The ways civilians took up the challenge to become self-sufficient during the war.
By Edwin Pretty.
During 1939 at the beginning of World War II the government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, started a campaign to encourage people to grow more food. The slogan for this massive and highly successful campaign was ‘Dig For Victory’.
Farmers were urged to plough up pasture land to grow extra corn and fodder. The huge ploughing campaign began, and government advertisements in local papers of the time encouraged the trend. The March 14th edition of the Doncaster Chronicle shows such an ad’ saying ‘Plough by day and night’. The Doncaster Gazette of the same date shows a Fordson tractor advertisement by Charlesworths, the local main agent. It states: ‘Farmers plough by night, it can be done by Fordson’. The Doncaster Gazette of March 28th 1940 depicts a government ad’ saying ‘Ploughing on farms is as vital as arms’. Farmers were offered a £2 incentive for every acre they ploughed up that had been grass for the previous seven years, provided that they did so by December 1939. Thousands of women began working on farms throughout the country in the women’s land army. They proved to be a vital part of the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign throughout the war and did an incredible amount of work.
However, a Ministry of Agriculture poster pointed out that farmers alone could not grow all the food required. The Ministry said ‘Turn your garden over to vegetables’.
The ‘DFV’ campaign was the most famous of the whole war. A London evening newspaper came up with the slogan. Prior to that, the message had been simply to ‘Grow More Food’. An estiamted 10 million leaflets about growing food were in circulation in 1942 alone. By 1945 farmers had ploughed up 6 million acres of grassland nationally.
In 1940 food rationing had started and went on until 1954. Each person was given a ration book and a ‘points’ system was introduced. Each person was given a number of points and selected foods were given a point value. They could then spend the points on food.
Like other local authorities throughout the country, Doncaster council began allocating land for allotments in order to grow sufficient food. Parks and playing fields also had areas turned over for cultivation. However, many residents were slow to take up the challenge as allotment sites had many spare plots. A statutory plot was 10 rods in size (10 yds x 10 yds), i.e. 300 square yds. In 1939, Doncaster council set up an Allotments Emergency Committee as allotments and home production was essential.
Mexborough Urban District Council (MUDC) also established new allotment sites such as Genoa Street in September 1940. MUDC minutes of their meeting in September 1940 state: ‘Allotments and home production was now essential’. The council appealed to the public for the upmost cultivation of gardens and allotments to concentrate on growing food. Likewise, in Doncaster, on March 7th 1940, Councillor F C Trotter of the Horticultural Committee said in the Mansion House: “I urge people to take on allotments, and there are plenty available”.
DFV meetings were held regularly at the Mansion House and were often given press coverage. The Doncaster Chronicle of October 24th 1940 shows a photograph of councillors at the Mansion House after such a meeting.
Schools and Hospitals also began the digging campaign. An article in the Doncaster Gazette of March 14th 1940 refers to nurses at Springwell House Institution at Balby, giving up some spare time to cultivate land adjoining the Institution.
A ‘Hospital Scheme’ was widely established, the purpose of which was to give locally grown produce to a Hospital. Mexborough Allotment Society supported this scheme, as did many others throughout the borough. Montagu hospital at Mexborough held a competition, whereby allotment holders competed against eachother to produce quality vegetables. The Mexborough and Swinton Times of October 5th 1940 refers to ‘Giant Potatoes for Montagu Hospital Competition’. There were 39 entries. The winner was J Dannitt with 2 potatoes weighing 1 pound 15 ounces and 1 pound 13 ounces. Competition prizes were often spades and forks.
Most local school children got enthusiastically involved in the DFV campaign by having a vegetable plot at school or at home. The West Riding County Council (WRCC) issued a letter to schools in October 1939 advising teachers on how to organise the growing of vegetables. It stated that the production of food ‘Should be a communal effort, keep paths to a minimum, do not divide into small plots for individuals or pairs. The chief aim should be production’. In addition, the letter goes on to say, ‘Lessons given on garden pests would be extremely useful’. It also advises teachers to give lessons about the weather and to aqcuistion tools through the Local Authority.
The church also got involved in the campaign and worked on various schemes around Doncaster. Churches included Askern, Skellow, Woodlands, Bentley, Conisbrough and Chequer Road Baptist in Doncaster. An article appeared in the Doncaster Gazette on April 10th 1941 entitled: ‘Sunday School Scholars to Grow Food’. It stated that ‘The Doncaster Baptist Fellowship are Digging for Victory and The Red Cross’. They sold produce in aid of the Red Cross. Children aged 11-15 are taking part having a plot of their own or a part of their parents’ allotment’.
