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Bomb Crater Garden

On September 20, 1940, just over a year after Hitler’s army invaded Poland triggering a six-year war, a German airplane dropped a bomb over London as part of the Blitz. The target was the Westminster Cathedral. By good fortune, the airmen miscalculated the trajectory and the bomb missed the church. It fell in the square between the choir of the cathedral and Morphet Terrace, and exploded leaving a large crater.

The crater was left intact until the following spring, when the caretaker of the cathedral, Mr. Hayes, began to see the possibility of a garden.

The Westminster Cathedral crater garden.

The Second World War, just like the First, brought acute shortages in food, clothing and almost every other amenities of life and comfort. Many families, with encouragement from the government, began growing their own food in small plots of land in their backyards, playgrounds and even public parks. These were called “Victory Gardens”, a term first coined by George Washington Carver, an American agricultural scientist. Besides providing sustenance and indirectly aiding the war effort, these gardens also served as morale booster because they gave gardeners a feeling of empowerment by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown.

The “Dig for Victory” movement gained momentum across America and Europe. In Britain, unused land such as those along railway tracks, and ornamental gardens and lawns were turned into farmland. Sports fields and golf courses were also requisitioned but instead of digging them up, they were used for sheep-grazing. A section of the lawn in Hyde Park was plowed to grow vegetables, while onions grew in the shadow of the Albert Memorial. Both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle had vegetable gardens.

dig for victory

Mr. Hayes wasn’t the only one who saw opportunity in an act of destruction. Another Londoner in the affluent Bayswater area in west London, whose house narrowly missed a bomb, turned the resulting crater into a garden where he grew vegetables and flowers.

Such resourcefulness during times of conflict was also seen among the Vietnamese. During the Vietnam War, which lasted almost two decades, the United States dropped over 7 million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia combined—more than triple the US dropped on Europe and Asia during all of World War II. The bombing left the countryside pockmarked with large craters which the villagers transformed into ponds for rearing fish.

fishery in a bomb crater

A fishery in a bomb crater in Vietnam. Image credit: Rural Aquaculture

The Westminster Cathedral crater garden.

The Westminster Cathedral crater garden.

The Westminster Cathedral crater garden.

The Westminster Cathedral crater garden.

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