Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh commemorate WW1

September 19, 2014

Much has been made by politicians on various sides of the Scottish Referendum in the 1914 centenary year about the contribution of Scottish people to the Allied war effort in World War 1.

In the week of the Scottish Referendum, I received a surprise email from Ann Hill about a press cutting in the Downs Mail Maidstone online edition for September 2014, asking if I had any more information or contact with relatives of Walter Henry Morland? The Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh are looking for relatives of their fallen staff, including Morland who worked at Kew Gardens as well as Edinburgh. Through the World War Zoo Gardens project I have met or heard from several relatives of keeper and gardener casualties from London Zoo and Kew Gardens.

At last a photo of Walter Morland, part of Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh search for Walter Morland's relatives, Maidstone Downs Mail September 2014

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh search for Walter Morland’s relatives, Maidstone Downs Mail September 2014

I had come across Walter Morland through his Commonwealth War Graves Commision entry as a “rose garden specialist” when researching the lost staff of RBG Kew Gardens, alongside Sydney Cobbold, . Staff at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh have been putting together a display, alongside a poppy lawn sown by staff and Scots military veterans.

The Scotsman – Wednesday, 22nd July 1925

BOTANIC GARDENS WAR MEMORIAL.

Sir Lionel Earle, K.C.B., K.C.V.O., C.M.G., Secretary of H.M. Office of Works, yesterday afternoon unveiled a memorial tablet to the twenty members of the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens staff who gave their lives, in the Great War. The tablet is in the entrance hall of the laboratory. About a hundred relatives and members of the staff were present. Sir Lionel Earle said the memorial served a double purpose. Firstly, it was a lasting testimony to the members of the staff who sacrificed their lives for the great cause; and, secondly, it was a memorial to Sir Isaac Bayley-Balfour, late botanist, administrator, and agriculturist, who did so much for the Botanic Gardens. It had been Sir Isaac’s last wish that a memorial to these men be placed in the entrance hall. The Rev. E. C. Houlston, B.D., officiated at the service, which concluded with the sounding of the “Last Post.”
Extract taken from the Scottish War Memorial project website

I had come across photos of the memorial to the RBG Edinburgh staff photographed on the Scottish War Memorials Trust website.

What I hadn’t seen was the Roll of Honour of all the RBG Edinburgh staff which isaccessible on their website. In a future blogpost I  will look more closely at the details in case as with some information that I’ve found on other sites during  my research  has become unavailable over time.

Knowing that Walter Morland had died at Gallipoli on 2 May 1915 and having an interest in Gallipoli where one of my relatives served, I was surprised to read how many of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh men had served or died at Gallipoli, all as a result of serving at the hard-pressed 5th Battalion, The Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment), obviously the local regiment for many of these Edinburgh men.
Breifly, the http://www.1914-1918.net/royalscots.htm webpage lists the 5th as 1/5th Battalion (Queen’s Edinburgh Rifles)
August 1914 : in Forrest Hill, Edinburgh. Part of Lothian Brigade, Scottish Coast Defences.
11 March 1915 : transferred to 88th Brigade, 29th Division at Leamington Spa.
Sailed from Avonmouth 20 March 1915, going via Egypt to Gallipoli 25 April 1915.
Returned to Egypt 7 January 1916.

Brabyn’s other surviving RBGE colleagues in the 5th Royal Scots then fought in France, after their service in Gallipoli.
Moved to France, landing at Marseilles, 10 March 1916.
24 April 1916 : transferred to Lines of Communication.
15 June 1916 : amalgamated with 1/6th to become 5/6th Battalion (due perhaps to decimation of numbers?)
29 July 1916 : transferred to 14th Brigade, 32nd Division.

Some of Walter Morland’s RBGE colleagues in the 5th Royal Scots served and thankfully survived to be demobilised in 1919, no doubt to see the war memorial erected.

It is good to see many organisations taking time  to commemorate the service and sacrifice of  their past staff and families.  It is also good to put a name to a face for Walter Morland at last, gone but definitely not forgotten. As Lawrence Binyon phrased it in his poem “For The Fallen”, published in the Times 100 years ago this week, “We Shall Remember Them”.

I hope that somebody eventually makes a family connection with Morland and his colleagues, so  are able to help RBGE and the research of its archivist Leonie Paterson at commemorate@rbge.org.uk

I will talk more about some of these lost Gardeners from zoos and botanic gardens in my forthcoming KMIS / Kew Guild related talk about may World War Zoo Gardens research and the blogpost research ‘Such is the price of Empire’ (a quote from Walter Morland’s Kew Guild Journal obituary) at Kew Gardens on the evening of the 20th October 2014. Check the http://www.kew.org events and what’s on section for details.

Our Zoo: Chester Zoo and the drama of zoo history

September 5, 2014

I have been looking forward to watching this autumn BBC’s “Our Zoo” about the  early days of Chester Zoo, with some excellent links to past and future on the Chester Zoo website -
http://www.chesterzoo.org/global/about-us/our-zoo-bbc-drama

Researching zoo history is often a “Cinderella” subject, many people wondering why it’s worth it (outside of the zoo history enthusiasts of the Bartlett Society – see blogroll links) and rarely makes it to mainstream television!

Back in May 2011 I spent an interesting couple of days tracking down wartime concrete at Chester Zoo, during a zoo history conference. Here is an edited blog post I wrote at the time tracing an intriguing bit of Chester Zoo’s history and on the way discovered four wartime hippos in Budapest.

Mr. Mottershead, founder of Chester Zoo – memorial plaque near Oakfield House, Chester Zoo (Image: World War Zoo gardens project)

May 2011, Chester Zoo: We weren’t sure whether to called this post Zoo Do You Think You Are? (after the BBC TV Family history series), thanks to a quick quip from Richard Gibson at Chester Zoo or maybe  Zoo Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Hitler? (to the theme tune of Dad’s Army) in view of the wartime concrete, Home Guard and Zoo family history connections I was tracking down.

Family history is big business now on the internet and on television, genealogy being the social or leisure side of genetics. Genetics is now the everyday business of zoo breeding programmes. Looking back at baby photos past for a glimpse of a familiar adult expression or looking at your children for a fleeting recognition of family faces, it’s something we all do over time. Like gardening, it’s probably age-related, primal and territorial. My family, my birth place, my tribe. So why should it be any different for zoos to look back at where they came from? Can we catch a glimpse of the future from a look at their past? This is partly what I’ve been researching through the World War Zoo Gardens project.

