Gardeners and the Great War

One month after the outbreak of war in 1914 The Gardeners' Chronicle hailed steps being taken to build food security at home and urged no let up in 'wise action now'

Food supplies: people in Kingston queuing to buy potatoes during World War One - image: © Chronicle/Alamy Stock Photo
Food supplies: people in Kingston queuing to buy potatoes during World War One - image: © Chronicle/Alamy Stock Photo

"The outbreak of the war called for swift decisions, not only on the part of those who had great naval and military charges, but also on the part of those able to exercise influence or authority in other directions. Our duty lay in enforcing the need of supplementing the supplies of food, and we are in a position to know that, thanks to the initiative displayed by the Royal Horticultural Society and by the Horticultural Press, much ground has been planted with crops which will serve to eke out - if need be - the food supplies of the nation.

It is by no means strange that the declaration of war should have led to many curious and unexpected results, as, for example, a temporary glut in the Covent Garden market. It was not to be supposed however, that that state of affairs should continue, although it is only too certain that, with the curtailment of purchasing power, sales must fall off.

Temporary dislocation of transport has also produced serious effects, nowhere more than in the Channel Islands. Owing to transport difficulties, now being overcome, and perhaps owing to shrinkage of available labour, due to the military system of the islands, there was a danger that growers in the Channel Islands would suffer severe loss. We understand, however, that the tomato crop is now being gathered with good hope of its finding a market, although the grape-growers may not be so fortunate.

The commercial fabric of our country is of such close and delicate texture that a sudden, well meant, and in some cases inevitable economy of luxuries may throw large numbers of men out of employment. Wherefore it is a serious duty, not by any means obvious, yet nevertheless real, that people should not too swiftly change their habits. If, for example, they are accustomed to eat grapes, let them still go on doing so, lest those who have set themselves the task of providing this food be ruined by the sudden change.

Sane and steady judgement is required of all of us at the present moment. Provision of funds for destitution and distress is essential; but it is no less essential for all who have work to give out to continue to employ as many hands as they possibly can. It is right and proper for central authorities to prepare large schemes for the alleviation of distress, but the best means of securing this end in rural districts is by a detailed and individual effort on the part of those who have the means to discover directions in which local workmen can be employed as soon as they fall out of regular employment. Many examples have come to our notice in which this is being done, and we urge all to follow these examples.

All things point to adequate supplies of the chief food staples, but it must not be forgotten that war is an operation which is accompanied by colossal waste, and therefore that hunger is ever the camp follower of even victorious armies. A survey of the returns (Agricultural Statistics) published by the Board of Agriculture illustrates the kind of inevitable curtailment of imports which must ensue as a result of war. To give but one illustration: last year we exported but a small quantity of potatoes, and imported from Germany alone no fewer than two-and-a-half million hundredweight.

It was said by a great statesman that of all the nations of Europe, this country alone is able to carry on, if need be, two or even three campaigns. To be in a position in which we are able to do this requires all the steady provision of which we are capable, and the sum of careful thought and wise action now, even in the small things which lie within the province of the individual, will not be without effect on the issue of this conflict."

Taken from The Gardeners' Chronicle, 22 August 1914

August 1914: land given over to crops and gardeners volunteer for service

Hampstead amateur gardeners  
"The Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust has allowed the residents on the estate to plant the ground adjoining the heath with vegetables, which will be given to London hospitals and other institutions during the period of war. These amateur gardeners include solicitors, accountants, doctors and other professional men residing on the estate. An appeal is made for surplus plants of kale, savoys, broccoli and other winter greens, which should be sent carriage paid to Mr JT Marks, 18, Corringway, Garden Suburb, Hendon."

Taken from The Gardeners' Chronicle, 22 August 1914.

Gardeners respond to the call
"We have information to the effect that many young gardeners recently employed in private establishments are to be found in Lord Kitchener's new regiment enlisted in Liverpool. As many as eight young men from the fruit and plant departments of Knowsley Gardens, the seat of the Earl of Derby, have volunteered for active service, and are now undergoing training at the depot. Lord Derby will keep the places of these men open until the end of the war. Their fellow gardeners will wish them good fortune, knowing full well that every man will acquit himself nobly in the honourable work he has voluntarily undertaken."

Taken from TGC, 29 August 1914.

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