Archive for the ‘garden heritage’ Category

Remembering Herbert Southgate of Kew Gardens died WW1 Gaza 19 April 1917

April 19, 2017



Herbert Southgate of  Royal Botanic Gardens Kew –  Remembered on the WW1 section Kew Gardens staff memorial (Image Source: Mark Norris, World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo)

southgate gaza cemetery 2 CWGC

Fellow Norfolk regiment soldiers Foyster and Snelling who died on the same day lie buried near Herbert Southgate, Gaza Cemetery. Source: CWGC

Serjeant Herbert William Leonard Southgate, 240701, ‘A’ Company, 1st/ 5th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, died on 19 April 1917, aged 28.

He is buried at Grave Reference XXX. F. I, Gaza War Cemetery, Israel / Palestine area.,%20HERBERT%20WILLIAM%20LEONARD
Previous to training and working at Kew Gardens in 1910-12 and 1913, he had worked at Raynham Hall Norfolk and Westonbirt, Gloucestershire. And–and–Gardens

He was noted as an orchid specialist. He also worked on The Gardener’s Magazine for a brief time.

He most likely died during the Second Battle Of Gaza (17-19 April, 1917) fighting against the Turks and was posted missing until his body was found seven months later and buried by British troops. Gaza was finally recaptured in November 1917. Herbert served with his younger brother, one of many Soi.

h southgate

Herbert Southgate is surrounded by fellow 1/5th Norfolks, killed on the same day in Gaza. Source; CWGC


Born on 19 September 1888, he is listed as the son of Herbert William and Hannah Southgate, of East Raynham, Fakenham, Norfolk (hence enlisting in a Norfolk Regiment).

The inscription on his headstone from his family reads “Thanks be to God who giveth us victory through Jesus Christ”.

Herbert Southgate, remembered at Kew Gardens and through the work of CWGC a 100 years after his death. 

southgate gaza cemetery CWGC

Herbert Southgate is buried in Gaza Cemetry. Source: CWGC

Read more about the staff of Kew Gardens who served in WW1:

1/4 and 1/5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

1/4th Battalion
August 1914 : in Norwich. Part of Norfolk and Suffolk Brigade, East Anglian Division.
May 1915 : the formation was retitled as 163rd Brigade, 54th (East Anglian) Division.
29 July 1915 : embarked at Liverpool and moved to Gallipoli via Mudros. Landed at Suvla Bay on 10 August 1915.
19 December 1915 : evacuated from Gallipoli and arrived at Alexandria. Served in Egypt and Palestine thereafter.

1/5th Battalion – which Southgate served in.
August 1914 : in East Dereham. Part of Norfolk and Suffolk Brigade, East Anglian Division. Record same as 1/4th Battalion.

So Kew’s Sergeant  Herbert Southgate may have served at Gallipoli also.

You can also read more about the Battle for Gaza where Southgate and many other Norfolk soldiers lost their lives on this interesting website:

I was surprised to discover the similarities with the Western Front – gas and tanks:

In keeping with the “Western Front” flavor of the battle, the British introduce poison gas and tanks to the eastern battlefield for the first time. Two thousand gas shells and six tanks are available. While the tanks are certain to be deployed, doubts remain about whether to use gas due to operational concerns.

It is estimated that the Turkish forces occupying the Gaza-Beersheba defenses number between 20,000 and 25,000. As the infantry attack is about to commence, the guns concentrate on the Ali Muntar strong point, south east of Gaza. This includes the firing of gas shells for the first time.

One result of the prolonged bombardment is to provide the Turks with ample warning that a major attack is imminent, giving them plenty of time to finalize their defenses.      (Great War Lives Lost website entry for 19 April 2017)

Blogposted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo

Homeland, Britain March 1917

March 22, 2017


Percy Izzard, Homeland: A Book of Country Days (1918)



As a follow up to yesterday’s post on Homeland, Percy Izzard’s book of nature writing on the British countryside during the First World War, here are several more daily entries. A book well worth tracking down second-hand.


Some deal with the changing agricultural landscape, such as noticing (March 28th 1917) that “It is interesting to see how quickly the birds have become accustomed  to the motor plough. The strange form and immense noise of the machine …” 



March 25th (1917) “And although the flowers were few when you think what this day has seen in other years, never did they open to a world readier to welcome them”


welcome to a world weary not only of the long winter, but also the war?







British farming and the countryside was facing difficulties by 1917 from poor harvests and the call up of male farm workers. Add to this the demands of feeding several armies overseas. From early  in the year, the unrestricted submarine warfare of the German U boat blockade of Britain increased the sinking of merchant shipping bound for  Britain with imported food from around the Empire and world.

These were pre-war cheap and plentiful food imports that we had come to rely on, much to the detriment of pre-war British farming.

Both rationing (1918) and a form of WW2 style Dig For Victory in 1917 were eventually organised  in Britain in WW1.

We will feature more from Homeland by Percy Izzard in late March / early April 2017, when the quiet world of nature in Britain that he works hard to convey  can be read 100 years on as (directly ? deliberately?) at odds  with events overseas, the Battle of Arras (9 April to 16 May 1917) in France.

This  battle would involve many of Izzard’s audience of  “soldier lads” who read his daily nature column in the Daily Mail in the trenches. Forming a valuable bit of escapism, these short daily columns would be adapted and edited to become his book Homeland: A Year Of Country Days in mid 1918.

The Battle of Arras would see the deaths on active service of several of the zoo staff, botanic gardens staff and  naturalists that we have been researching through the World War  Zoo Gardens project.

Blogposted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo.


The Verdun Oak at Kew Gardens

December 20, 2016

19th December 2016 saw the unveiling ceremony of a commemorative bench  commissioned by Kew Gardens to mark the centenary of the end of the “Battle of Verdun”.

The bench has been crafted by Gaze Burvill with timber from a specimen of Quercus petraea which was struck and felled during “St Jude’s storm” in 2013.


