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Digging for Victory

(39 Posts)
CariGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 07-Mar-13 07:13:53

In this week's guest blog post Ursula Buchan reveals how her research into gardening in WWII helped her to understand her mother's experience of war.

Do add your thoughts and memories - and ten posters will win a (hardback) copy of Ursula's new book A Green and Pleasant Land.

Elijay Thu 07-Mar-13 09:27:43

I was born in 1943, I don't know if my family grew vegs but I do remember the chickens and a preserving pail.

We lived in a cul de sac, I remember taking peelings etc to put in the communal pig bin.

feetlebaum Thu 07-Mar-13 10:07:57

My father appropriated some unused ground behind our back garden (now part of someone else's back garden) and created his own, unallotted allotment - I remember some amazingly large vegetables coming from there... in the garden itself we had rabbits galore - in a massive, if ramshackle community of hutches, kike a block of flats. He couldn't bring himself to kill them, and had to call someone in to do it. I still love rabbit (when you can get it) - and guess who went to Infants school in rabbit-fur gloves!

Chickens for the eggs (and for Christmas dinner) and ducks (largely for entertainment I suspect, remembering the way they would respond to the banging of a feeding trough, running down the garden path and falling over their own feet like tumbling clowns) made up the animal complement.

There were pig bins at the bottom of our avenue, pale green they were, and overflowing with peelings and the like, as Elijay remembers.

feetlebaum Thu 07-Mar-13 10:09:17

Odd how you only see a literal AFTER you have hit 'post message' - 'kike a block' should have read 'like a block', of course - no insult intended!

Joan Fri 08-Mar-13 04:33:30

I well remember my Dad's wartime and post war garden. I was born in early 1945 so I grew up with the garden. We had bantams, for eggs and meat, rabbits in a block of hutches, and a pig we shared with the family next door, as well as loads of vegetables and berries. I too had rabbit skin gloves made by my Mum. Dad had no qualms about killing bantams and rabbits, though they kept the demise of the rabbits from me. I was too young to be suspicious when we always had 'meat stew; the day a rabbit 'went to a good home'.

My parents, born 1908 and 1910 had so many skills: Dad did all our cobbling, made skipping ropes from old spindles and washing line, and did a lot of barter for various necessities. Mum could sew, knit, preserve, and make money stretch like elastic. Women had to work so hard back then, cooking, cleaning, baking, and washing by hand,with a peggy tub, mangle, rubbing board and posser. I kept out of the way on wash days - Mum was always frazzled that day.

Now I have my own food garden in the sub-tropics, and think of my Dad every day that I am gardening. I do so admire that generation, though our own baby boomer generation has a lot of skills too. In fact I've written a play about our generation, called 'Solar Dawn of the Baby Boomers', about how we rise to the fore after a solar storm knocks out all the electronics and electricity. Our local U3A are putting it on later this year.

Yes, digging for victory is one of my great memories of childhood.

PRINTMISS Fri 08-Mar-13 07:58:40

Our garden (or yard) was only big enough to hold the Anderson Shelter! although we did have a row of hutches for the rabbits which were a source of food, especially at Christmas. Our front garden - such as it was - was never used for vegetables, there was no one in the family who had the inclination to do this. The benefit of the small back yard and Anderson shelter, was that the entrance to the shelter was only a matter of yards from the door of the outside toilet (the only one), so if in dire straits we did not have far to go - very cold though, I seem to remember, and no lights.

annodomini Fri 08-Mar-13 09:15:17

I was born a year into the war, so it wasn't until I was about three that I was involved in digging for victory. We had a good-sized garden - veg at the back, flowers at the front. My dad grew carrots, cabbages, parsnips, cauliflowers and, most of all, potatoes. Good Ayrshire potatoes - nothing better. Dad was out with the Home Guard at least once a week, sometimes on overnight exercises, and of course he worked at the explosives factory, doing essential war work, but every spare moment he was out in the garden and I was allowed to 'help' him, using the dibber, dropping seeds into holes, applying some chemical or other to prevent carrot fly. We sometimes got eggs from my uncle and aunt, who kept hens, and mum preserved them in a big white enamel bucket filled with waterglass. Granny, who lived round the corner, had an Anderson shelter but I don't remember that it was ever used - the night before I was born, mum had been under granny's big table, listening to the German bombers on their way to bomb the Clyde shipyards. An apple tree was planted to commemorate my birth - it never seemed to grow very big or to produce very many edible apples. Now I suspect that it didn't have an adequate pollinator nearby!

feetlebaum Fri 08-Mar-13 10:16:50

The Anderson shelter tended not to be used once it had part filled with water - which most of them did, being sunk into the ground. I know I spent many nights under tables - fortunately not a habit that accompanied me into adult life - including the night we were bombed out...

annodomini Fri 08-Mar-13 10:31:51

After the war, we used the Anderson shelter for a rather dark play house - a good hiding place too.

