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About A Week: Dig For Victory

Peter Hinchliffe recalls the days when he was digging for victory.

Ropes and crampons should have been issued before we were sent out to dig for victory in Whitley school garden. The field where we dug was steep enough to serve as a training ground for Alpine climbers.

Food was scarce in the dark war-time days of the 1940s. Spare scraps of ground, be they level or hilly, became allotments. It was the misfortune of the infants of Whitley that we had to toil in a garden which resembled the lower slopes of Mont Blanc. Each child was allocated a small plot in which to plant potatoes. Oh the elation when stalks and leaves appeared!

Young children don't have the patience to be good gardeners though. When my potatoes were dug up they were the size of marbles.

Dad grinned when he saw them. "Somebody forgot the manure," he said. "Get yourself out, there 'with a bucket and shovel when Willie Collins brings the milk tomorrow morning."

Willie delivered milk by horse and cart. To my dad's horticultural delight the horse often used the area by our front gate as a public convenience.

Many a bucketful of horse muck was dug into his garden. He recommended that I should gather up Nature's Gold, take it to school, then have another go at planting potatoes.

The small potatoes I brought home did not go into a Woolton pie. In those austere days of rationing the Government issued a recipe for a pie which was named after Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food. Ingredients potatoes, cauliflower, swede, carrots, a teaspoon of Marmite, oatmeal, four spring onions and a speck of cheese. No meat. Lord Woolton specialised in meatless dishes.

We had meat with my new potatoes though, a nice bit of bacon obtained from a mystery supplier in Grange Moor. We kept hens throughout the war. Amazing what could be obtained by bartering three dozen fresh eggs.

Dad grew potatoes of a normal size. He also grew sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers and carrots. Then there were redcurrants, white currants, black currants, cooking apples, strawberries, gooseberries, rhubarb and rasps.

No flowers though.There was hawthorn and wild rose aplenty in the hedgerows during my wartime boyhood. Gardens were reserved for things which could be eaten.

Nowadays many any English home-owner has sacrificed his front garden to provide a parking space for a second car. But allotments are becoming fashionable among inner-city dwellers eager to keep in touch with Nature - and most allotment enthusiasts concentrate on growing vegetables.

In many parts of the country there's a 10-year-waiting list to get an allotment. And many allotments are tended by young women, rather than old men in flat caps.

Many young people are now convinced that it is cheaper and healthier to grow their own food. And tending an allotment provides is good exercise.

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