Chester Zoo history symposium 20 May 2011 from the SHNH website

What are zoos for? How should zoos work together? Why should zoos keep an archive of past events and what should they do with this material? These were some of the many questions raised by the May 2011 Symposium on Zoo history / Zoo future hosted at Chester Zoo “From Royal Menageries to Biodiversity Conservation”http://www.chesterzoo.org/ and  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chester_Zoo and  a joint celebration of the work of several societies together. The Bartlett Society (www.zoohistory.co.uk), World Association of Zoos and Aquariums   (WAZA) www.waza.org , Linnaean Society and celebrating its 75th birthday, the Society for the History of Natural History (SHNH) www.shnh.org The proceedings or symposium was recently published in 2014. It reflected the World of Zoos and Aquariums as it was attended by delegates from Britain, Ireland, Europe, North America and South East Asia / Australasia.

Only 91 animals remained amongst the ruins of wartime Berlin Zoo by 1945 from an old German / US archive press photo (World War Zoo gardens collection at Newquay Zoo)

Dr. Miklos Persenyi, Director General at Budapest Zoo in Hungary showed some beautiful slides of how the once war ravaged zoo in Hungary has been restored, even the 1960s buildings are being ‘restored’ to match the striking Hungarian Art Nouveau architecture of the early 20th Century. Miklos joked that he is employed by the Budapest Tourist Bureau, as the zoo, botanic garden and ‘cultural centre’ that it has become looks well worth a visit. After my short presentation on wartime zoos which mentioned Berlin Zoo being left with 91 animals after air raids and street fighting, Miklos quietly capped this with his story of the 15 animals left alive at Budapest zoo after the freezing winter months of 1944 when the Zoo and city of Budapest became a besieged town and battlefield between the Germans and the Russians. Amazingly, whilst the local people eat anything they could to survive, four or five of these surviving animals were Hippopotami (or Hippopotamuses). These plant eaters survived in the warm waters of the thermal springs there, alongside a handful of ‘singing birds’. The people of Budapest rebuilt their zoo after the war, whilst bombsites of local buildings and churches near the zoo were unofficially commandeered to grow crops for people and animals  http://www.zoobudapest.com/english Miklos has been involved in the writing of an interesting and beautifully illustrated history of Budapest Zoo, with a version in English well worth tracking down.

This comment by Miklos about the last fifteen animals left in Budapest Zoo and the efforts to rebuild it by gave some important human detail to the broad sweep of zoo history, of different groups and associations which eventually became the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) in a reunified Europe after the Berlin Wall and collapse of Communism / end of the Cold War c. 1989  Equally moving was the long slow progression to today’s World Association of Zoos and Aquariums from its late Victorian beginning in Germany, through wartime disruptions, revolutions  to today’s worldwide organisation “United for Conservation” at last! It was long time coming.

One of the Symposium concerns was the lack of original zoo history research being done into the past life of zoos, as often what we read is simply a regurgitation of the same old sources. The published proceedings (available through Chester Zoo’s marketing department) are a good example of this new research.

Newquay Zoo’s wartime roaming ‘gnome gaurd-ener’ in front of some original wartime concrete pillars with a historic past, Chester Zoo May 2011 (Image: World War Zoo gardens project)

Chester Zoo the conference host is home itself to an interesting wartime story. As part of my World War Zoo gardens project at Newquay Zoo, I have been researching what happened in wartime zoos, with an eye to what lessons we can learn from surviving our wartime past for the management of zoos through future challenges. This work is often hamstrung by the lack of (accessible) archives in many zoos. Not so Chester Zoo which has an excellent and accessible archive, partly scanned and the Chester Zoo News (1930s-1980s) available to buy on CD-Rom from their library!

These magazines must have refreshed memories and dates with lots of detail in June Mottershead’s vividly remembered account Reared in Chester Zoo (written with Janice Madden, Ark Books, 2009) of growing up at Chester Zoo, helping out as it was built by her father and as it struggled to survived through the slump and wartime shortages of the 1930s and 1940s to her marriage to Keeper Fred Williams.

Chester Zoo history timeline banners, Chester Zoo, 2011

This story of George Mottershead and family is well told in banner panels for each decade of the zoo’s 80 years, over near the ‘new’ 1950s Aquarium and the modern Cedar House which houses the library and archive.

My guide for that day in 2011, the then Head of Discovery and Learning archivist Stephen McKeown told me that the concrete pillars of the aquarium were hand-cast by June and Fred, often working into the night by lamplight. So like George Mottershead, they literally did build their zoo by hand. Sadly the original Chester Zoo Aquarist, Yorkshireman Peter Falwasser died of wounds on active service in North Africa, 1942. Before his death, Peter wrote excitedly to Chester Zoo colleagues of all the wildlife and especially fish he was seeing in the Middle East and wondered how to get them back to Chester Zoo. So this new aquarium  in the 1950s was maybe a quiet sort of memorial to ‘gentle’ Peter Falwasser, as June describes him.

In 2013 I received scans from the Chester Zoo archive of letters from and to Peter Falwassser, which I turned into the following blog post, Last Wartime Letters:

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/last-wartime-letters-of-peter-falwasser-chester-zoo-aquarist-1916-1942/

Sometimes research does a little back-flip of name recognition in an unexpected place, a little cross-over between themes. Strangely following another wartime gardening lead into 1940s and 50s garden  books linked to Theo Stephens’ little garden magazine, My Garden, I havecome across  a late 1940s garden article that may well have been written by Peter’s older sister Christine Rosetta ( b. 1905, Cawthorne, Yorkshire). She may have been the  C.R. Falwasser, a gardener and writer,  who wrote the article in My Garden’s Bedside Book (1951?)  called “I Swept the Leaves” mentioning “But when you hire yourself during wartime and become part of a staff …” by the 1950s she pops up in the phone book in horticulture at Alltnacree, Connell, Argyll.  Strange coincidence.  I wonder if she would have got on with the Mottershead family of Market Gardeners, including Grandad Albert, Chester Zoo’s first Head Gardener, who fed the animals and people of Chester Zoo in wartime.

