‘Dig For Victory’: Reading Produce Shows and Allotments
‘Dig for Victory’ is a slogan that has endured way beyond its original meaning and purpose during the Second World War. The Battle of the Atlantic, in which German U-Boats targeted convoys of merchant ships escorted by the British navy, meant that trade was difficult and dangerous. Food supply was one of the great challenges that the wartime government had to deal with. This meant rationing, which began in 1940, and maximising domestic food production by the farming industry and by the public in their allotments and gardens. Home-grown food reduced the risk to supply from dependence on imported food. It also saved lives and shipping lost in the merchant navy and freed up shipping for military duty.
Reading Borough Council was empowered under wartime legislation to utilise vacant land for allotments. It did this with enthusiasm and some of the land brought into use was council land. A propaganda campaign accompanied the ‘Dig for Victory’ initiative. There were posters, celebrity speakers, competitions and exhibitions. Reading Museum and Art Gallery held several allotment and gardening exhibitions during the war years.
A network of allotment associations was brought together under the umbrella of the Federated Horticultural and Allotment Association. In September 1941 they held the first Victory Garden Show at the Cattle Market. Produce was sold in aid of the Red Cross and St John Fund. After the Second World War the event became the Reading Show. Produce and horticultural shows were annual events held in Reading at various venues including the Town Hall, Blagrave Street.
Alongside the growing came bottling, pickling and jam making. The Women’s Institute took the lead at the food preservation centre inside McIlroy’s Department Store, Cheapside.
In 1945, the pre-war situation did not return immediately. Food was still rationed and in 1947 the slogan changed to ‘Dig for Plenty'. By 1949, the Horticultural Federation looked forward to a future of permanent, well laid out allotment sites conveniently located for tenants. Over time however, public enthusiasm for the hard work of growing their own food waned, until revived in the 1970s by the recession and a growing interest in the environment and green issues.