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Digging for Victory: Stories from wartime gardens

It is 80 years since the Dig for Victory campaign, a war-time Ministry of Agriculture initiative to help to keep the population healthy during rationing following the naval blockade that saw food imports drastically reduce.

By 1943, most households had their own garden plot, with businesses and public parks also giving land to food growing.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has been asking people to share family photos and experiences of their wartime vegetable gardens.

Geoff Stearn and his father in an allotment in Ilford Image copyright Geoff Stearn
Image caption Geoff Stearn: “My father and myself on his allotment in Valentines Park, Ilford, [east London,] about 1947, I was 10. The photograph was exhibited in Ilford Town Hall under the heading of Dig For Victory.”
Carla Ferri as a child with chicken pen Image copyright Carla Ferri
Image caption Carla Ferri: “My mother’s sister had a house with a nice garden, five minutes walk from Holloway Prison[, north London]. A few vegetables were grown but the best achievement was a chicken pen built by my father and of course the eggs were always for me.”
Isabel Beech digging an allotment in Kensington Gardens Image copyright Julia Makra
Image caption Julia Makra: “Isabel Beech digging an allotment, with the Albert Memorial, Kensington Gardens, [west London,] in the background. Isabel was my great aunt’s companion.”
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Jim Wilson with his father and brother in a garden Image copyright Jim Wilson
Image caption Jim Wilson: “My brother and father in the garden of the old Rectory, Irthlingborough, Northants, about 1944. I think that may be my father’s ARP [Air Raid Precautions] badge on the lapel of his three-piece suit.”
Christine Regas as a young girl on allotment Image copyright Christine Regas
Image caption Christine Regas remembers sitting among the cabbages on her father’s allotment plot, in Petts Wood, Bromley[, south London].
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Clifford Staker and son Roger in an onion patch Image copyright Roger Staker
Image caption Roger Staker: “My father, Clifford Staker, and I in the onion patch at the isolation hospital, Bognor Regis[, Sussex]. My father was head gardener there and grew fruit and vegetables for the patients and also for our own use. We were virtually self-sufficient.”
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Betty Richard's father shovelling horse manure on a road Image copyright Betty Richards
Image caption Betty Richards: “My father picking up horse muck for the garden.”
Margaret Hodge feeding chickens Image copyright Carolyn Bevan
Image caption Carolyn Bevan: “My mother, Margaret Hodge, feeding chickens in her garden in Cornwall in the summer of 1942. She had been evacuated from London with her husband and two children.”
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Eileen Newell in front of a garden shed Image copyright Margaret Holt
Image caption Margaret Holt: “My mother, Eileen Newell, in my grandparents’ garden in Croydon, [south London,] in about 1942. My grandfather was an avid gardener and it was a hobby he enjoyed for most of his life.”
Alexander Hay, digging Image copyright Hillary Haston
Image caption Hillary Haston: “My father, Alexander Hay, putting the spade in for the first time in a new allotment plot, near Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.”
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Gerald Selby on his allotment Image copyright Margot Drury
Image caption Margot Drury: “My father, Gerald Selby, on his allotment, in Doncaster, in the summer of 1940. He wrote a memoir for a local publication in 2005 on war-time Doncaster with Dig for Victory as the slogan.”
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Jean Garner as a child in an allotment Image copyright Jane Garner
Image caption Jane Garner: “My mum, Jean Garner (née Durbin), in Birmingham, 1942 or 1943. You can see cabbages being grown and runner beans in my mum’s hand. The allotment belonged to my granddad, who went off to war in May 1941, so my grandmother took it on.”
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Freda Peach's mother and sister in their council house garden Image copyright Freda Peach
Image caption Freda Peach: “My mother, Hilda, and sister, Lilian, in our council house garden in Birmingham, 1940. My dad had a garden and an allotment. Our air raid shelter was flooded but the photo shows not an inch of wasted space.”
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All images copyrighted to the contributors, courtesy RHS. The photos from part of an exhibit at the RHS Lindley Library and are in RHS gardens from 14 October 2019.

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