Inside June’s Pavilion, Chester Zoo May 2011

A quick trip downstairs to the public toilets in Oakfield House today takes you to the site of the ‘old’ or first wartime Aquarium and air raid shelters for staff,  based in the cellars and former kitchens of Oakfield House. This listed red brick building was the big house or mansion of the estate that became Chester Zoo in the 1930s. It was in poor condition after serving as a VAD convalescent home for officers in the First World War as many such houses did around Europe. This must have had strong associations for Private George Mottershead, who  apparently spent several years recovering after the war in a wheelchair.

Looking at the 1930s map by George Williams inside June’s book, it is still possible to glimpse a little of the original zoo, especially starting from the red brick house and stables block, used extensively for temporary animal houses in the first decade or so. Lion scratches and a small plaque by the stables archway give a clue to what once happened here, the nucleus of what has today grown to become Chester Zoo.

The roar of big cats can still be heard across the path from the old temporary ‘pen’, the site of George Mottershead’s lion enclosure that he started to hand-build in 1937 but was delayed by wartime, only finished in 1947. Scratch marks in the brickwork of the stable block, reputedly made by lions, are marked by a simple plaque.

A link to the Chester Zoo lions of the wartime past – within roar of the present. Chester Zoo Stables and Courtyard gateway, May 2011

The stables and courtyard of the big house of another era are closed to the public but very visible from public walkways, the stables now house the works depot and offices.

History in the Chester area is never far away – usually just inches under your feet. The Romans had a garrison town (Deva) here, into whose near-complete buried amphitheatre in town were dug the air-raid shelters for June’s school. Behind Oakfield House, recreated Roman Gardens and new glasshouses now lie where food was once grown in the kitchen gardens and conservatory area by June’s  ‘ Grandfather’ Albert, George Mottershead’s father.

This glasshouse like those in many zoos was a victim of wartime shrapnel, in this case probably anti-aircraft or ack-ack ‘flak’ from nearby AA guns firing at enemy raiders heading for the towns and ports of the Northwest. Friendly fire like this also killed a Coypu, one of the only direct wartime casualties amongst the animals from enemy action (many other zoo animals like penguins slowly declined from wartime substitute feeding). Here in these vanished glasshouses and kitchen gardens, food was once grown for the mansion and for the early zoo. The Mottersheads were nurserymen and market gardeners, originally in the Sale area. ‘Grandad’ Mottershead working well into old age and through wartime to provide food for his son’s zoo animals.

Three of June’s Mottershead uncles and step-uncles from this gardening family were killed in the First World War, two others on her mother’s side, whilst her father George was so badly wounded on the Somme that it took him years to teach himself to walk again. Albert and Stanley Mottershead’s  names are on the Sale War Memorial, recently researched by George Cogswell and pictured here. This could so easily have been George Mottershead. no George, no Chester Zoo.

George Mottershead in uniform with wife Elizabeth, World War One, one of mnay family photos in the new June’s Pavilion, Chester Zoo

Family photographs of these friendly ghosts can be found in June’s book but also mounted on the walls of the newly opened June’s Pavilion catering area near Oakfield House, next to the Growzone conservatories for today’s Chester Zoo gardeners. Zoos, like armies, march on their stomachs and good food is very important to the human and other animals at the zoo. It is often the make or break of a zoo visit and probably one of the harder things to get right for everyone. I learnt this lesson on day one of zoo management at Newquay Zoo, the afternoon spent with sleeves rolled up and rubber gloves in the sink partly alongside Pete the Ops Manager washing up and KP-ing in the Newquay Zoo café during an afternoon rush and shortage of café staff. So I understand how important June, her sister Muriel, her mother Elizabeth and Grandmother Lucy like all the women in her family were in feeding zoo staff, evacuees and zoo visitors as well as zoo animals before and during the war. [Note: 2014, This is something that comes across strongly in the BBC series Our Zoo broadcast in Autumn 2014 and I interviews with June Williams.]

It is very fitting to have ‘June’s Pavilion’ as not a museum or a memorial but something practical, and fun – a family eating place with family photographs on the wall. George Mottershead in First World war uniform with Elizabeth and baby Muriel, Grandad Mottershead, June and Fred, all look down, alongside many other of the army of Chester Zoo staff of the past, over another generation of zoo visitors tucking in to food before heading off to look and learn about more animals.

Having read June’s account in hindsight and the detailed newsletters month by month during uncertain times gives you chance to relive the early years, month by month, almost to glimpse through the windows of Oakfield House and spot familiar ghosts on the lawn.

Next to Oakfield House beside the lawn in its own small garden stands a small simple memorial plaque to George Mottershead, erected by the zoo members and staff after he died in 1978. George looks out of the photo back towards the stables and the windows of Oakfield House which must have seen so many stories, from the gentry and hunting at the big house to wounded soldiers of his own war, wartime evacuees in the next war, refugee elephants and their mahouts, a place of family weddings and still a venue for an excellent quiet lunch in the panelled dining room.

After the war, things did not become easier straight away. There was still food rationing and materials for building were in short supply.

Round the back of the Europe on the Edge aviary, once the 1940s polar bear enclosure can be seen wartime surplus concrete tank traps built into pillars, a clever bit of wartime / austerity salvage, Chester Zoo, May 2011 (Image: World War Zoo gardens project)

Britain had to feed itself, the displaced millions of Europeand repair huge numbers of bombed factories, schools and houses around the country. A short walk away from Oakfield House, you can still glimpse one of George’s practical bits of post-war salvage. Fred Williams, June’s husband, as Clerk of Works carried on this salvage tradition.

At the rear of what was once built as the Polar Bear enclosure can be seen some at first rather plain and ugly concrete pillars. Ironically now part of the Europe on the Edge Aviary, these pillars started life for a very different purpose – heavy concrete road blocks and tank traps from the desperate days of improvisation by the Army and Home Guard against invasion by the armies of Hitler’s Germany after softening up by Goering’s eagles of the Luftwaffe.

The round shapes of these concrete blocks can be seen clearly in Frith picture postcards featured in a recent zoo postcards book by  Alan Ashby (www.izes.co.uk). These pillars  are an unlikely memorial to a past generation, though thankfully June is still (2011/2014very much with us, still interested in the zoo they built and the recently opened June’s new Pavilion.

