Don't you know there's a war on?

Flower smuggling during WWII

Blitzkrieg In Poland (1939-09-01) by Hulton ArchiveGetty Images

At the outset of the Second World War Britain imported about 55 million tons of food a year from other countries. As war loomed the Government became increasingly aware that they needed to maximise home grown food and County War Agricultural Executive Committees were set up to increase agricultural productivity.

Bulb Catalogue from A. Leon, St Mary’s, Scilly Isles (1953) by A. LeonGarden Museum

Initially the export of some flower bulbs to the USA was encouraged as ships travelling in that direction were largely empty. Eventually the acreage of non-essential crops was restricted and a regulation in 1941 saw Cornwall’s 2,000 acres of flower crops halved and then later reduced to 500.

Seed Catalogue: Ryders' World War II (1940) by Ryders'Garden Museum

As food production became a priority flowers were specifically targeted as non-essential goods. The Transport of Flowers Act 1942, restricted transport by road and rail. In 1943 it was followed by the Transportation of Flowers Order which banned all transportation of flowers by train - including in personal baggage.

First daffodils of the Season, Cornwall (1934) by UnknownGarden Museum

Convictions under the restrictions saw two hauliers jailed for six and twelve months, and six Cornish men fined £105 (£4,200 today) after being caught smuggling the first flowers of the new season in their suitcase.

Top (Eur) London Markets Covent GardenLIFE Photo Collection

The rail ban was especially ruinous for Cornwall and the Scilly Isles as their flower crops were only viable if they travelled to market in London via train.

Prime Minister Churchill In 10 Downing St. Gdns (1941-06) by William VandivertLIFE Photo Collection

Faced with the collapse of their businesses a group of Scillonian growers sent Prime Minister Winston Churchill some scented narcissi.

By Ralph MorseLIFE Photo Collection

Churchill was so impressed he declared: “These people must be enabled to grow their flowers and send them to London –they cheer us up so much in these dark days.”

By Hans WildLIFE Photo Collection

The rail ban was lifted on 18 March 1943 on the condition that flowers did not occupy space required for essential war supplies. Flower growers responded with 1,000 boxes of flowers travelling from Cornwall to London Paddington the next day and a further seven and half tonnes of flower boxes the following day.

By Hans WildLIFE Photo Collection

First daffodils of the Season, Cornwall (1934) by UnknownGarden Museum

Keeping the flower growers of Cornwall afloat during the war meant the trade in flowers and bulbs quickly recovered after the war ended.

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