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Dig for Victory - Russell Bowes

Few of our members would be old enough to have memories of life during World War II but most are familiar with the expression “Dig for Victory” and know its war time origin. So our speaker, Russell Bowes who had a diploma in garden history, was well qualified to explain how the Dig for Victory campaign was implemented. Some fascinating facts emerged during his presentation. In 1939 the UK was importing 70% of its food as it was government policy to encourage the export of manufactured goods and disregard the importance of producing food at home. This resulted in there only being 7 weeks food supply in store at the outbreak of the war.

Farmers were instructed to plough up fallow land by the end of September 1939 for which they were paid £2 an acre. If they failed to do so then their land was confiscated. There was a serious manpower shortage with men required to serve in the armed forces so there was a call to women to work on the land. Lady Gertrude Denman, who founded the Womens’ Institute, mobilised 17,000 women into what became known as the Land Army, nicknamed the Cinderella Army, at the outbreak of the war. By the end of the war it had grown to over 250,000.

People were encouraged to grow vegetables in place of flowers in their gardens. Whilst in London, Kensington Palace Gardens and the moat at the Tower of London became allotments. Tomatoes could no longer be imported from the Canary Islands and onions that had formerly been imported from France and Spain became highly prized until people started growing them at home.

There was a need for advice on how to grow vegetables, initially provided by the RHS, then by gardening societies which became established at the time. The BBC also played its part with the birth of a gardening programme first broadcast on Sunday afternoons.

Russell Bowe’s presentation had been well researched and was delivered with humour and authority. It clearly struck a chord with many members having an interest in gardening history.

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