Stephen McKeown spoke in 2011 about further ideas for developing family history on the way to our Chester Zoo members talk at the Russell Allen lecture theatre at Chester zoo (named after Maud Russell Allen, an early council member or benefactor in the 1930s and 1940s). Chester are thinking about developing the guided or self-guided history tour – so watch the Chester Zoo website for details [including on the Our Zoo BBC related events].

BBC clip about June at wartime Chester Zoo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/nol/newsid_6700000/newsid_6706300/6706315.stm?bw=nb&mp=wm&news=1&bbcws=1

Since 2011, I have been sent by Chester Zoo Archive  the scans of many letters to and from George Mottershead to (the late) ex Cheter Zoo staff member Peter Lowe, who became the first curator and designer of my home zoo, Newquay Zoo, something worth a blog post in future. So George Mottershead surviving the Somme to open his own zoo helped indirectly in the early history of my own zoo at Newquay Zoo.  You can read more about our wartime garden project at Newquay Zoo on our blog, contact me via the comments page or check out our zoo website pages about World War Zoo on www.newquayzoo.org.uk

The new World War Zoo gardens sign at Newquay Zoo, 2011

War and the Whitleys: Para-medics, Peacocks and Paignton Zoo

August 28, 2014

Herbert Whitley, trademark cigarette in mouth (Image source: Paignton Zoo website)

Herbert Whitley, trademark cigarette in mouth (Image source: Paignton Zoo website)

It is 70 years this year since the events of D-Day, and this month 75 years since World War Two began and also 100 years since the outbreak of World War One – both wars were to cost the Whitley family dear. The 29th August 1944 / 2014 is one such sad anniversary.

Our sister zoo at Paignton was started in 1923 by an eccentric and wealthy figure with hard business sense, a passion for the colour blue and an eye for good breeding stock amongst plants and animals – Herbert Whitley.

Herbert Whitley (1886 – 1955) was one of four sons of Edward Whitley, a Liverpool based brewer (Greenall Whitley) and Victorian MP (1825 – 1892). Herbert’s father Edward has an impressive entry in Debrett’s 1886 House Of Commons directory from the year Herbert Whitley was born.  On his father’s death, Herbert Whitley, two brothers William and Charles and a sister Mary moved from Liverpool and Lancashire to Devon around 1904 to 1907 with his widowed mother Eleanor (1848 – 1929). Here Herbert quickly established an estate of several farms in the area with his brother William. His older brother Edward Whitley Junior (b. 1880) remained with his young family  in Liverpool, after studying medicine.

With an agricultural or science based degree behind him, Whitley quickly used his family wealth to establish stud kennels and farms for his experiments in breeding dogs, farm animals, pigeons, horses as well as building greenhouses for exotic plants.  Unlike Picasso, Herbert Whitley never grew out of his ‘blue period’. He had a lifelong passion for blue animals and plants, from peacocks to rosemary. Paignton Zoo has recently been searching for ‘lost’ cultivars from Whitley’s Primley Botanic Nursery,  named ‘Primley Blue’ (including mallow, rosemary and hebe).

These plants and animals would by summer 1923 be transformed into the nucleus of the collection which became Primley Zoological Gardens, opened to the public for educational rather than just purely entertainment reasons (see below). A fight ensued with local authorities over its educational role, rather than pure entertainment which saw Herbert close his zoo for a number of years rather than be liable for an ‘entertainment tax’ on zoo visits.

It is said that Herbert Whitley’s zoo began as a child, when his mother gave him a pair of canaries. He went on to breed and exhibit finches, rabbits, poultry and pigeons. His archive or library has scrapbooks and bound journal volumes featuring his many breeding successes, some featured in Jack Baker’s ‘biography’ of Whitley (see below).

Herbert and his brother William formed a partnership to manage the Primley estate farms. Their  plan was to create a breeding centre for pedigree livestock, but exotic animals soon appeared. The first monkeys arrived in 1910 and a pair of sulphur crested cockatoos in 1911 – the foundation of Herbert’s bird collection which was later to feature secret carrier pigeons and unfortunate GI snacks in the shape of peacocks.

Going public after a private wartime tragedy
In 1923, in the aftermath of the First World War, Herbert Whitley opened his collection, then known as Torbay Zoological Gardens, to the public. The Zoo closed briefly in 1924 due to a dispute over entertainment tax; Whitley felt very strongly that his collection was a place of learning and not entertainment. In 1930 the collection changed its name to Primley Zoological Gardens.

Sadly by the time his fledgling zoo opened in 1923, one of the four Whitley brothers was dead. Charles Whitley, one of the four Whitley brothers was dead, killed in the First World War. Some of the family of his estate workers and no doubt some of his horses would no doubt have perished too on the Western Front.

Hibers cemetery, where Herbert's brother Charles Whitley is buried, on the brow of the hill to the left of the cross of sacrifice (Image; CWGC website)

Hibers cemetery, where Herbert’s brother Charles Whitley is buried, on the brow of the hill to the left of the cross of sacrifice (Image; CWGC website)

Captain Charles Whitley, 7th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, Military  Cross, died aged 28 on 11th April 1917 during the Battle for Arras. He is buried at  Grave Reference C. 15, Hibers Trench Cemetery, France. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website lists him as born at Halewood, Liverpool and as the Son of the late Mr. Edward and Elizabeth Eleanor Whitley, of Primley, Paignton, Devon.  There are several websites which describe Charles Whitley including portraits:

http://www.flintshirewarmemorials.com/memorials/hawarden-memorial/hawarden-sodliers-2/charles-whitley/

Several zoo keepers from London Zoo were also killed in this same period and battle. One wonders what might have happened if Herbert Whitley had been fit enough to fight?

Herbert Whitley was lucky in someways to have poor enough eyesight to fail an army medical, likewise his brother William who had severely damaged his leg in a riding accident years before. Their contribution to the war effort would be as estate owners, animal breeders and farmers, then a reserved occupation.

The agricultural challenges of 1914 -18 are described in a new book on the People of Devon in World War One by David Parker (History Press, 2013), an interesting social history to complement Gerald Wasley’s Devon in the Great War (Halsgrove, 2013).

