Once again this year we’ve ‘twinned’ our World War Zoo Gardens wartime zoo allotment at Newquay Zoo with a modern one far, far away, thanks to the fabulous gift service of Oxfam Unwrapped (www.oxfam.org.uk/unwrapped)
It’s sometimes quite difficult to choose a meaningful gift for Christmas, especially one that lasts or makes a difference.
The Christmas adverts for 2014 are out and I have overheard much chat around Newquay Zoo about whether people prefer Monty and Mabel the John Lewis “kissing penguins” compared to the charitable chocolate merits of the Sainsbury’s advert recreation of the Christmas Day 1914 Football truce in the trenches 100 years ago.
Our gift shop, website and office at our home base of Newquay Zoo get very busy at this time of year, with people popping in to buy cuddly toys (penguins are it this year – thanks John Lewis!) or phone calls and emails to arrange last minute memberships, animal adoptions (penguins and sloths amongst the Christmas 2014 favourites) and Junior or Adult Keeper Experience sessions (penguin encounters again popular). It’s good to know that this money is going to support animal conservation both at Newquay Zoo and our overseas projects as part of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust.
The clever Oxfam Unwrapped E-card service means you can send a gift instantly to someone, even past the last posting date, a period that I’ve experienced as a mad scramble in the Newquay Zoo office to get late orders completed. It’s also good to know that this clever Oxfam Unwrapped gift service helps support Oxfam, a charity born out of wartime famine relief, provide the training, tools and seeds to make a family self-sufficient in troubled countries like Afghanistan.
In a previous Christmas gift blog post I have written about how zoos and botanic gardens amongst other cultural institutions have struggled to survive natural disaster and civil war in many parts of the world not only in wartime but also over the last 20 years.
The Garden Museum in London (www.gardenmuseum.org.uk) had a superb photographic display by Lalage Snow recently about Paradise Lost: Gardens and War to complement its exhibition on Gardens and the First World War; there were sections on Afghanistan, Gaza and many other areas of conflict. There is an excellent video Artraker interview with Lalage Snow about her gardens photography project which has led to her winning an Alan Titchmarsh ‘emerging new talent’ Garden Media Guild Award 2014. The Garden Museum exhibition is well worth a visit before it ends on 19 December 2014.
I found the interviews and photos very moving, photos of gardeners, both men and women, cultivating plants in these conflict zones by photojournalist Lalage Snow (http://lalagesnow.photoshelter.com/gallery/War-Gardens/G0000msN.x.IMPX8/) .
One interview in particular by an elderly gardener Ibrahim Jeradeh who maintains a Commonwealth War Graves War Commission cemetery in Gaza struck me as a suitable message (like dogs) ‘for life and not just for Christmas’, so I quickly wrote it down just as The Garden Museum closed for the day:
“I keep this as the best place in Gaza, the cleanest and it’s my responsibility. I’ve worked here since I was 18 and am supposed to have retired but I can’t leave this place. It’s quiet, clean and happy. This is my garden. It isn’t a public garden but people often come to sit and reflect. I make sure the plants at each grave are happy and are well tended, and that the olive trees give shade where needed. 350 graves were destroyed in 2009 but we’ve gradually restored order and peace. War is war, no place is safe.”
“In our country it is a duty to care for both the living and the dead – there are no borders here – so there are Jews, Muslims and Christian graves. This is Palestine. In Islam we don’t usually mark individual graves – it isn’t important. All that matters is that the soul is in Paradise and the people in the graves, they are at peace. No-one can hurt them now.”
“Here in Gaza, it’s a miserable situation. But whatever you can imagine in your head as the best place in the world, it’s Paradise, it’s here in this cemetery.”
quote from Ibrahim Jeradeh, MBE, The British Cemetery, Gaza, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Lalage Snow’s exhibition at the Garden Museum 2014
This quote has been especially poignant to me as a result of my World War Zoo Gardens recent research and talks about lost wartime zoo keepers, botanic gardeners from Kew Gardens like A.J.Meads and even local names from my local village war memorial, men buried in Gaza, Egypt, Gallipoli and other distant cemeteries, beautifully maintained and planted, often against the odds of climate or current conflict, buried amongst comrades but far far away from family and home.
There is more about Ibrahim Jeradeh MBE and the Gaza Cemetery in this 2013 Al-Monitor article: www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/gaza-english-cemetery-all-faiths.html
There is more about the Gaza Cemetery on the CWGC website and its restoration www.cwgc.org and on the Gaza Cemetery Wikipedia page. Ibrahim Jerada is pictured in an interesting interview by Harriet Sherwood in 2013 for a Guardian article, and an interview with his son, now Head Gardener, Issam Jeradeh.
Christmas 1914 and beyond
By Christmas 1914 many of the men from zoos, botanic gardens, aquariums that we have been tracking throughout this blogpost since 2009 were beginning the journey that would take them to the trenches of the Western front, across the world’s oceans or the deserts of the Middle East. Not all of them would return.
Some of these volunteered to enlist, others were coerced by peer pressure and employers. Former soldiers, sailors and Territorial reservists were quickly embarked. Already by Christmas 1914, some had been killed. On our research journey, we will be following the careers of these men throughout next year and the www.1914.org centenary until 2019. Some volunteers like Herbert Cowley (who we posted about in 2013) were embarking for France on Christmas Eve 1914 just as the truce was beginning in the trenches. Others like Kew and RBGE’s Walter Morland would within months be heading for the beaches of Gallipoli, never to return.
Football, Christmas, Chocolate and Gardening
I’ve had some suitably topical christmas gifts so far, including some Sainsbury’s ‘Christmas Truce’ advert Belgian Chocolate bars. My wartime allotment at Newquay Zoo is by mid-December usually a suitably muddy enough patch to stage a (very tiny) recreation of the Christmas Truce Football match.
Football, Christmas, Chocolate and Gardening are all things that should hopefully help to bring us together or share something in common with our families and others.
It has been interesting to see how different organisations, interests and communities have embraced and engaged with the meaning of the http://www.1914.org First World War centenary, across Britain, Europe and former colonies, from villages and schools to zoos, gardens and sports clubs. The Christmas Truce and football match has been an important part of this connection, whether or not you like the Sainsbury’s advert or indeed football!
There is an interesting micro-site on the CWGC website called Glory Days, which is part of wider ‘Football Remembers’ events.
Some conservation charities I have come across have cleverly sponsored football matches in partner developing countries to bring groups together for the benefit of wildlife education.
Football and gardening: mud, weather, success or failure each season, the state of the pitch / patch, maybe they have more in common than you think!
Like the weather or the ravages of garden pests, home-grown food or memories of Grandad’s allotment, these are all conversations amongst visitors that I overhear whilst working on our wartime allotment plot in the zoo. I’m told that these are properly called “cross-cultural puncture points” across generations and cultures. To me they are also just friendly chats over the “garden fence”, Mr. Middleton style. We will feature more about Mr. Middleton in 2015, the 70th anniversary of this wartime celebrity gardener’s death.
I hope that you enjoy a peaceful Christmas, wherever you are and however you decide to spend it, playing football, eating chocolate, in the garden or at the zoo!
Look out for a wartime Christmas pudding recipe on our next wartime Chrsitmas blogpost in the next few days …
Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo