How ‘Growing your own’ helped Brits survive the World Wars

The First World War wasn’t, as it was called, the ‘war to end all wars’. Just a few decades later, the world was submerged in another conflict, which again saw a catastrophic loss of life.

It wasn’t though just combatants who were at risk during these conflicts.  Starvation was a real fear throughout this period for many of Europe’s citizens.

In the 1930s, Britain imported 70% of its food, which required 20 million tonnes of shipping each year. It was recognised by the Germans that cutting off such imports could lead to mass starvation, so Britain had to act.

In this article, Arbordeck, a UK supplier of plastic and timber decking for gardens, have taken a look at how Britain dealt with the threat and how growing your own food helped Britons during these hardest of times.

An insight into rations

To ensure that everyone was fed, the early 1940s saw the British government implement a rationing system. 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

While the war ended in 1945, rationing wasn’t abolished until 1958. It was looked upon as a way to regulate food production and usage.

Using our garden spaces

Did you know that a 25% of butter imports and 50% of cheese imports came from New Zealand at this time? Eighty percent of fruit was also imported. This led to the Dig for Victory campaign being launched by the Ministry of Food in October 1939, one month after the outbreak of the war. Professor John Raeburn, an agricultural economist who was recruited by the Ministry of Food led the campaign until the end of the war.

grow your own vegetables

This encouraged the British public to transform their gardens into vegetable patches. Its aim was to replace imported food with locally grown produce in a bid to free up shipping space for more valuable war materials and also replace any goods that were sunk in transit – German submarines were responsible for Britain losing out of 728,000 tonnes of food by the end of 1940.

In cities, public parks were transformed into allotments and the lawns outside of the Tower of London were even turned into vegetable patches. The campaign proved to be a roaring success, with it estimated that home gardens were producing over one million tonnes of produce by 1943. 

Interestingly, when the war ended, the Royal Horticultural Society reported that there were 1.4 million allotments in the country. By 1945, around 75% of all food consumed in Britain was locally produced as Pig Clubs – it’s estimated that 6,000 pigs were kept in gardens and back yards in this year, chicken coops and rabbit keeping also became popular as Britain attempted to grow their own source of protein. 

The beginning of the Women’s Land Army

The Women’s Land Army was birthed during the first World War but was greater relied on during the second. Here, females would help farmers and market gardeners by replacing the workers who had gone to war. By 1944, over 80,000 women were in the British Women’s Land Army, before it was eventually disbanded in October 1950. Without this workforce, Britain would have struggled to continue their harvesting.

Growing your own vegetables aided citizens both in their health and financially, and became a crucial part of the country’s operations.  So much so that in recent years, the government urged Britain to return the Dig for Victory campaign in a bid to combat possible food shortages and the ‘disastrous’ consequences it could bring.  


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