With disastrous harvests in 1916/17, enlistment and call up of agricultural workers and horses and a deadly U-Boat campaign targetting Allied supply routes and merchant shipping, Britain experienced a potential food crisis that would severely affect its ability to feed itself, maintain maximium war production and win the war. In spite of the agricultural and mineral wealth of its vast Empire, the British people saw increasing price rises in basic foods which eventually saw an early form of rationing introduced in 1917/18. Remarkably throughout this period of the U-Boat campaign, Primley stud  pedigree farm stock was being  shipped overseas, business as usual,  to bolster the Empire livestock.

British farming was at the start of the First World War struggling to keep up with imported cheaper food. It was in one of its many picturesque but poor states, in recession and the doldrums again at the end of the Victorain and Edwardian period, one well recreated in the BBC’s Edwardian Farm (filmed in Devon and Cornwall around the Tamar Valley and Morwhelham Quay).

Herbert and William Whitley took up farming or running an estate in an age of agricultural revolution, of new machinery such as the first tractors, steam farm machinery and interest in new chemical fertilisers. Devon farms however were still largely powered by men and horses, two valuable assets that would be drawn away by the demands of war.

‘What If’ History?

Captain Charles Whitley served on the Western Front, gaining a Military Cross for gallantry before being killed in 1917. If Herbert had been fit to serve, this could well have been his fate, a “What If?” History that would see no Paignton Zoo opened, no Slapton Ley Nature reserve preserved for the nation from inappropriate development and ultimately no Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) formed on Whitley’s death in 1955.

In 2003 my 1960s home zoo at Newquay, host of our World War Zoo Garden project, became part of the WWCT alongside Living Coasts, built on the old Marine Spa site of the Beacon Quay area of Torquay and Brixham, which had its own unusual wartime history, worthy of a future blog post.

Much of what we know of Whitley today is thanks to the “Blue Book”, the closest we currently have to a biography of Whitley, written by someone who knew Herbert Whitley in the 1940s and 1950s. The book is  appropriately known as the “Blue Book”, not just from the bright blue cover but from Herbert Whitley’s love of this colour; it is a slim and lively volume of reminiscences of Whitley collected by its author Jack Baker in the 1980s called Chimps, Champs and Elephants (out of print but available online).

Herbert Whitley was famously shy of women and never married, but his trusted ‘right hand man’ was unusually for the time and the company of a reclusive bachelor, a woman called Gladys Salter. Gladys had been a land girl on National Service in the First World War version of the Women’s Land Army.

The Whitley family losses in WW2

The Whitley family lost two further members in WW2 before Herbert Whitley’s death in 1955, an RAF pilot and a paratroop medic in the Normandy battles. They share a striking stone memorial in a Devon churchyard.

Herbert’s brother Charles Whitley was killed in 1917. Two Whitley nephews Edward and Peter were killed in World War Two, sons of Herbert’s brother & farmer business partner William Whitley.

Herbert’s nephew Captain Edward Neil Whitley  (born c. 1918), Service No: 252025, Royal Army Medical Corps serving with the Parachute Regiment.  He died back in England on 29th August 1944 of shrapnel wounds received four days after landing on D-Day 6 June 1944. His gravestone reads interestingly:

“Who landed in Normandy on D Day with the 6th Airborne Division,

was wounded by mortar fire on June 10th while succouring a foeman”

suggesting that he died whilst treating a German casualty. His unusual gravestone can be found at  Buckland-in-The-Moor (St. Peter) Churchyard in Devon (see below).

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website lists him as the son of William and Elizabeth Frances Whitley, of Ashburton; husband of Eileen Zender Whitley. B.A. (Cantab.), M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P. He had a son, Micheal Neil Whitley, pictured on the  the Para-Data entry for his father Edward.  Edward literally was a ‘para – medic’ as he parachuted in with the British 6th Airborne Division paratroops on D-Day June 1944 and is pictured on the Para-data history website along with documents to his mother and photographs.

Pictures of the unusual granite memorial in Buckland churchyard to both Edward and his brother Peter can be seen on the Devon Heritage website.

Edward Neil’s brother and Herbert’s nephew Pilot Officer Peter Percy Whitley  (born c. 1910) Service No: 118892, 57 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve died on active service, listed as  missing over Cologne on a bombing raid on 15th October 1942. As missing aircrew, he has no known grave and is remembered on Reference Panel 72, Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. He is also listed on a roll of honour in Ashburton, Devon.

Runnymede memorial to missing Allied aircrew of WW2  (Image: CWGC website)

Runnymede memorial to missing Allied aircrew of WW2 (Image: CWGC website)

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website lists him as the son of William and Elizabeth Whitley; husband of Primrose Vinen Heron Whitley, of Teignmouth, Devon and father of Elizabeth Clare Whitley.

Paignton Zoo, Mr Whitley and D-Day 1944

The death of his nephew Edward was not the only D-Day connection for Whitley and his Paignton Zoo. Herbert Whitley bought the unique Slapton Ley area in 1921 to save it from commercial exploitation. Slapton Ley and its surrounding beaches and rural area became part of a massive US Army training ground in 1943-4 before D-Day, although amphibious landing training had happepned there several years before War broke out. This area saw the accidental deaths in training during Exercise Tiger on February 28th 1944. An unofficial memorial, a Sherman tank salvaged from the sea bed nearby and a more official US war memorial cross records the US forces thanks to the sacrifice of local people in giving up their homes and farms now stand near the beach, remembering the wartime losses.

Clennon Gorge, part of the extensive woods and nature reserves on Whitley’s Primley estate (and now part of Paignton Zoo) was an area of quarries and small wildfowl lakes that Herbert Whitley was developing to house animals in a naturalistic style. This style was inspired partly by the Hagenbeck family of German zoo owner and animal dealers that influenced animal enclosures worldwide including at London Zoo’s Mappin Terrace ‘artificial mountains’ and Whipsnade Zoo’s 1930s enclosures.

Clennon’s wooded areas and quarries were to prove perfect cover from German aerial reconnaissance for the campsites and well stocked cookhouses of US troops, secretly hidden close to Torquay and Brixham embarkation beaches before D-Day. On clearing the area after the GIs left, Whitley’s wartime staff found the remains of some of the bored and anxious GI’s last suppers – some of the famous Primley peacocks and wildfowl amongst others of his bird collection.

