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How Brits Utilised Allotments During Two World Wars: The Era Of ‘Growing Your Own’

Boys creating an allotment on a bomb site in London during 1942

It has been 100 since the Great War ended, an event that many thought would be the ‘war to end all wars’. However, two decades later, Brits found themselves once again participating in a global war that would see the end of Nazi Germany, the fall of the Japanese and Italian Empires, the beginning of the Nuclear Age and the creation of the much-needed United Nations.

The Second World War lasted six years and one day, directly affecting millions of civilians around the world. During both conflicts, Brits feared starvation and in the 1930s, the country imported 70% of its food, which required 20 million tonnes of shipping annually. 

As the importation and shipping food was very significant for Britain during these times, enemy states discovered this to be a weak spot for the country and that cutting off any imports could lead to inhumane, mass starvation across the nation — meaning Britain needed to act — immediately.    

Rationing

Rationing became a necessity for Britain throughout the war. So much so, that in the early stages of 1940, the government initiated a rationing system for the public to ensure that there was a fair distribution of food and commodities for the wider community.

A typical weekly food ration for an adult included:

•    4oz margarine.
•    1 fresh egg and a dried egg allowance.
•    2oz butter.
•    4oz bacon and ham.
•    The equivalent of two chops (monetary value of one shilling and two pence).
•    Three pints of milk.
•    4oz cooking fat.
•    2oz tea.
•    12oz of sweets every four weeks.
•    8oz sugar.
•    2oz cheese.
•    1lb of preserves every two months.

Although it seems like a long list, it wasn’t a lot. Brits had to live this way once the Second World War ended in 1945 too — leaving them on rations until 1958. It was looked upon as a way to regulate food production and usage.

Grow-your-own campaign

Requiring an awful shipping journey, did you know that a quarter of butter and half of cheese imports came from New Zealand? 80% of fruit was also imported during this time and led to the Dig for Victory campaign which was launched by the Ministry of Food in October 1939 — one month into WW2.

Professor John Raeburn, an agricultural economist who was recruited by the Ministry of Food led the campaign until the end of the war. 

The aim of the campaign was to encourage Brits to transform their gardens into vegetable plots, removing the need to be reliant on imports during the tough times. Not only this, as communities would now use local produce, shipping space was now available for more valuable war materials and could potentially replace items that were sunken during previous transportation attempts.

It has been reported that Germany was responsible for Britain losing 728,000 tonnes of food by 1940.

Green spaces across cities, including public parks, were transformed into allotments. Believe it or not, the lawn outside of the Tower of London was even made into a vegetable patch. The idea was a success nationwide, estimates even showed that home gardens were producing over one million tonnes of food by 1943.

The Royal Horticultural Society found that by the end of the Second World War, there were almost 1.4 million allotments in the country. During the same year, 75% of food consumed in Britain was locally produced. Pig Clubs (6,000 pigs were kept in gardens that year), chicken coops and rabbit keeping became a bigger trend for homeowners too; allowing them to add more protein to their diet.

Women’s Land Army

The Women’s Land Army was a result of the First World War but became even more significant during WW2. As allotments were popping up around the country, women would assist farmers and market gardeners by replacing workers who had been sent away to fight. 

It was reported that over 80,000 women were part of the British Women’s Land Army by 1944 — six years before its dissolution in October 1950. It can’t be denied that by the help of these women, the country would have struggled greatly, and farmers would have been unable to continue harvesting produce.

Today, ‘growing your own’ is becoming a more popular trend. Although more homeowners are laying down decking boards and create a more cosy outdoor space, they’re also adapting their green space to create their own vegetable patch — realising both the cost and health benefits home-grown produce can deliver.

As a result, the government urged Britain to return the Dig for Victory campaign in recent years to combat food shortages!