The new Kew Gardens Verdun Oak bench, 19 December 2016 (Image: RBG Kew) 


This tree was planted at Kew in 1919, from an acorn picked up after the Battle of Verdun,  in remembrance of Kew staff who died during the Great War,  and all soldiers from the different nationalities who fought in this dreadful battle and “the Great War”.

The Ceremony took  place on the 19th December 2016  by the Palm House pond near the Cumberland Mound.


Where the Kew Verdun Oak stood for almost a century … RIP 2013 (photo; Mark Norris)

Just before I saw the absence of the Verdun Oak at Kew Gardens I had read this article by blogger Lucy at


Verdun Oak 2013 photo from Lucy’s Blog at http://www.familyaffairs and

Sadly, although invited, I could not attend the Ceremony but I will look out for this bench on my next visit to Kew Gardens.


Blog posted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo / World War Zoo Gardens Project, December 2016.



Remembering Charles Anderson of Kew Gardens Albert Medal winner

November 28, 2016


Anderson and Fussell are buried alongside each other  in the third row right, just out of the edge of this photo of St Venanlt Communal Cemetery, France (Image source: CWGC)

Remembering Charles Henry Anderson, Kew Gardener, and Bertram Fussell, 14 London Regiment, who both died on 28/ 29 November 1916  due to an accident with a hand grenade.
2326 Lance (Sergeant or) Corporal Charles Henry Anderson died on 29 November 1916 aged 26, serving in France with the  1st/14th Bn. London Regiment (London Scottish). He was awarded the Albert Medal for his actions on 29 November 1916, saving the lives of several of his comrades.

His medal record card states that in addition to the standard Victory and British war medals, he was also awarded the Albert Medal (citation below, also available on CWGC website ).

An extract from “The London Gazette,” No. 30156, dated 29th June, 1917, records the following:-“The King has been graciously pleased to award the Decoration of the Albert Medal of the First Class in recognition of the gallantry of Lce. Cpl. Charles Henry Anderson, late of the 1st/14th Bn. of the London Regt., who lost his life in France in November last in saving the lives of others.

On the 28th Nov., 1916, Lce. Cpl. Anderson was in a hut in France with eleven other men when, accidentally, the safety pin was withdrawn from a bomb. In the semi-darkness he shouted a warning to the men, rushed to the door, and endeavoured to open it so as to throw the bomb into a field. Failing to do this, when he judged that the five seconds during which the fuse was timed to burn had elapsed, he held the bomb as close to his body as possible with both hands in order to screen the other men in the hut. Anderson himself and one other man were mortally wounded by the explosion, and five men were injured. The remaining five escaped unhurt. Anderson sacrificed his life to save his comrades.”

Anderson is buried alongside Fussell at Grave Reference II. K. 3, St. Venant Communal Cemetery in France, just to the side of the cross of sacrifice, amongst 253 WW1 Commonwealth soldier burials. The cemetery is associated with the Casualty Clearing Stations where Anderson and Fussell died.

Anderson’s headstone is shown at:,%20CHARLES%20HENRY

C F Ball Kew Ww1

Anderson’s name on the Kew Gardens staff war memorial.

In the Kew Guild Journal staff records Anderson is listed around 1914/15 as a ‘Present Kewite’ (still employed actually at Kew when war broke out) and employed as a ‘Gardener’. You can read more about him and his story at:

Charles Anderson’s “heroic” death, an alternative view:

Interestingly earlier this year (2016) James Wearn at Kew and I were contacted by Mike Thompson, who had a different interpretation of the grenade accident incident:

In Mike Thompson’s words, “Charles Henry Anderson was a fool and a show-off, who got himself killed through his own stupidity and cost the life of another man, as well as five others wounded.”

“He was in an army hut behind the line, kitted up for a trench raid and each man had been issued with two No.5 Mills Bombs.  All except Anderson carried them in their gas satchels. He was showing off how he had cut slits in the inside lining of his leather jerkin, to get bombs out more quickly. He was demonstrating this when the pin came out of one of the grenades. He ran to the door but the bomb exploded. The Court of Enquiry concluded that the bomb was not a faulty short fuse but recommended that improvements be made to the actual pin.”

“The Corps Commander, Lt-Gen Sir Richard Haking recommended him for the Albert Medal“.

To Mike Thompson this appears “By modern standards, an absolutely bizarre decision.”

The Court of Enquiry report is in the WW1 service file for the other man killed Bertram Fussell, which can be found on Ancestry. Anderson and Fussell are buried side by side.”

In this alternative interpretation, the Albert Medal recommendation appears today to Mike Thompson  “an absolutely bizarre decision”.

I have since read the Court of Enquiry notes and witness statements on Fussell’s service record (available on Ancestry).

In modern times / standards,  the medal might appear to be a wartime attempt to hide the awkwardness or embarrassment to his family or regiment and maintain morale and good press for the war effort.

Although the Court of Enquiry held that Anderson was to blame, his self-sacrificing efforts to save his fellow soldiers from the blast by shielding them from the explosion was noted.

Changes to the demonstration, issue and carrying of  Mills grenades were recommended in his battalion after this accident, as well as criticism of the ‘malleable’ yellow metal of the grenade pins.

Whether this was accident, mistake or both, both Anderson and Fussell are buried alongside each other.

Fussell’s death is recorded as Bomb Wound (accident) on 28.11.16 from which he died in 32 Casualty Clearing station at 9pm on 29 / 30 November 1916, after the Court of Enquiry had taken place. Only Anderson had died by the time the Court of Enquiry notes were typed up.

Bertram Fussell was a former  clerk of the Port Of London Authority who attested as a pre-war Territorial in 1912, living with his brother at 81 Dover Road, South Wanstead. Born in West Ham in January 1894, he enlisted in London on 5 August 1914, transferred regiments to serve with friends and finally embarked for France on 14 July 1916. He was injured by a shell wound on his right shoulder on 6 September 1916 and only returned to his battalion a week before his accidental death.,%20B

Headstone photo at

Bertram Fussell and Charles Henry Anderson, remembered.