EmilyHarburn Fri 08-Mar-13 16:49:20

In 1943 we moved out of London into the country. Our house had a large back garden. My father was very keen on the ‘dig for victory’ movement and set about making it as productive as possible. Along one wall we had a shed for rabbits in hutches with holes cut in the side so they had day light, on another wall he built a chicken run. Then we got a pigsty for 2 pigs and some beehives. The bees I think, even came with a sugar ration.
My sister and I went for walks with a family friend ,who was living with us having been bombed out of her London house. We picked Cow Parsley from the hedgerows for the rabbits. As we did this she taught us the names of all the small plants which you no longer see today due to farm weed killing sprays. She made the rabbit fur into muffs for us.
The pigs could cause havoc when they were to be taken for slaughter as they had to cross the garden to the side yard to be put in the trailer. I think we got half of each pig and the government got the other half. Every bit of the pig was used. It is years since I have had brawn made from pigs trotters!!
My mother organised the fruit and vegetables. In season we had gooseberries, raspberries and blackberries; potatoes, onions, leeks, green beans and perpetual spinach. We salted the green beans in large pottery crocs to keep them for winter.
We threw very little away. We unpicked old jerseys, washed the wool and then the friend had one of us hold out our arms out with the skein so that she could wind it into a ball. She taught us to knit kettle holders.
One of our games was to throw up a hassock into the air and then jump on it as it hit the floor, yelling ‘doodle bug landing’. I think we were too young to fully realise what would happen if one did land.
The productive garden giving food on the table is a very good memory for me.

bookdreamer Fri 08-Mar-13 17:36:02

joan lovely vivid description of your childhood. Wonderful!

PRINTMISS Sat 09-Mar-13 08:10:33

I do not remember our Anderson Shelters flooding - we moved twice, once because we were bombed out. The last shelter we had was newly built for us in the garden of a requsitioned house, and we were over-run by black-beetles when we slept! I can still hear the click as my Mum and Dad caught the things in a piece of newspaper and squashed them - horrible things, but evidently good for killing slugs! The house which was damaged by the bomb was also occupied by an elderly lady, a bit of a recluse, who normally did not share the shelter with us, however, on one particularly heavy raid she decided to walk down the garden to join us - with a lighted candle in her hand - my Dad nearly went berserk.

Bez Sat 09-Mar-13 08:49:33

When I was a small babe in arms we were living near Heathrow which was an airforce station at the time - my mother was walking with me between the gardens to go across to visit my grandmother - she heard a plane and looked up and saw the swastika on the side and could even see the face of the pilot!! He just flew off fortunately and when she arrived at my grandmother's she and my aunts went mad but Mum had simply not heard the siren.
We moved from that maisonette to a house in 1943 - at that time empty houses were requisitioned so we had to go over quickly and put up curtains. My parents wanted to buy the house but we lived in it and paid rent until the paperwork was done.
My father was in a reserved occupation working on radar - but he worked very long hours getting the 8 miles or so on his bike. He then was in the Home Guard and he did fire watch for the local area.
We had a Morrison shelter which was basically an iron construction like a large table which was erected in the house. Ours was in the dining room and we slept under it as a matter of course when the bombing was bad. My parents had the mattress from their bed on the floor and Dad slung the base of my cot and its mattress across their feet. Often dad was out overnight on watch somewhere so I would just get in with Mum. She got up early to see Dad off to work and I got up with her. I can remember early one morning seeing Dad come in the back gate and the light falling on his face and I saw how tired he looked and he had a day at work to do and the cycling there and back.
Dad kept chickens and we had fruit trees and bushes and Mum used all the fruit making jam or bottling. She swapped some of our tea ration for margarine with a neighbour in the next street so her sons could drink all their tea and Mum could bake for us. We too had the preserving bin for the eggs but these were only used in cooking because of the tang they had.
A bomb fell quite near us and I remember knowing a girl who had all her hair fall out due to the shock - she alway wore a knitted bonnet. Then I was with Mum in the bakers one day and Mum spoke to a lady and a girl - I was amazed to see this was the girl who lost her hair and it had regrown and it was the most beautiful curly auburn colour hair I had ever seen.
We never went hungry as far as I can remember but we did have to eat everything we were given and I remember all the queueing.
After the war we were in Marks and they had a wonderful selection of head squares- colours and designs like I had never seen - we touched them and looked at all designs till eventually Mum selected one. My Dad was so pleased to buy such a lovely thing for her and she had it for many years. I also remember her buying a new coat in 1947 and that was the year of the 'New Look' - I was so proud of my Mum having such a fashionable coat - it was a wine colour.
So much was made at home - clothes, toys and even rag rugs that I never felt deprived - lucky to have parents who were able to get the best of what was available.
I think maybe we appreciated things much more than then because it was not so easy.