In contrast to all the good work being done, Thorn Town Council (Housing) served an injunction on some council tenants to order them to cultivate their gardens. In the Doncaster Gazette of August 21st 1941, an article referring to the injunction states: ‘Few tenants have failed to carry out the injunction of the council to cultivate their gardens. Those who have not done so are to hear more about the matter.
On another negative note, in 1941 allotment holders in Mexbrough were complaining about produce being stolen. To counteract this, Mexbrough Allotment Society offered a £2 reward for information leading to the conviction of persons stealing produce from any of the allotment gardens. The matter was left in Police Authority hands.
Meanwhile, allotment holders, school children, home gardeners and several organisations kept busy producing fresh wholesome vegetables. This was because their intake of vitamins and protein had increased and they ate less meat, fat, eggs and sugar.
Film shows were arranged by Doncaster Council’s Horticultural Committee, one such film was shown at the Technical College in 1940 entitled: ‘A Garden Goes to War’ which was in colour. Lectures were also given by members of the Royal Horticultural Society. Some lectures were given during thw afternoon for school children, and in the evenings for adults.
DFV exhibitions were also arranged and sometimes held at Scarbrough Barracks at Balby. In 1942 the Red Cross held a fruit and vegetable show at the girls high school and produce was given to the Royal Infirmary. Demonstrations were also given on preserving fruit and the keeping of Pigs, Rabbits, Poultry and Bees.
Twenty Five leaflets were issued by the government in the DFV series which covered all different aspects of gardening including the storage of vegetables, bottling of fruit, jam making and even how to make a compost heap from garden waste. For those short of money, seeds could be obtained from the Society of Friends based in London, through the allotment societies. There was also the ‘assisted seeds scheme’ which provided seeds from America.
Advice was continually being given through articles in the local press. The Mexbrough and Swinton Times had an article entitled: ‘This Week’s Food Facts’. It gave hints and tips on cooking on a budget.
Local advertisements also continued to promote the DFV campaign. Those fot the Co-op said: ‘Prepare the ground, work for victory with CWS Unity Garden Tools’. The Barnsley British Co-operative Society (BBCS) promoted ‘Spring Offensive BBCS Gardening Supplies – your Garden is Vital’. Spades made by Fawley’s Ltd were advertised with the slogan: ‘Dig Hard, Dig Deep, Dig now with our spades’.
There was an acute shortage of onions after July 1940 when the Germans occupied the Channel Islands, which normally exported supplies to mainland Britain in peacetime. Therefore, more onions were home-grown once a plentiful supply of seeds was obtained.
If people did not have a garden, they were able to grow Tomatoes and herbs in window boxes and Runner Beans in tubs on balconies. In some instances gardeners grew Mushrooms and Rhubarb in their ‘Anderson Shelters’ as they were dark and damp, while mustard and cress was grown on blotting paper by school children.
Varieties of vegetables available in 1940 included, ‘Arron Pilot’ early potatoes, ‘Majestic’ main crop potatoes, ‘The Prince’ french bean, ‘Ailsa Craig’ onions, ‘All Year Round’ lettuce, ‘Musselburgh’ leeks and ‘Painted Lady’ runner beans, all of which are in use today. Gardeners growing spring cabbages were advised to always chop the cabbage off leaving a long stalk in the ground. This was then cut on the top making an X shaped cut. This will then produce another crop of greens. Some gardeners still carry out this practice today.
Herbs were planted along the edge of vegetable plots, which also helped to keep pests away. Mint for instance was planted between rows of cabbages and brussel sprouts because the Cabbage White butterfly does not like the smell and, therefore, did not lay its eggs on the cabbage. Mothballs were crushed and sprinkled around carrots to prevent carrot fly.
The Ministry of Food gave advice on how to make the most of available food. This was done through broadcasts on the radio (wireless), cookery demonstrations and recipe leaflets. Dr Carrot and Potato Pete were cartoon characters introduced as a newspaper feature which encouraged people to eat home grown vegetables.
The Minister of food was Lord Woolton and a pie was named after him. The vegetables in the pie could be changed depending on what was available at the particular time of year. Nutritious food which was also recommended included: mock black pudding, tripe and onions, grilled pigeon, grilled smelts, sheeps head stew and pigs head with green peas.
Lord Woolton’s propaganda slogan was:
- Dig Dig Dig and your muscles will grow big,
- Keep on pushing in the spade
- Never mind the worms, just ignore the squirms
- And when your back aches, laugh with glee and keep on diggin’ ’til we give our foes a wiggin’
- Dig Dig Dig to victory.