Blog posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens Project

Country Life 1986 article on WW1 Wartime Gardening

August 10, 2016

country life 1

Not my usual read but these two pages are  an interesting article from a thirty year old copy of Country Life  (Jan 23, 1986) that was passed to me because of my interest in WW1 and wartime gardening.

country life 2

This is an interesting article by Audrey Le Lievre , especially for me having been involved with Kew Gardens wartime stories and also researched their staff war memorial stories. Audrey Le Lievre as a garden writer is a new name to me but wrote Miss Willmott of Warley Place: Her Life and Her Gardens (Faber, 1980).

Lots of interesting links and names for garden historians to follow up here (the Worcester Fruit and Vegetable Society?) through the online scans of garden journals. The photographs have come from the Lindley Library.

I came across  information about WW1 food shortages, rationing and dig for victory style campaigns of WW1, focussed around researching former Kewite and  garden writer Herbert Cowley. Invalided soldier gardener Cowley worked as an editor and garden writer, as garden photographer and friend of Gertrude Jekyll and at one point for Country Life.

Full circle back to Country Life there…


More on WW1 Gardening here:

and also an article I wrote for a local village in Cornwall about WW1 life and food:

ww1 ration book

WW1 Ration books (Author’s collection)


Posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo.






Remembering William Gordon Dickson and Isaac Bayley Balfour, RBGE, Gallipoli 1915.

June 28, 2015

William Gordon Dickson, a Gardens Labourer at the  Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE)  in 1914, enlisted as a Private 5th Royal Scots and was killed in action at Gallipoli 28 June 1915.

Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery, Gallipoli (Image: CWGC)

Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery, Gallipoli (Image: CWGC)

The same day, ‘ Bay’ Balfour, the son of Isaac Bayley Balfour, RBGE’s Regius Keeper throughout the war, was also killed as part of the same Battle of Gully Ravine in Gallipoli on 28th June 1915. He was serving as a Lieutenant with the  1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) and is buried in Twelve Tree Copse cemetery.

Helles Memorial to the missing of the Gallipoli campaign, Dardanelles, Turkey.  (Image: CWGC website)

Helles Memorial to the missing of the Gallipoli campaign, Dardanelles, Turkey.
(Image: CWGC website)

Private William Gordon Dickson, No. 2170 died aged 44 at Gallipoli on 28 June 1915 whilst serving with the 5th Battalion Royal Scots 5th Bn. (Queen’s Edinburgh Rifles), a regiment in which many of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh staff served and several were also killed at Gallipoli.

See: Leonie Paterson’s excellent botanics stories blog for Dickson’s story:

and for ‘Bay’ Balfour:

Unlike Balfour, Dickson has no known grave and is remembered on Panel 27 of the  Helles Memorial to the Missing of the Gallipoli Campaign.

CWGC lists him as the “Husband of Margaret Dickson, of 85, Hanover St., Edinburgh.” Dickson was born and enlisted in Edinburgh on 4th September 1914. He began work at the Botanics only on 3 August 1914. The following day, Britain’s ultimatum to Germany ran out and it became involved in the First World War.

Dickson is also remembered on the staff memorial at the ‘Botanics’ in Edinburgh, erected in memory of the RBGE men and Isaac Bayley Balfour who died c. 1922

Two very different men, one young, one old, one an officer, another a gardens labourer, strangely linked in memorial by a workplace and a grieving Balfour family.

Both remembered.

War and Paice: Remembering Reginald James Paice undergardener Bagshot Park died 28.4.1915

April 27, 2015

Remembering Reginald  James Paice, undergardener, Bagshot Park,  who died of wounds in France on 28 April 1915, serving with  C Squadron,  Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars.

Part of the World War Zoo Gardens project here at Newquay Zoo involves looking at the impact that WW1 and WW2 had on the staff and activities  of zoos and botanic gardens and their related areas of science, gardening and horticulture. As an active memorial it also involves researching some of the lesser known names whose passing would not have been remarked outside their family, workplace, town or village. One such ordinary man was Reginald Paice.,%20REGINALD%20JAMES

Private R J Paice No 2078, died 28/04/1915 aged 26, serving in C Squadron Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars. Paice is buried at Grave Reference: I. E. 158, Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord. He is listed as the “Son of Walter and Catherine Paice, of Park Farm, Frimley, Surrey” and as a “Native of Sandhurst”.

Bailleul Cemetery Extension where Paice lies. Source image: CWGC.

Bailleul Cemetery Extension where Paice lies. Source image: CWGC.

Bailleul in Northern France became an important railhead, air depot and hospital centre, with the 2nd, 3rd, 8th, 11th, 53rd, 1st Canadian and 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Stations quartered there. This links with Paice’s death of wounds.

The 1911 census records him living and working as part of a team of gardeners at Bagshot Park in Surrey

1911 census for Gardeners at Bagshot park including Reginald James Paice

1911 census for Gardeners at Bagshot park including Reginald James Paice

This census return gives a glimpse of a vanishing way of estate and walled garden life, beautifully caught by the BBC Victorian Kitchen and Garden series and in living gardens like Heligan.

At  the time Paice was employed as an Undergardener, the Head Gardener was Charles William Knowles (1857-1941) who was Head Gardener at Bagshot Park from 1903  until 1927.

Bagshot Park in Surrey has been owned by royals since Stuart times, then from 1942 the base of army chaplains until it recently became the home and farm estate of Prince Edward and The Countess of Wessex.
There is more about the history and estate staff at

Bagshot War memorial (Image from the Bagshot village website)

Bagshot War memorial (Image from the Bagshot village website)

Paice features on the Bagshot war memorial. It mentions his job and family:

“Reginald was born in Sandhurst in 1889, the eldest of the seven children of farmer Walter Paice (1859-1923) and his wife Catherine (b 1860). The family moved to Hall Grove Farm, Bagshot, about 1895. Reginald did not follow his father into farming but became an under-gardener in Bagshot Park.”

