June 20, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

How Carrots Helped the Royal Air Force Win The War

2 min read

Dig for Victory

How Carrots Helped the Royal Air Force Win The War

Carrots helped the Royal Air Force (RAF) win the war. This might sound like a ridiculous claim, but delve deeper into the history and you’ll see that it’s true!

At one point in the early 1940’s there was a huge glut of carrots.  The government had several ideas put forward by major food manufacturers on how to make use of this surplus of carrots, but they eventually decided on two ways to use them up.

They decided to sell any carrots leftover after human demand to farmers very cheaply, in order to feed their live stock.  But the main, ingenious, idea was to make them more desirable to the public.


They did this by spreading propaganda. They told the public that the RAF’s exceptional night time flying, and success in shooting down enemy bombers, was because their pilots were consuming more of the antioxidant beta carotene, in the form of carrots.

They claimed that their pilots ate a large amount of ‘vision enhancing’ carrots each day.  This suggestion also helped to mask the real reason for the RAF’s success which was a top secret introduction of an airborne version of their radar system.  This new system, code named AI, or Airborne Interception Radar, could locate enemy bombers even before they reached the English Channel.

This rumour did have some truth to it.  It was a long-standing belief that the Vitamin A in carrots could enhance night vision.  In 1940, experiments had begun with RAF pilots to increase the amount of Beta Carotene in their diets in order to reduce night blindness.

The Power of Advertising

Another facet of this campaign was ‘The Kitchen Front’, which incorporated a daily radio programme. This advocated the use of this abundant vegetable in a wide range of recipes from stews to mock apricot tart.

As there was such a shortage of many foods during the war period, the phrase ‘Dig for Victory’ was widely seen on billboards and in newspapers, encouraging people to grow their own vegetables in their back gardens.

Dig for Victory

This publicity campaign was so persuasive that the population of the UK really did start to eat more carrots to help them find their way around during the enforced blackouts.  This helped to take the pressure off of other food supplies.

Surprisingly, Germans had the same folklore as the British about Vitamin A improving eyesight. They also bought into the belief that this was the reason for the British pilots increasing wartime success.

Christina Romano is an Optical Consultant at Lenstore.co.uk, an online contact lens retailer.