The Combined Military Services Museum (CMSM) is proud to display their “Dig for Victory” garden, cultivated over the last few months by our team of volunteers. The garden includes a selection of home-grown vegetables, from peas and carrots, to beetroot, swede and mint leaves. The wooden structure is made from recycled museum displays, and other sourced materials, further emphasising the focus on sustainability surrounding the “Dig for Victory” theme, a message that is just as relevant today.
The photographs below display the significant growth the garden has experienced in the past few weeks, heightened by the strong sunlight and the care taken watering the garden to encourage the growth of the vegetables.
The historical importance of gardens such as these can be traced back to the “Dig for Victory” campaign in the Second World War, a key feature of the home front that developed after food was rationed in Britain from January 1940.
This campaign followed similar arguments proposed in the First World War that highlighted the food crisis, where limited food supplies demonstrated the need to save food wherever possible, and to reduce food consumption and waste. The lecture about a “Food Economy Campaign” in June 1917 displayed below illustrates these concerns.
The “Dig for Victory” campaign used posters which encouraged British civilians to grow their own vegetables in allotments and on public land, to combat shortages in food supplies and to increase British self-sufficiency in food. The campaign also aimed to keep civilian morale high during wartime.
Growing your own vegetables during this period helped people in Britain cook at a time when purchasing food items such as meat, cheese, milk, butter and sugar were restricted under the rationing system controlled by the Ministry of Food. People dug up their flowers to plant a variety of fruit and vegetables instead.
These leaflets (displayed below) from the CMSM archive, published in September 1942, encouraged the drying of fruit and vegetables where possible to preserve the food. Instructions were also given on how best to store food items for several months. “Dig for Victory” leaflets also described ways that people could preserve food by bottling and canning fruit and vegetables, detailing the steps of preparation and sterilisation required for different foods.
Our “Dig for Victory” garden at CMSM highlights much more than the history of rationing during the Second World War. The garden symbolises the relevance of these historical messages to our society, especially younger generations. The importance of sustainably growing your own food and knowing where your food comes from is as important today as it was during the Second World War. The mental health benefits that result from producing your own food, and the nutritional enrichment this food can provide, are ways in which “Dig for Victory” gardens can significantly impact people in the present day.
Written by: Harry Baker, University of Essex MA Student