Farm boys and gardeners like Paice are likely to have had from a young age a good working knowledge of horses, perfect for the Yeomanry / Cavalry.

He is remembered on other local history websites such as the Frimley and Camberley memorial site :

1891 Census – Living at Sandhurst, Berkshire
1901 Census – Living at Hall Grove Farm, Bagshot, Surrey
1911 – Living at Bagshot Park, Bagshot, Surrey, in the 1911 census.

Reginald,  aged 21 in 1911, was working as a Gardener at Bagshot Park, which was then the residence of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn.


Paice enlisted at Oxford into the local Yeomanry  regiment, the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars. His regimental number suggests an enlistment date of September 1914.

Paice’s Squadron was then  posted to the B.E.F. in France, disembarking on the 24th of November 1914. His death date suggests actions relating to  the Second Battle of Ypres 22 April to 25 May. His service records do not seem to have survived.

Members of his family remember him on

The Oxfordshire Yeomanry or  Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars (or the “Queer Objects On Horseback”) regiment was formed on the creation of the Territorial Force in April 1908. It was headquartered in Oxford with Paice’s “C  squadron” nicknamed the Henley Squadron, being headquartered at Henley-on-Thames (Watlington, Theme and Goring-on-Thames.

There is a brief regimental summary for the QOOH WW1  on Wikipedia, as well as evocative pictures on these following websites, suggesting that these “War Horse” cavalry soldiers spent time digging and manning trenches as the stalemate of trench warfare began and the open war suited to cavalry receded. Churchill had a strong connection to this regiment, along with his brother Jack.

Interestingly Reginald’s brother Walter Gilbert Paice (Private 2350 or 2355) seems to have also been in the QOOH, appearing on the same WW1  service medal roll as his brother. It lists this former farmer’s son embarking for France on 16 April 1915 and being discharged on 26 July 1917  (presumably because of ill health or wounds). He died in 1974.

Remembered …

Remembering William Donald Pascoe April 1915, Primrose Day and Percy Izzard

April 20, 2015

Cross-posting from another research post about a local war memorial in Cornwall, I featured a lyrical couple of pages from Homeland, a book written in 1918 from press pieces by garden writer Percy Izzard.

April 19th and 20th entries, Homeland: A Book of Country Days (1918) Percy W D Izzard

April 19th and 20th entries, Homeland: A Book of Country Days (1918) Percy W D Izzard

He later wrote the more prosaic Daily Mail guide to Dig for Victory in WW2, which I have used as topical advice of the time for our World War Zoo Gardens WW2 allotment project here at Newquay Zoo.

Preface to Percy Izzard's Homeland (1918)

Preface to Percy Izzard’s Homeland (1918)

One can imagine the solace that Izzard’s  writing gave during wartime to anxious relatives and soldiers far from their Homeland”, all part of the healing power of nature, albeit a slightly romantic and vanishing countryside.

Lots more could be written about his book (available second hand on the web) and I will feature more about Izzard and his book Homeland close to its centenary in 2018.

Lyrical and lush, maybe even painterly in places, it chimes with contemporary efforts like the Wildlife Trust’s My Wildlife campaign and Project Wild Thing, to value the healing power of nature and get people outdoors. Gardening Leave the ex-forces horticultural therapy group would no doubt agree.

The Future of Nature Writing?

Continuing the Izzard tradition, nature writers like Gerald Durrell  inspired (and continues to inspire?) a whole generation of conservationists who work alongside me in zoos and wildlife parks.

I wonder what the next generation of nature writers will be like and how they will communicate?

I shall have to ask the Wildlife Education and Media students next door at Cornwall College Newquay.

The slow calm and quiet headspace created by good nature writing from people like Richard Mabey in Nature Cure and others, pioneered in the past nature writing competitions by BBC Wildlife magazine, still has a power to engage people with conservation and wildlife, even in the manic days of tweets, podcasts, dramatic whizzy films and apps.

Good nature writing can be as calming as  a quiet country churchyard full of wildflowers but on a page and at your own pace.

Interesting compilations of nature writing can be found online including the Guardian based  Country Diary (see article about 1914) collected as The Guardian Book of Wartime Country Diaries (Martin Wainwright, 2007) or an older US compilation The Nature Reader by Daniel Halpern.

By the way, whatever happened to Primrose Day?

Does anyone still celebrate this?

Primroses seem to be doing well enough in Plantlife’s

You can read a little more about Percy Izzard (who will feature in a forthcoming blog here in 2016/7)  and William Pascoe at the original blog I wrote:

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo.

Back to Nature: The quiet  riches of a country churchyard where William D. Pascoe, WW1 casualty is remembered on the family plot amongst wildflowers, pinecones and primroses. Devoran Churchyard, Cornwall,  April 2015.  Image: Mark Norris

Back to Nature: The quiet riches of a country churchyard where William D. Pascoe, WW1 casualty is remembered on the family plot beneath the fir tree amongst wildflowers, pinecones and primroses. Devoran Churchyard, Cornwall, April 2015.
Image: Mark Norris

A garden in a war desert Zonnebeke Ypres 1915 by Herbert Cowley

March 29, 2015

Herbert Cowley's article "A Garden in a War Desert", The Garden Illustrated journal June 26, 1915

Herbert Cowley’s article “A Garden in a War Desert”, The Garden Illustrated journal June 26, 1915

The April 1915 RHS lecture  on “Informal and Wild Gardening” by James Hudson was reprinted over several issues of The Garden weekly journal alongside  interesting articles by former Kew Gardener and The Garden sub-editor Herbert Cowley, away serving at the front. His own writing on war-ravaged gardens  in the same journal proved an interesting and ironic counterpoint to James Hudson’s more studied and peaceful ideas of wildness and beauty.