One possible wartime Paignton Zoo site of Clennon Gorge quarries, possible site for US troops GI cookhouse / campsite before D-Day June 1944, cleaned up after the war to become a now peaceful nature reserve at Paignton Zoo. (Nov. 2010)

One possible wartime Paignton Zoo site of Clennon Gorge quarries, possible site for US troops GI cookhouse / campsite before D-Day June 1944, cleaned up after the war to become a now peaceful nature reserve at Paignton Zoo. (Nov. 2010)

Sadly despite appeals in their veterans’  newsletter, we have unearthed no further memories of this unusual last supper  incident from the veterans and their families of the US 4ID association, once camped at Paignton.

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2010/06/23/d-day-1944-and-the-disappearing-peacocks-and-ducks-of-wartime-paignton-zoo/

Photographic proof! Peacock (or peahen) sized garden pests peck away at our salad leaf selection, World War Zoo Gardens, Newquay Zoo.

Photographic proof! Peacock (or peahen) sized garden pests peck away at our salad leaf selection, World War Zoo Gardens, Newquay Zoo, 2010.

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/d-day-and-a-curious-1944-matchbox-diary/

There is a delightfully dated 1941 newsreel glimpse of  the women staff of wartime Primley or Paignton Zoo in its Chessington partnership era, entitled Ladies Only, worth watching at http://www.britishpathe.com/video/ladies-of-the-zoo-issue-title-ladies-only/query/flamingos

Having looked through Whitley’s wartime zoo and estate ledgers in the Paignton Zoo archive, it was  a case again in wartime of  ‘business as usual’. There are also interesting folders of Whitley’s  fairly random and eclectic press cuttings about animals, the war and Whitley’s interests.

There are many more interesting stories to research about Paignton’s wartime history, from its wartime business partnership with Chessington Zoo & Circus, the evacuation of Chessington staff there (look out for future blog posts featuring interviews with surviving staff children from this time) and further research into Whitley’s wartime ‘secret agent’ carrier pigeon lofts, part of the National Pigeon Service but staffed by Royal Signals staff. Where better to hide secret pigeons than in the middle of a large bird collection?

We would be delighted to hear via our comments page from anyone who has further memories of Herbert Whitley, his family and how his estate and zoo fared in wartime.

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo, August 2014.

 

 

Happy 5th Birthday World War Zoo Gardens Newquay Zoo

August 17, 2014

Happy Birthday! Late August is the 5th anniversary of our World War Zoo Gardens wartime garden project at Newquay Zoo. It’s also our 5 year #Twitterversary  for @worldwarzoo1939

What better birthday card than a plain wartime birthday card, which jokes about rationing everything ... (Image Source: Author's collection, World War Zoo Gardens)

What better birthday card than a plain wartime birthday card, which jokes about rationing everything … (Image Source: Author’s collection, World War Zoo Gardens)

Our aim over five years since marking the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of war in 2009 has been very practical  to grow small unusual fresh food treats for our animals, but it’s also been about research and living history,  recreating the sort of allotment that grew up in zoos, botanic gardens, back gardens, railway sidings, anywhere there was land to grow ‘Dig for Victory’ vegetables to provide self-sufficiency from U-boat blockades of food,  when food much as now was mostly imported …

Inside the wartime birthday card a suitably foody rationing joke (Image: author's collection, World War Zoo gardens collection)

Inside the wartime birthday card a suitably food rationing joke (Image: author’s collection, World War Zoo gardens collection)

Now we have reached the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of WW2 in September 1939, an event somewhat overshadowed by the #WW1 centenary www.1914.org.

World War Zoo gardens graphic sign Summer 2011

World War Zoo gardens graphic sign Summer 2011

With the WW1 centenary we have been looking at what effect resource shortages of food, fuel, staff and building materials had on zoos and botanic gardens in wartime; a summary of blog posts and other WW1 related events can be found here.

World War Zoo Garden, Summer 2011: World War Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo

World War Zoo Garden, Summer 2011: World War Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo

There is a great little photo summary of the World War Zoo gardens project here on the BIAZA zoo website from 2011, when Newquay Zoo won its first ever zoo gardens and planting award.

Mark Norris in costume as the zoo's ARP Instructor and volunteer Ken our zoo 'Home Guard' delivering a World War Zoo Gardens schools workshop, Newquay Zoo (Photo: Lorraine Reid / Newquay Zoo)

Mark Norris in costume as the zoo’s ARP Instructor and volunteer Ken our zoo ‘Home Guard’ delivering a World War Zoo Gardens schools workshop, Newquay Zoo (Photo: Lorraine Reid / Newquay Zoo)

We’ve survived snow and ice, very wet summers, very dry summers, saved seeds, produced podcasts as well as peas, fed monkeys with home-grown artichokes and broad beans, had our gnome guards go wandering across Europe … it’s been a very busy five years!

 

Rare 'Yaki' Sulawesi Macaque monkey at Newquay Zoo enjoying fresh broad bean pods, summer 2010. (Picture: Jackie Noble, Newquay Zoo)

Rare ‘Yaki’ Sulawesi Macaque monkey at Newquay Zoo enjoying fresh broad bean pods, summer 2010. (Picture: Jackie Noble, Newquay Zoo)

LDV Gnome guard in his usual allotment spot in our wartime 'Dig For Victory' garden Summer at Newquay Zoo, 2010

LDV Gnome guard in his usual allotment spot in our wartime ‘Dig For Victory’ garden Summer at Newquay Zoo, 2010 before he went wandering around the UK and Europe …

 

Our Gnome Guard on his planned travels, appearing in our wartime display at Trelawney Garden Centre's wildlife gardening weekend, August 2010

Our Gnome Guard on his planned travels, appearing in our wartime display at Trelawney Garden Centre’s wildlife gardening weekend, August 2010

Over the last few years we have been doing schools workshops based on everyday  life in WW2 and what happened in zoos, which you can read about here.

Time for a cup of tea and a chat,  outside our wartime garden exhibition.  Trengwainton 2014. Image - WWZG.

Time for a cup of tea and a chat, outside our wartime garden exhibition. Trengwainton 2014. Image – WWZG.

One of the highlights of the past 5 years has been chatting to visitors of all ages (and notably once a group of unclad naturists) ‘over the garden fence’ at  Newquay Zoo about everything from memories of food rationing to sustainability, allotments or schools gardens or meeting many people at other events from garden centres, garden societies and 1940s events at places like the National Trust’s Trengwainton Gardens.

