, cardoons and beetroot. County councils set up horticultural committees – many of which still survive today.
Perhaps the most compelling symbol of this movement was the cultivation of vegetables in the dry moat at the Tower of London – helping to foster a last ditch, backs to the walls mentality amongst the British population.
By 1943, allotments had almost doubled in number, and the number of private gardens growing vegetables had risen from 3million to 5million.
As the war ended, many of the allotments were closed, or built upon for new housing. However, the legacy of the “Dig for Victory” campaign lived on. Rationing was still in full force until the mid 1950’s and gardening provided a good source of food for many people.
The campaign’s legacy created a mindset still visible today in the nation’s collective passion for gardening. More and more people are taking to growing their own in this period of austerity. “Dig for Victory” people!