Herbert Cowley (1885-1967) from his Kew Guild journal obituary 1968

Herbert Cowley (1885-1967) from his Kew Guild journal obituary 1968

Cowley was at the time serving with the 12th County of London Regiment (The Rangers) who had been in France and action  since Christmas Day. He is likely to have been a prewar Territorial with this short four number (2477) to have embarked so soon. His battalion are featured in a propaganda or recruiting film at the time:

Our Sub Editor wounded in action ran the headline in The Garden, May 8 1915:

“for the past eight days we have been in severe battle. I am slightly wounded by shell – only a bruised rib and am in hospital. Dreadful warfare is till raging … We must win …”

Shortly afterwards, as  fighting continued in the Second Battle of Ypres, Rifleman H. Cowley 2477 was home with a Blighty wound that would finish his military career and was recovering in  Surgical 7, 3rd Southern General Hospital in Oxford “wounded in the knee while bandaging another soldier in the trenches.”


Before this Cowley had been writing home about the horticultural sights “somewhere in France or Belgium” on page 169 of the April 10th, 1915 issue of The Garden. Previous mention by various readers had been made of sending flower and veg seeds to serving soldiers:

“the suggestion re quick growing seeds is excellent. Delightful instances are now to be seen of dugouts, covered with verdant green turf, garden plots divided by red brick and clinker paths suggestive of an Italian garden design. Some plots are now bright with cowslips, Lesser celandine and fresh green leaves of the cuckoo-pint, wild flowers obviously lifted from meadows and ditches nearby. Yet the roar of heavy guns and the roll of rifle fire are incessant. Verily the Briton is a born gardener …”

These are the kind of ‘trench gardens‘ that Kenneth Helphand writes about in Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime and his legacy website

Herbert Cowley's article "A Garden in a War Desert", The Garden Illustrated journal June 26, 1915

Herbert Cowley’s article “A Garden in a War Desert”, The Garden Illustrated journal June 26, 1915

In the June 26 1915 edition of The Garden Illustrated, the convalescent Cowley  wrote about “A Garden in the War Desert” that  he had observed in the ruined walled garden of Zonnebeke Chateau at Zonnebeke near Ypres in Belgium:

This article proves to be an interesting piece of Great War prose or reportage, vivid in its description of early wartime destruction, ‘Romantic’ in its lost or secret garden associations of ruin and verdant wildness.

Herbert Cowley’s last battle May 1915

12th London Rangers history - Zonnebeke 1915

12th London Rangers history – Zonnebeke 1915

This article by Cowley can be read alongside the Regimental History which mentions Zonnebeke:

12th London Rangers - Ypres May 1915 battles

12th London Rangers – Ypres May 1915 battles

The May 1915 battles where Cowley was wounded are recounted here:

1/12th London Bn in the second battle of the Ypres.

“On the night of May 2nd-3rd, the Battalion was sent to dig a trench line, fire and support trenches, on the Frezenburg ridge, and to man this, which was to become the front line in the event of a retirement from the salient at Zonnebeke taking place. This retirement took place the following night (May 3rd-4th) on which night the new line was improved.

The German artillery soon found the new line on the Frezenburg ridge, and shelled it repeatedly, causing numerous casualties. Relief by the Monmouths, eagerly looked for by the troops now wearied with the strain of many days under continual shell fire, took place on the night May 7th-8th, and the Battalion retired to dug-outs behind the G.H.Q. line, arriving about 4 a.m. Heavy shelling of these dug-outs from about 6 a.m. onwards caused numerous casualties and forbade rest.

At 11.15 a.m. came the order to advance in support of the Monmouths, the right of the Brigade line having been broken by the German advance. The Battalion, now about 200 strong, advanced with A, B and C Companies in the front line, led by Major Challen and Major Foucar, and D Company, under Captain Jones, in support, the Machine Gun Section with one gun only left, moving independently on the left flank.

The Battalion had to pass through a gap in the barbed wire in front of the G.H.Q. line on which German machine-guns were trained, and suffered heavily in its passage. The whole of the ground over which the further advance took place was heavily shelled, and in places exposed to heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, so that the Battalion rapidly dwindled. A small remnant pushed forward to the rise where the trench line had been and there dug in, and stayed the German advance. The Machine Gun Section under Lieut. J. K. Dunlop, operating independently, did extremely useful work and was able to bring enfilade fire to bear on the advancing Germans, until the gun was struck and disabled by shell fire.

Of survivors there were ultimately collected by Sergeant W. J. Hornall (every Officer having been either killed, wounded, or taken prisoner), 53, mainly pioneers and signallers. All the remainder were either taken prisoner, killed, missing or wounded.

The determination of the attack, it is said, was such that the Germans thought it could only have been made by troops sure of speedy and strong support, not, as in fact was the case, by practically the last remaining troops between them and Ypres, and so the enemy dug in without further advance, and thus was achieved the object for which so many gallant souls gave up their lives. The few survivors, after assisting to dig trenches in the vicinity for the next two or three days were ultimately withdrawn to the rest they so richly deserved.”


“There were many sad and many glorious days to come, but for sheer tragedy the Second Battle of Ypres stands out most prominently from the many vicissitudes through which the Rangers went during the War.

The brave effort on the Frezenburg ridge had brought about the end of the original Battalion. Of the Officers and men who had so whole-heartedly and unselfishly prepared themselves for war during the days of peace, only fifty-three men, headed by Sergeant Hornall, struggled out of the shell-fire and the mud and slush in front of Ypres.

Meanwhile Lieut. Withers Green, the Battalion Transport Officer, had brought up to Ypres every man of Battalion Headquarters, every detail on whom he could lay his hands, and some reinforcements that had lately arrived under Lieut. Benns and 2nd Lieut. Bentley. By May l0th, however, the German advance had been stemmed and the eighty odd men that composed Lieut. Green’s party were not needed. Accordingly they proceeded to a camp near Ypres and slept the night in some huts. It was here that Sergeant Hornall and the band of fifty-three survivors, begrimed with mud, dazed and utterly weary, reported to Lieut. Green in the early hours of May nth. They had little enough time that day to sleep and recover from their experiences, for at 5 o’clock in the afternoon the Battalion, now numbering five officers (counting Lieut. Lindop, the Quartermaster and Lieut. Uloth, the Medical Officer) and two hundred N.C.O.’s.”