Mr Bloom visits the World War Zoo Dig For Victory wartime garden at Newquay Zoo, 2 April 2012 with project manager Mark Norris.

“Who’s That?” Our most famous garden visitor Cbeebies Mr Bloom visits the World War Zoo Dig For Victory wartime garden at Newquay Zoo, 2 April 2012 with project manager Mark Norris. His photo still on display in the garden still gets lots of delighted recognition from younger zoo visitors!

 

This World War Zoo Gardens Blog has now reached over 60,000 visitors worldwide who may never even have visited Newquay Zoo, along with Twitter followers @worldwarzoo1939 as well.

Clays Fertiliser advert from 1940s Britain

Clays Fertiliser advert from 1940s Britain

Thinking about food waste, allotment gardening and energy saving have remained as much a part of modern life (especially throughout the recent recession) as it was in the 1940s. Soon we’ll be blogposting about the current EAZA European Zoo Pole to Pole campaign and ‘Pull the Plug’, looking at how people in the 1940s were encouraged to save energy for the war effort, rather than to tackle climate change and protect polar wildlife.

A small memorial at Newquay Zoo to the many zoo keepers, families and visitors worldwide who have been affected by wartime since 1914 (Image: World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo)

A small memorial at Newquay Zoo to the many zoo keepers, families and visitors worldwide who have been affected by wartime since 1914 (Image: World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo)

It’s been a great group or team effort from many staff and volunteers at Newquay Zoo to get the allotment site established, maintain it when I was off ill for a year in 2012 (throughout a very wet summer) and  fantastic to establish partnerships with a wide range of people from our wartime sister zoo Paignton Zoo to London Zoo, Kew Gardens and many others. Some of these zoo and gardens staff have now retired or moved on, but as Richard one of our previous gardeners in a past  zoo newsletter wrote: “Every gardener has added something to the Zoo, developing the gardens over time. It feels like a team project where you are working with people you have never met”.

Site staff and keepers lend a hand with sandbags - Lisa from zoo site staff helping out with the World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo, December 2009

Site staff and keepers lend a hand with sandbags – Lisa from zoo site staff helping out with the World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo, December 2009

Adrian our Operations manager waylaid to lend a hand with the sand(bags) for the World war Zoo keeper's garden! Newquay Zoo, Dec. 2009

Even the odd zoo manager as in wartime would have to pick up a (Cornish!) shovel and get stuck in filling sandbags – Adrian our now retired Operations manager waylaid to lend a hand with the sand(bags) for the World war Zoo keeper’s garden! Newquay Zoo, Dec. 2009. This rocky slope originally an aviary for the Cornish chough became eventually a coati house before its rebuilding in 2010 as the Madagascar Aviary.

 

Scroll back through past blog posts for some of the highlights of our project. Happy reading!

Thanks to everyone for their support, and we look forward to another 5 years of gardening, research and digging around to unearth more fascinating stories of life in wartime zoos and botanic gardens.

Happy gardening!

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo,  August 2014

 

Remembering WW1 in zoos and gardens

August 3, 2014

Although I have spent  the last 5 years as part of the World War Zoo Gardens project at Newquay Zoo researching WW2 and how it created shortages and other challenges for zoos and botanic gardens, I have frequently been asked recently about the effects of WW1 in light of the www.1914.org centenary events now underway.

Here is a summary of our recent WW1 related blog posts that you might find of interest.

William Dexter, ZSL London Zoo keeper killed in WW1  (Photo: Courtesy of Nova Jones, digital clean up Adrian Taylor ZSL)

William Dexter, ZSL London Zoo keeper killed in WW1
(Photo: Courtesy of Nova Jones, digital clean up Adrian Taylor ZSL)

1. The Lost Zoo Keepers and Gardeners of London Zoo WW1

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/remembering-lost-wartime-staff-of-zsl-london-zoo-in-ww1/

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/london-zoos-war-memorial-recent-pictures/

London Zoo plans a WW1 centenary exhibition http://www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo/whats-on/the-zoo-at-war

and also a Little Creatures family celebration of regimental mascot Winnipeg or the original Winnie the Pooh being deposited at London Zoo 100 years ago when its Canadian Regiment went off to France.

http://www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo/whats-on/little-creatures-family-festival

and material from Mary Evans picture archive:

http://blog.maryevans.com/2013/04/london-zoo-at-war.html

2. Lost Zoo Keepers from Belle Vue Zoo Manchester (and London Zoo) WW1 – updated from 2010/11

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/%e2%80%9clost-in-the-garden-of-the-sons-of-time%e2%80%9d-remembering-the-fallen-zoo-staff-from-wartime-zoos-onremembrance-sunday-and-armistice-day-2010-in-the-wartime-zoo-gardens/

3. National Allotment Week, 4- 10 August 2014 and other ww1 centenary garden links

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/national-allotment-week-4-10-august-2014-in-the-world-war-zoo-garden-at-newquay-zoo/

4. Port Lympne Zoo / Reserve centenary WW1 / WW2 and other WW1 centenary garden links

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/world-war-zoo-gardens-project-spreads-to-other-zoos-and-gardens/

5. Lost Ecologists of WW1 – Linnean Society casualties

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/lost-fellows-the-linnean-society-roll-of-honour-1914-1918/

6. Lost Ecologists of WW1 – The British Ecological Society

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/lost-ecologists-of-the-first-world-war/

7. Mr. Mottershead, WW1 and WW2 at Chester Zoo – “Our Zoo”

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/zoo-do-you-think-you-are-tracking-down-family-history-and-wartime-concrete-at-chester-zoo/

8. Animals in wartime WW1

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/war-horse-war-elephant-war-ferret-the-wartime-role-of-zoo-and-other-animals-from-tommys-ark-and-the-world-war-zoo-gardens/

 

A small selection of WW1 items on display alongside our usual WW2 material, display case, Tropical House, Newquay Zoo.

A small selection of WW1 items on display alongside our usual WW2 material, display case, Tropical House, Newquay Zoo.

