Digging for Victory

By Peter Jackson

As part of our current project on ‘The cultural values of digging’, we’ve noticed a recent resurgence of interest in C H Middleton’s popular war-time books and radio broadcasts (“In Your Garden”), part of a wave of war-time nostalgia that is encapsulated in phrases like ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ and ‘Make Do and Mend’.  Through simple advice and easy-to-follow instructions, Middleton encouraged people to become more self-sufficient at a critical time when less than one-third of the nation’s food supply was grown in Britain.

We’ve also been following Andrew and Carol Oldham’s attempt to recreate a war-time garden, as described on their website (http://lifeonpigrow.blogspot.co.uk). Turning back the clock to 1943, the Oldhams make a direct connection between war-time austerity and the current economic downturn, suggesting that growing our own fruit and vegetables will improve the nation’s health and promote a more sustainable lifestyle.  While there has been a lot of media interest in their war-time garden, including coverage in The Guardian, the Oldhams are not alone.  Moving to France in 2004, Trevor Hunt set about following C H Middleton’s monthly gardening advice, blogging about his experience at http://wartimegardening.co.uk/. Nor is all of this war-time nostalgia food-related – we’ve also noticed a Dig for Victory clothing store (http://digforvictoryclothing.com/) and numerous other commercial ventures that use this powerful metaphor.

Middleton’s radio broadcasts reached an audience of 3.5 million, supporting the Government’s mission of supplying ‘fresh food for the family’ through a system of universal ‘orderly cropping’.  It seems, though, that the actual physical labour required to deliver this objective was initially overlooked by the Ministry of Agriculture, its advice on ‘How to Dig’ not being issued until 1941 as No.20 in a series of 26 leaflets.  More ‘visceral learning’ may have been required (which was the subject of a previous blog on this site).

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