Herbert Cowley would have been amongst the many wounded of this Battalion. He survived his wound,  got married at the end of 1915 and returned to his garden writing career as editor of The Garden. He died in the late 1960s after a long and busy horticultural career.

Many thanks to contributors on for this Regimental information.

There is more about Herbert Cowley’s recovery, life and writing career in my previous blogpost and my Wikipedia entry for him:

National Growmore Fertiliser – a brief history

March 4, 2015

The Little Man with The Spade - unofficial logo for the National Growmore Campaign 1940, replaced by the iconic hobnail boot on spade image of the Dig for Victory campaign in 1941 Image from adverts in The Vegetable Garden Displayed, RHS (image from the World War Zoo gardens archive, Newquay Zoo)

Our poor soil is getting tired, entering our 7th growing season in the World War Zoo Gardens project at Newquay Zoo, just as it would have been for gardeners entering the 1945 growing season.

The first year or two in 2009/10, our Lion House lawn turned wartime allotment must have had a certain amount of stored natural goodness, being cultivated for the first time, along with good helpings of zoo bedding and zoo manure well rotted down.

The last two autumn / winters of 2013/14 we’ve given it an organic boost with green manures of mustard and clover grown and dug in before flowering. Like Heligan, we have used the traditional seaside remedies of using seaweed solutions or mulched sea weed dug and rotted down.

Since 2009 we’ve been keeping  it ‘semi-organic’, as our garden produce is not just for show but practically for our zoo animals. I have to be wary of chemicals and pesticides that would have been the quick fix for soil and pest problems in WW2.

It’s International Year of the Soil in 2015 (IYS) and December the 5th is now an annual World Soil Day, focussing on the growing challenge of feeding a growing world’s population with a potentially finite resource of soil. Much the same food security challenge faced farmers and food ministers in the wartime and post-war wrecked economy after World War 2.

The Soil Association's clever fusion of Renaissance artist Arcimboldo and the WW1 Kitchener poster (Source: Soil Association / World War Zoo gardens collection, Newquay Zoo)

The Soil Association’s clever fusion of Renaissance artist Arcimboldo and the WW1 Kitchener poster (Source: Soil Association / World War Zoo gardens collection, Newquay Zoo)


In future blogposts I will look at the organic and hydroponic movement that arose out of wartime and post-war  food production and intensification of farming. Few realised in the desperate state of wartime a nd positive view that ‘Science’ would solve all post-war problems until the slow discovery that some ‘miracle’ or quick-fix wartime pesticides like DDT would lead to the ‘Silent Spring’ of pollution in the 1950s and 1960s, as Rachel Carson christened the disastrous impact on wildlife and human health.  But  for now, I shall look at and try out the wartime solution of a simple and still much-loved  chemical fertiliser.

Update 15 March 2015:  As compromise and inspired by 1970s dandruff adverts, I will feed one half of the allotment National Growmore chemical fertiliser, the other half of the plot I will the leave as organic green manure fuelled or maybe Organic Blood Fish and Bone as an experiment.

Modern Growmore next to the campaign signs of what replaced the National Growmore Campaign, Dig For Victory! World War Zoo Gardens Project, Newquay Zoo, January 2015

Modern Growmore next to the campaign signs of what replaced the National Growmore Campaign, Dig For Victory!
World War Zoo Gardens Project, Newquay Zoo, January 2015


This year for the first time, I’ll be using ‘Artificials’, taking my wartime gardening advice from the Ministry of Agriculture leaflets for 1945.  We have acquired many of these Ministry of Ag original leaflets for our archive but for muddy garden use and display we use a recent reprint.

These have been reprinted recently as Allotment and Garden Guide: A Monthly Guide to Better Wartime Gardening published by Sabrestorm  ( in 2009 edited by Garden historian Twigs Way. It describes Growmore in January 1945 as:

“To meet the needs of gardeners the Government arranged for the supply of a good standard fertiliser at a reasonable price. It is called “National Growmore Fertilser” and contains the three important plant foods – the analysis being 7 % N. (Nitrogen), 7 % Phosphate and 7 % Potash …”

“On most soils 42 lb of National Growmore Fertiliser should be sufficient for a 10 Rod Plot (300 square yards). A few days before sowing  or planting, scatter 1 lb. evenly over 10 square yards and rake in.”

“To give this general dressing to a 10-Rod allotment will take 30 lbs. this will leave 12 lbs for giving an extra dressing  for potatoes, winter green crops and spring cabbages. 4.5 lbs should be reserved for potatoes and should be applied at planting time. 5.5 lbs should be kept for applying during August to the autumn and winter green crops when they are making active growth. The remaining 2 lbs should be used during March as top dressing for Spring cabbage.”

How every well dressed gardener should appear on the allotment - National Growmore Fertiliser illustration from the January 1945 Min of Ag Allotment Guide

How every well dressed gardener should appear on the allotment – National Growmore Fertiliser illustration from the February 1945 Min of Ag Allotment Guide

The January 1945 leaflet goes on to suggest bulk buying if you can organise enough people to spilt the volumes ordered. This reminds me of childhood trips with my Dad to the local allotment society ‘potting shed’ on a Sunday to buy his share of the bulk bought fertiliser, seeds and such. With no car, we must have carried it or wheelbarrowed it home. The  smell of such places is quite evocative, dusty, fish, blood and bone, quite different from a modern garden centre.

“You will be able to get National Growmore Fertiliser from most sundries merchants. Allotment  Societies  and similar bodies, which have hitherto bought their fertilisers in bulk, are able to buy National Growmore Fertiliser in bulk at reduced prices.”

