Digging for victory.
“Digging for Victory” was the well published slogan during WW2 to encourage the British to grow more food to supplement the meagre rations available. My father took this very much to heart and expanded our already good sized garden at Hill Cottages on Sandy Lane by opening up an equally generous sized new plot over the hedge,onto what was a portion of Belton Common. which contained among other varieties Mirabelle Plum.
This ground I don’t think had been cultivated since the creation! It consisted of tussocky grass and bracken and just about every other weed known to man growing in the very sandy soil. My elder brother, still at home and awaiting call up, and my father were the primary sources of muscle, but none in the household, however young, were wholly excused duties.
As I recall the ground was “double dug”, the grass etc being buried two spits deep to eventually rot down, and the soil supplemented by pig manure from Dashwood’s Farm, where my father was gardener. My mother and the two school age children, me and my sister, were responsible for placing the seed potatoes in about every third row dug. These Scotch seed: King Edward, the early variety, and Majestic, the main crop, had been purchased earlier and kept in a dark place to “chit” (form shoots) Some of the larger tubas were cut in half before planting to make them go further, seed potatoes were never cheap.
When the potato shoots appeared above ground they were mounded up with soil, more than once to keep the growing potatoes fully below ground. The early potatoes were dug up and used straight from the garden. I well remember what a treat they were after the long stored potatoes from the previous year. The skins easily rubbed off and they were cooked with a sprig of Mint. The later variety would stay in the ground until the tops withered and then dug out with a fork and left to dry out for a while on the ground. The picking up of these potatoes was a job for the younger set. My back aches even as I write this! The very small ones were saved as chicken feed; boiled up and mashed with some corn meal and fed to our chickens. They also received any other kitchen waste. The main crop potatoes were stored in what was called a “Hale”. Basically a shallow hole, lined with straw, on which the potatoes were placed in a conical heap, covered with more straw and then the whole thing covered with a layer of soil to keep the frost and the ctters out. The hale would be opened to remove a few days supply during the winter months and then recovered until next needed.
As well as potatoes, also grown were Sprouts, Cabbage, Swedes, Carrots and Broccoli (which looked the same as Cauliflower and not the green variety seen today) There was a brisk trade between families in the exchange of seedling plants. “I’ve got Sprouts, I’ll trade you for Lettuces” sort of thing. Seeds had to be purchased and money was tight. The afore mentioned Mirabelle plums were also gathered along with Bullaces (wild plums) which also grew adjacent to our garden. I think there was a special sugar ration available for jam making. Other fruit grown in the garden and consumed were Apples, Plums, Gooseberries, Red and Black Currants and Loganberries.
It has been reported that the British have never had a more healthy diet than in WW2. Not too much meat but lots of vegetables, either fresh or stored and wild fruits picked from hedgerows to be used in jam, preserved or eaten as dessert. Many would cycle from Yarmouth in the autumn to pick Blackberries, with baskets and sticks with a wire hook at one end to pull the out of reach fruit to hand.
At this time it all seems very strange but I expect my experiences are the same as many more who lived in Belton at that time. I recall the Allotment gardens on Station Road South between the then Post Office and the Thatched Cottage as well as a further location mid way along Back Lane between Sandy Lane and Beccles Road.