Tuesday 5 May 2020

VE Allotment Celebration Packet 2: Seeds From America

All this week we will be publishing articles associated with allotments during the War and that extraordinary time when everyone ‘Dug for Victory.’

In World War I ‘Victory Gardens’ were established across US, UK, Canada and Australia to grow food. US President Woodrow Wilson said then, ‘Food will win the war.’ 

Today we hear much about the World War II campaign and Michael Foot's creative slogan, ‘Dig for Victory’. But we hear less about the seeds that helped fuel and maintain the campaign's success and similar campaigns in other Allied countries.
Before the United States declared war on Japan in December 1941, it had remained neutral with regards to the war in Europe and elsewhere but had financially aided Britain via the Lend-Lease program. Various charitable organisations in the US recognised and separately donated to the UK but as the need for aid grew these were consolidated and the The British War Relief Society (BWRS) was established to provide US humanitarian aid in the supply of non-military help and assistance to the UK.  
In 1941, 9 tons of seeds came to the UK from America. These were to help establish RAF allotments and other various military plots around the UK. It was such a success that the following year ten times that, 90 tons of seeds in some 150,000 cartons were shipped to help the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. These cartons were distributed across the country by The National Allotments Society.

Allotments without seeds can’t grow much so these cartons were vital not only in increasing the amount grown but also the quality and variety of food produced.

We can read from The Observer, September 13th, 1942 under the sub heading, ‘Minneapolis to Millwall’ about a shipment of seeds and ceremonial handover to our own East End Dockland plot holders and families here at Mudchute on the Isle of Dogs, or as it was often referred to then, Millwall. The ceremony was performed by Mr Robert Hudson and was at a site of new allotments on the island. These 140 plots had been dug out of what had been four cricket pitches in Millwall Park and heavily bombed housing surrounding it. The area occupied by the allotments had suffered extensive bomb damage during the first night of the Blitz in September 1940. The cartons of seeds had a huge impact on morale in the East End of London and in what was a routinely blitzed Docklands. 

The seeds help produce onions, potatoes, beans, marrows, cabbage, beetroot, lettuces, carrots, turnips and the much needed food to help feed the East End and families that continued to work in the docks through the Blitz and the entire war and land the cargo that was vital to the UK.

Below are some photos of the ceremony and of the seeds being sown.

The author is indebted to the research and archive provided by Mick Lemmerman and the work and archive of the Island History Trust which enabled this untold story to be written.

Tomorrow read about RIP the dog.