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Ministry of Agriculture War Time Grow More Food Campaign

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 04, 2014

By John Workman

  • A poster from the "Grow Your Own Food Campaign" of 1939

  • The certificate Chris Smith's granddad received in 1941 for good allotment practice

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'DIG FOR VICTORY' is one of the most famous slogans associated with the Second World War and was a campaign first launched in a broadcast by the Agriculture Minister, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, on October 4, 1939.

He called for every able-bodied man and woman to dig an allotment in their spare time, turning lawns and flower-beds into vegetable plots, transforming parks into cultivated strips, and persuading families especially in towns, to keep chickens, rabbits, even pigs, in their back gardens. The aim was to make Britain as self-sufficient in food as possible, and to a large extent it worked.

Allotments were first introduced into this country at the beginning of the 19th century and by 1873 there were 244,268 active plots. By the last year of the First World War (1918), and as a result of food shortages, this number had increased to 1,500,000, and although numbers fell back in the 1920s and 1930s, the 'Dig For Victory' campaign in 1939 saw another increase in numbers that finally reached around 1.4 million.

Despite the wet weather of late, thoughts are now once again beginning to turn towards getting back out into the garden or the allotment to do some preparation work for the forthcoming growing season, and although he's not such a green-fingered individual these days, Chris Smith of Coventry, formerly a native of West Bromwich, has been recalling a period of time during the Second World War when an allotment situated in Beeches Road, West Bromwich, was not only a place for growing vegetables, but was also a hive of competition.

"It was my grandfather Arthur Lewis Chamberlain", Chris told us, " who had established his allotment before the outbreak of war. The allotments were located near where Junction 1 of the M5 is today, and where they built the Expressway that links the A41 with the M5. As a young whippersnapper I had my own small patch, but I also helped tidy up and presumably did all the mundane jobs.

"However, my granddad, as secretary of the West Bromwich Horticultural Society, always prided himself on trying to do his best. He always told me that growing your own food during the war was essential, but growing it in competition with your neighbours in the surrounding allotments was an added incentive.

"I was inspired to contact the Bugle because I recently discovered Granddad's certificates of merit that he received in three consecutive years, 1940, 41, and 42. The gist of the certificate reads, 'Ministry of Agriculture War Time Grow More Food Campaign, awarded to Mr. A. L. Chamberlain, who cultivated a plot of land to the best advantage and so made a valuable contribution towards the Nation's effort to grow more food in time of war'.

(The Latin words written at the bottom of the certificate, 'Omnia Vincit Labor' mean in translation, 'Work Conquers All').

"All the allotment holders were marked on their efforts in several different disciplines, and the judging took place twice a year, once in July and once in September. Firstly, the 'Land and its Management' included (a) cultivation, (b) compost heap, (c) weed control, (d) rotation of crops, and (e) neatness and finish. Then there was 'Growth of Plants', 'Yield of Crops', and 'Control of Diseases and Pests', and finally 'Planning', to secure food throughout the year with special emphasis on supplies (either growing or in store) for the winter and spring months.

"The scoring was out of 100 and Granddad did reasonably well for all three years, although his score did decrease year on year, probably due to the logistics of growing and the up-keep of an allotment getting increasingly more difficult as the war progressed. In 1940 he scored 90, in 1941 85½ and in 1942 78½, all out of one hundred."

Have you any allotment stories from years gone by, perhaps you once grew a record breaking vegetable? Please contact editor@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or write to Bugle House, 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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