janerowena Sat 09-Mar-13 09:49:11

What a lovely thread. My mother was only three when the war started, but all of the thrifty ways stay with her still and she and my grandmother passed them on to us. I am now 57 but I still look at sweaters to see if they can be unravelled, fabrics become quilts, I keep chickens and not a thing is wasted. Everything, but everything is composted, recycled, re-used. I look at the consumer society and wonder how it happened. My children were brought up to eat everything they took, we have no waste food in my house so the chickens would starve if they had to live off our scraps. I grow most of our vegetables. We are not poor but we have had lean times due to redundancies, and I have managed to keep us going, food-wise, throughout those tough months purely because of what I was taught. I know that I can make nettle soup and use groundelder instead of spinach. That elderberry cordial stops cold in their tracks. That garlic spray is an excellent antiseptic. It's been hard work sometimes, freezing and bottling and drying, but I have been so grateful for the skills passed on to me.

Micah68 Sat 09-Mar-13 19:36:04

I grew up on a croft and the fresh vegetables from the garden were wonderful with the sunday roast. Not a scrap was wasted as all the trimmings went to the goats and pigs and probably became part of the sunday roast in a different way! My Dad was very inspired by the self sufficiency of that the war gave people. He was always reluctant to make a purchase of anything when it could be homegrown, made or adapted.

Gally Sat 09-Mar-13 20:48:03

My Mother's mantra was 'make do and mend' which lasted until the day she died. She was brought up in a poor family of 5 children, her Dad was a jobbing gardener and her Mum had been a cleaner at the Big House. They grew all their own veg, kept chickens and gathered berries from the hedgerows which they sold locally to help make ends meet. They all had one 'good' dress and one for every day all of which were recycled to the next one down the line. Although my Mum's life change dramatically as she became older, she never forgot her origins,as I can well testify. She saved everything and reused everything - paper bags, string, wrapping paper, clothes, wool, foil (!) .............. Not a bad legacy for her grandchildren and theirs

Joan Sat 09-Mar-13 21:40:05

My Mum was the same, Gally, with the 'make do and mend'. Now I'm the same - can't help it.

Gally Sat 09-Mar-13 21:49:27

Joan grin. Me too!

annodomini Sat 09-Mar-13 22:42:38

My mum made all our clothes, some of them cut down from my older cousins' cast-offs. A man used to come round with a big suitcase full of remnants of nice materials like Viyella. Mum was very good at smocking which adorned most of our little dresses. For VE day, we had white Viyella dresses embroidered with union flags. Well, two of us had those - no 3 was born a month after the war ended.

Joan Sun 10-Mar-13 01:44:54

They were so clever, our Mums, weren't they? Dad was foreman spinner in a blanket mill. He used to bring home 'blanket ends' which Mum would sew together to make full blankets. Once, during the war, she boiled some up to shrink them, dyed them, then brushed up the pile to make them into dressing gown material. She made such dressing gowns for my two brothers.

They were dressed in these, and their home made pyjamas when the boss came visiting when I was born. (It was usual practice back then for the mill owner to visit when a long-term employee had a baby - there was usually a gift involved. ) Mum nearly had a fit - she wasn't sure if the blankets ends had been OK to take. However, he had no idea; the material was unrecognisable by then.

Those were the days of paternalism of course - we might sniff at it now, but that small c conservatism was a lot better than the rampant, devil-take-the-hindmost laissez-faire capitalism of today.

Years later Mum and I were walking home in the rain when that boss's son saw us and gave us a lift. I was at grammar school then, aged about 11 or 12 and we were doing the Industrial Revolution in History. I gave him a long talk about the evils of that era, while Mum quietly despaired. He took it well, and arranged for me to see all their historical exhibits, mainly photos, of the era.

I saw it all as history of course, and I think he did: Mum thought I was having a go at him. I was too naive to see that.

Enviousamerican Mon 11-Mar-13 20:29:50

my grandmother raised 4 children alone after her husband took off and started another family.She grew her own veggies,made clothes and took in a army soldier as a border in a very small house during the war.She never complained and was the bravest women I have know.

Stansgran Tue 12-Mar-13 14:42:18

Hope Gransnet has a means of archiving some of these accounts. My parents were very much make do and mend,my father building radios and repairing them during the war. In the fifties I remember him building Tvs from scratch in time for the coronation. Nothing was ever bought if it could be made. I couldn't wait to buy a ready made dress from c&a when I was about father even repaired shoes

GeraldineGransnet (GNHQ) Tue 12-Mar-13 16:17:11

My great aunt's husband covered their Anderson shelter with soil and planted flowers on top. My great aunt said he was trying to turn it into her grave.

I love this thread!

My mum spent many nights in their Anderson shelter as a schoolgirl - she lived in the East End through the Blitz. I don't know how she managed to function at school the next day but she always did.

Galen Tue 12-Mar-13 16:27:44

My gran used to make rag rugs.

Sook Tue 12-Mar-13 16:52:45

Galen I still do grin