“On some allotments or in some gardens it may be necessary to give an additional top dreessing of a nitrogenous fertiliser (such as Sulphate of Ammonia) to any growing crops, applying it at the rate of about 1 lb per 10 square yards.” (January 1945 Min of Ag leaflet  p. 3-4)

Sundries merchants, hitherto – they just don’t write paragraphs like that anymore. As vanished as the evocative small of the local allotment society potting shed shop? Thankfully National Growmore Fertiliser is still alive and well available from most garden centres from several manufacturers such as J. Arthur Bowers and Vitax still made “to original ‘dig for victory’ formula” –

It also appears again on the REMINDERS monthly page for January 1945 Get Your Fertilisers Now. “Make sure of your fertilisers now, so that you have them at hand when needed”

Maybe gloves should be worn today ... How to dress to scatter National Growmore Fertiliser illustration from the January 1945 Min of Ag Allotment Guide.

Maybe gloves should be worn today … How to dress to scatter National Growmore Fertiliser, illustration from the January 1945 Min of Ag Allotment Guide.

So important was Growmore to tired wartime soil and tired wartime gardeners that it was mentioned again in the February 1945 Allotment and Garden Guide Vol 1 No. 2. The end of the war was in sight after hard fighting but still the need to grow postwar crops meant that these leaflets carried on being published well past the end of the war in August 1945. Dig for Victory became Dig for Plenty, as rationing carried on for almost another ten years until 1954. Crop Rotation, compost, all these were important reminders to the winter gardener: “But before you get down to planning, have you yet got or ordered what you will need when you start outdoor operations? These are the items : SEEDS * SEED POTATOES * FERTILISERS *

Lovely Black and White line illustrations, National Growmore Fertiliser illustration from the February 1945 Min of Ag Allotment Guide

Lovely Black and White line illustrations, National Growmore Fertiliser illustration from the February 1945 Min of Ag Allotment Guide

A page or two later it has another reminder: “Have you got your NATIONAL GROWMORE FERTILISER? you will need it for dressing your land before sowing and planting. it contains the three essential plant foods in balanced proportions …”

It crops up again in the Jobs Reminders, in March 1945: “Feed Spring cabbage … Lettuces and Spinach  … but keep the fertiliser off the leaves” and then onwards month by month in the Reminders. By July 1945, the war in Europe and VE day was over but things were still uncertain in the Far East. Reminders continued to gardeners to plant and sow to bridge the hungry gap next Spring 1946.

Handy topical monthly hints from the Ministry of Food's 1945 wartime gardening guide.

Handy topical monthly hints from the Ministry of Food’s 1945 wartime gardening guide.

What is National Growmore Fertiliser?

National Growmore is an inorganic or chemical fertiliser, broadly similar in its 7% each of Potash, Nitrogen and Phosphoric acid balance of nutrients (NPK 7:7:7)  to more traditional organic fertilisers like Blood, Fish and Bone.

Before the war,  nitrogenous fertilisers had existed in large numbers since Victorian times thanks to Chemists like Leibig and Humphry Davy. Prewar it would have been manufactured or sold by seed companies such as Sutton’s who offered a range of fertilisers:

  • Icthelmic Guano (sea bird poo, the reason some of our sea birds like the endangered Humboldt Penguins at Newquay Zoo became rarer when their Peruvian beach nest sites were mined or dug  back to useless bare rock )
  • Poultmure, treated chicken manure,  although no longer sold by Sutton’s or by this name is  still available in garden centres.
  • Garotta, still made under this name by several companies to speed or encourage compost breakdown.

When war broke out many of our European supplies of chemicals and chemical fertilisers such as (Sulphate of ) Potash became unobtainable, fell into enemy hands or found other competing wartime uses. Since the 1860s much of the Potash came from German or Prussian mining towns like Stassfurt.  Changing times meant fewer horses meant less available farmyard manure. Meanwhile a nation of gardeners was being mobilised to replace the same food supplies that had vanished into enemy hands and that (like today) we had become dependant on from foreign imports. A simple, easy to apply and multipurpose fertiliser at low cost and  widespread availability was required. National Growmore Fertiliser was the answer!

The Little Man with The Spade - unofficial logo for the National Growmore Campaign 1940, replaced by the iconic hobnail boot on spade image of the Dig for Victory campaign in 1941 Image from adverts in The Vegetable Garden Displayed, RHS (image from the World War Zoo gardens archive, Newquay Zoo)

The Little Man with The Spade – unofficial logo for the National Growmore Campaign 1940.

Why Growmore?

Growmore appears to have  got its simple name from an early version of the Dig For Victory campaign name and its popular Grow More food  leaflets. Eventually the campaign name changed to the more familiar Dig For Victory, its little gardener man logo replaced by the famous foot on spade  and postwar Dig for Plenty campaigns. Growmore remains the same name and composition to this day.

“Specifically Prepared to Produce Maximum Crops Of Vegetables”

Researching the introduction of Growmore, the National Archives files for the Ministry of Agriculture  MAF 51/24 suggest a start date of 1942 “National Growmore Fertiliser, a general purpose compound fertiliser”.

Looking at selections of historic newspaper archives through family history websites such as Find My Past as  a very rough sample reveals 7 mentions of National Growmore for that year, mostly in the later part of 1942,  whereas there are 166 for 1943 and so on.

The Ministry of Agriculture had made great use of the well-known garden writer Roy Hay (20 August 1910 – 21 October 1989) from 1940 onwards as part of its Dig for Victory campaign. In late 1942 he was used  to introduce National Growmore Fertiliser in his syndicated garden columns “Garden Hints”. Announcements appeared in many different papers ranging from  the Gloucester Journal on November 11 1942, Sussex Agricultural Express on 13 November 1942 to the Essex Newsman of the same week. Much of the copy Roy Hay provided and packaged in his garden columns was reproduced or recycled in the 1945 Allotment Guide:

A Standard Fertiliser

“At last gardeners and allotment holders can buy a standard fertiliser … to sold at prices not exceeding … 1 Cwt 25 shilings .. and authorised manufacturers will be permitted to put it on the market under this name. Many fertiliser manufacturers have already done so.”

