ZOOM Talk 13 October 2020

Matthew Biggs ‘Dig for victory, was it successful?’

Our second Zoom evening was an informative look back to the second world war and how through hardship and necessity the people of Britain coped to feed themselves during the six years of devastation from 1939 to 1945.

The phrase ‘Dig for victory’ first appeared in the London Evening Standard in September 1939 and was coined by a young left of centre journalist by the name of Michael Foot who later became the leader of the Labour Party!

The German onslaught deliberately caused enormous damage to target Britain’s food supplies as so much of our basic supplies of fruit and vegetables were imported from overseas.

For example 287,000 tons of bananas were imported in 1939 but by 1942 there were none due to the success of German operations sinking merchant ship tonnage.

Huge shortages of supplies led to severe rationing and the Government had to quickly organise a massive propaganda exercise to encourage the British population to grow as much food as possible. It sought the help of the RHS and Allotment societies to help produce and publish countless booklets and leaflets to educate and inform people. Not easy given the shortage of seeds and during the War no weather forecasts were published.

Matthew showed us an amazing number of these items from his personal archive and his extensive research including a best seller ‘Cloches Versus Hitler’ written by Charles Wyse-Gardner….possibly not his real name!

Old photographs of allotments created on tube station platforms, a circular allotment dug into a circular bomb crater, a large vegetable garden in the moat of the Tower of London to list just a few!

Sales of spades and wheelbarrows took off in the early years.

To help nurture the planting when manure was scarce, additives including soot (plentiful in coal burning days) wood ash, guano and raw sewage were recommended. It was said many allotments in and around London had a particularly pungent air!

The Germans even went to great lengths to wreck the efforts of growers and destroy crops by the Luftwaffe dropping cardboard boxes of pests on allotments in Kent.

Was it all worth it? The answer has to be Yes, thanks to the great ingenuity and hard work by so many to feed the nation during the darkest days of the second world war.

The next ZOOM evening will take place on Tuesday 10 November at 8.00pm with Matthew Malde the medal winning garden designer who will talk about ‘A designer journey to Chelsea’ It will follow the AGM at 7.45pm.

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