A.G.L. Hellyer and beating the U boats: his childhood gardening apprenticeship in WW1

 

In the preface to his 1948 Gardening Encyclopedia, (my second-hand copy inscribed by the bookseller “Still the best?”), Arthur Hellyer (1902-1993) mentions an interesting anecdote about the start of his gardening career and the desire to write practical gardening books for ordinary people:

“I still vividly recollect my introduction to gardening. It was in 1915 or 1916 when I was no more than a small boy. My family in common with tens of thousands of others, started to dig up the lawn and grow vegetables on our own small answer to the U-boat menace.
We were endowed with enthusiasm and a complete lack of knowledge and I do not think our efforts were crowned with much success. But I do remember in the intervals of struggling with London Clay spending happy hours poring over the pages of Cousins’ Chemistry of the Garden and H.H. Thomas’ Complete Gardener and finding a new world of delight which has remained with me ever since.”

A 1917 Punch cartoon from our World War Zoo Gardens archive collection

A 1917 Punch cartoon from our World War Zoo Gardens archive collection

“Looking back now these seem very distant days. This is not merely due to the normal passage of time but rather to the immense changes that have taken place in almost every aspect of gardening during the intervening years.
Two wars and the necessity to fight for our national existence in a world of growing scarcities and bitter competition have given an immense impetus to agricultural and horticultural research with the result that our knowledge of plant behaviour and our control over much that occurs in the garden is far greater than it was in the early part of the century…” (1948)

Hellyer wrote a final gardening encyclopedia, in the year of his death in 1993, a remarkably long writing career. Hellyer worked for Amateur Gardening magazine from 1929 to 1966, throughout the Second World War and edited that magazine for 21 years; he also contributed gardening columns to the Financial Times, Country Life magazine, and Homes and Gardens magazine.

As well as his gardening articles Hellyer wrote several important gardening manuals during WW2 to help the “Dig For Victory” campaign in WW2. We have based some of our World War Zoo Gardens allotment garden work here at Newquay Zoo on these and other such 1940s manuals.

Arthur’s life story and that of his wife Grace Charlotte ‘Gay’ Hellyer who also wrote wartime gardening books, is well told in a recent memoir by their daughter Penelope S. Hellyer, The Haphazard Gardener (available to buy online).

The U boat blockade had a devastating effect on the lives of many in Britain including Merchant Navy Seamen, witnessed in the long list of names of sailors and fisherman lost at sea with no known grave: http://devoranwarmemorial.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/lost-devoran-sailors-on-the-merchant-navy-memorial-tower-hill

To read more about gardening in WW1 and how it foreshadowed the “Dig For Victory” campaign in WW2, read our blog post about Herbert Cowley, another  gardening writer, now mostly forgotten:

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/dig-for-victory-1917-world-war-1-style-the-lost-gardeners-of-kew-and-the-fortunate-herbert-cowley-1885-1967/

For more about gardeners (and zookeepers) in WW1, look at our summary of our WW1 blogposts:

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/remembering-ww1-in-zoos-and-gardens/ 

 

 

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