There are a range of adverts from local newspapers that back this claim up of regulated prices “not exceeding”, such as this one from the Western Morning News 22 May 1943:

Fison’s National Growmore fertiliser for all vegetable Crops. Orders dealt with in strict rotation.Directions in Every Bag. 7 lbs 2/9 (2 shillings, 9d) 14 lbs 4/6, 28 lbs 7/6, 56 lbs 13/6 and 1 Cwt 25 shillings Carriage paid home.  It’s FISON”S for FERTILISERS. From seedsmen or direct from Fison’s Ltd Gardens Dept, Harvest House, Ipswich. Pioneers of Granular fertilisers.


The Government's November 1939 leaflet on obtaining an allotment to Dig For Victory. By 1945 wartime soil and wartime gardeners would be showing the strain of tiredness. (Image source: World War Zoo Gardens Collection / Newquay Zoo)

The Government’s November 1939 leaflet on obtaining an allotment to Dig For Victory. By 1945 wartime soil and wartime gardeners would be showing the strain of tiredness. (Image source: World War Zoo Gardens Collection / Newquay Zoo)

The Government's November 1939 leaflet on obtaining an allotment to Dig For Victory. By 1945 wartime soil and wartime gardeners would be showing the strain of tiredness. (Image source: World War Zoo Gardens Collection / Newquay Zoo)

The Government’s November 1939 leaflet on obtaining an allotment to Dig For Victory. By 1945 wartime soil and wartime gardeners would be showing the strain of tiredness. (Image source: World War Zoo Gardens Collection / Newquay Zoo)

A similar advert in the Yorkshire Post of 30 march 1943 boasts the royal credentials or patronage of another authorised maunfacturer:

By appointment to HM King George VI


The “Humber” Brand is manufactured by the makers of the famous “Eclipse” Compound Fish Manure. both of these aids to better gardening are packed in bags of 7 lbs, 28 lbs, 56 lbs, and 112 lbs, and supplies are available from your seedsman. Note – Special  terms are offered to Allotment Societies buying in bulk. Licensed manufacturers, the Humber Fishing and Fish manure Co. Ltd, Winchester Chambers, Stoneferry, Hull.

Whereas in the Lincolnshire Echo, 14 January 1944 Barkers and Lee Smith Ltd of Lincoln urge people to “Book your order now for spring delivery. Up to 3 cwt delivered tp premises at 25 shillings per cwt. No permit required.” Similarly a sense of urgency is found in this Cornishman advert of 1st July 1943:

BUMPER CROPS can still be obtained from your GARDEN if you use NATIONAL GROWMORE FERTILISER NOW. You can purchase up to 3 Cwts free of permit from stocks at T.F. Hosking and Co., Marazion and Helston.

National Growmore made it into the regular Ministry of Agriculture adverts on

Wartime Gardening No. 22: SOWING TIME IS HERE

“If you’ve broken down rough ground till it is fine and level, and raked in National Growmore Fertiliser. take a last look at your cropping scheme. If you,ve allowed less than one-third of your space for growing winter greens, send at once for Dig For Victory Leaflet No 1 which shows you how to correct this serious mistake. You must make sure of enough winter gardens for next season. write to the Ministry of Agriculture, Hotel Lindum, St Annes On Sea, Lancashire.”

This address and the Hotel Berri Court Lytham St Annes seem to be the regular correspondence address for obtaining leaflets from the Ministry of agriculture which had dispersed or evacuated like many wartime ministries and organisations such as the BBC to a  safer ‘rural’ address or requisitioned seaside hotels.

Roy Hay even suggests National Growmore Fertiliser for Christmas 1942 in his column headed  “Tool Gifts for Gardeners” in the Essex Newsman 19 December 1942:

“A good present would be a bag of the new National Growmore Fertiliser – it has the advantage that you can buy quantities varying from a 7 lb bag at 2s, 9d to 1 Cwt at 25 shillings.”


Interestingly, the work of promoting National Growmore switched to Tom Hay, Roy’s retired gardener father in early 1943:

“They are fortunate who have a compost heap and for those less fortunate, the new National Growmore fertiliser…”  writes Tom Hay in the 18/2/43 edition of the North Devon Journal and Herald

Tom  Hay Plans  Your Victory Garden

“Roy Hay the national broadcasting gardening expert, whose articles in the Journal-Herald from time to time have been much appreciated by readers, has gone overseas on important work. Contrary to the Biblical story the mantle of Elisha has fallen in Elijah; in other words Mr Hay’s father Mr Tom Hay CVO, VMH, ex-superintendent of Royal Parks contributes this article:

“At no season is the great advantage of a carefully planned cropping system more evident than at present…”

and so Tom Hay goes on to talk about Crop Rotation, a major feature of the Dig for Victory campaign.

Exploring Roy Hay’s biography on Wikipedia reveals why he handed over many of his press columns and radio broadcasts on the BBC “Radio Allotment” to his father. He had been recruited as a Horticultural Officer to the besieged George Cross winning island of Malta to oversee its food production. He resumed his broadcasting career postwar with Fred Streeter on “Home Grown”, a Sunday forerunner of BBC Radio Gardener’s Question Time.

Roy Hay went on to found the Britain in Bloom movement in 1963, inspired by one in De Gaulle’s France. So another influence on the Newquay Zoo wartime garden which has featured as part of the zoo and Newquay’s efforts  in these ‘Bloom’ competitions.

As well as posters and radio allotments, newsreel films were well used to encourage reluctant diggers – you can see this in a lovely short 6 minute Dig For Victory MOI film with Roy Hay the radio allotment gardener

Other garden writers like George H. Copley (N.D. Hort) in “Your Wartime Food Garden”  in the Lancashire Daily 26 May 1943 mention National Growmore Fertiliser in relation to fruit trees, advice later recycled again in the 1945 Allotment Guide.

For more on Fertilisers today check the RHS website

Enjoy the coming gardening season,  as March begins a busy period of sowing in the garden.

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo


There is an excellent section on wartime allotments in the new City Library of Birmingham, where I recently researched for information on the Birmingham Botanic Garden archives.

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