Botanic Gardens in wartime WW1

Many Botanic Gardens had a zoological section and similar challenges to zoos in wartime. I wrote a free downloadable  article about this for the BGEN gardens website:  http://bgen.org.uk/resources/free/using-the-garden-ghosts-of-your-wartime-or-historic-past/

1. The Lost Gardeners of Kew Gardens in WW1

Kew has many activities such as tours and an exhibition planned. I will be giving a talk at Kew on 20 October as part of their Kew Guild / KMIS evening talks.

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/such-is-the-price-of-empire-the-lost-gardeners-of-kew-in-the-first-world-war/

2. Lost “Gardeners and Men” WW1 poem from Kew Guild Journal

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/for-king-and-country-fought-and-died-gardeners-and-men/

3. Lost Gardeners – 1914 / 1915 Part 1

A brief  look through the garden journals of the time at the effects of war on gardens, estates and gardeners

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/lost-gardeners-of-world-war-one-1914-and-1915/

4. Garden writer Herbert Cowley, Kew Gardens  and WW1  Dig for Victory schemes

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/dig-for-victory-1917-world-war-1-style-the-lost-gardeners-of-kew-and-the-fortunate-herbert-cowley-1885-1967/

5. Finally, a brief look at the home front, rationing, food and farming  in one Cornish village in WW1

http://devoranwarmemorial.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/life-in-wartime-devoran-in-world-war-1/

 

Watch this space for further WW1  blogposts:

Several more blog posts are in preparation in my spare zoo and home time for 2014 and 2015:

  • The Whitley family in WW1 and Ww2 who set up our sister zoo Paignton Zoo
  • Gardeners in 1916 onwards using the garden journals now online
  • WW1 in adverts from original magazines
  • Energy saving and salvage initiatives in Ww1 , WW2 and the EAZA Pole to Pole “pull the plug” campaign 2014
  • London Zoo in WW1 and the ‘first Blitz’ of WW1
  • Dublin Zoo,  Irish zoos and gardens in WW1
  • Updates on the Belle Vue Zoo and London Zoo memorial casualty research.

“At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them …”, words from the 1914 poem by Lawrence Binyon familiar from many Remembrance services and written on cliffs at Polzeath (or Portreath – some controversy on this!) near Newquay Zoo, home of the World War Zoo Gardens Project:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cornwall/3112708.stm     BBC Cornwall page and plaque pictures.

We would be interested to hear of other gardens and zoo related stories from WW1 – contact us via the comments page!

Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo – World War Zoo Gardens project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digging into Bristol Zoo’s wartime garden past – mystery photograph solved!

July 31, 2014

The mystery garden supplying Bristol Zoo Gardens pictured in The Bristol Post Jan 1946 (Source: Bristol Zoo gardens archive / Bristol Post)

The mystery garden supplying Bristol Zoo Gardens pictured in The Bristol Post Jan 1946 (Source: Bristol Zoo gardens archive / Bristol Post)

I was recently sent an intriguing photo of ‘Jan 1946 Dig for Victory’ or ‘Dig for Plenty’ efforts somewhere in Bristol, connected to feeding the animals, staff and visitors of Bristol Zoo. It had turned up towards the end of  the writing of Alan Ashby, Tim Brown and Christoph Schwitzer’s ‘s excellent recent history of Bristol Zoo gardens as part of their 175th birthday anniversary (available through their webshop.)

The photograph had come to light or not been included as the location was unattributed until after the book was published, despite work by PhD students Sarah-Joy Maddeaus, Andy Flack and John Partridge on the Bristol Zoo staff. This was the case with several other wartime episodes that Alan and I had uncovered after publication.

Did I know where this productive garden was?

Could I find out with help from appeals through Bristol Newspapers, Bristol museums or zoo archives?

The answer turned out to be surprisingly close to home, Alan told me on his recent visit to Newquay Zoo’s wartime garden   with another fellow Bartlett Society for Zoo History research member Rob Vaughan. We were busy looking at Newquay Zoo’s enclosures, old and very new like the new Macaw Flight aviary.

Alan accidentally answered his own question on a trip to Wild Place, Bristol Zoo’s long established outstation on the old Hollyhill Wood or  ‘Hollywood Towers’ estate near Cribbs Causeway motorway interchange at Bristol, which recently opened to the public in summer 2013. (See their Wild Place  facebook page too). You can read about its garden history and tower here and about its development on its Wild Place Wikipedia page

68 years later, the other side of the garden wall today, Wild Place, Bristol, 2014  (Picture: Alan Ashby)

68 years later, the other side of the garden wall today, Wild Place, Bristol, 2014 (Picture: Alan Ashby)

 

Even more surprisingly, Alan found nearby another familiar structure from wartime gardens, what looked like a tool shed but originally the garden’s air raid shelter! The building with the chimneys over the garden wall  is still standing, another object that helped Alan Ashby  place the picture.

What could well be the original air raid shelter, now Wild Place, Bristol, 2014 (Photo: Alan Ashby)

The original air raid shelter, Sanctuary Garden,now Wild Place, Bristol, 2014 (Photo: Alan Ashby)

This shelter in their Sanctuary Garden is also pictured on their Wild Place project Facebook page entry for Remembrance Sunday last year 2013.

Wild Place project Facebook photos Sanctuary Garden wartime shelters, covered in edible nasturtiums!

Wild Place project Facebook photos Sanctuary Garden wartime shelters, covered in edible nasturtiums!

There is a brief history of the Hollywood Tower estate (which survived intact into the 1950s/60s) on the Parks and Gardens site with information from the Avon Gardens Trust.

Bristol Zoo Gardens as its name suggests is famous for its gardens, lawns to lounge on and floral displays, transformed in wartime into vegetable beds much to the dismay of its gardens staff. This tradition lives on with gardens used to transform old enclosures and enrich animal lives, much as we do with plants at Newquay Zoo. The Bristol Zoo Edible Garden is one such very successful gardens project at Bristol Zoo set up by Head Gardener Eddie Mole and team.

I love walled gardens and this walled garden reminds me very strongly of the garden restoration at Heligan in Cornwall but also the wartime garden restoration at Trengwainton (National Trust) Garden in Cornwall, where we took our World War Zoo Gardens travelling display along to their wartime garden recent 40s event, pictured here.

Another interesting wartime zoo garden mystery solved and another interesting set of gardens and amazing animals to go and see!

More on Bristol Zoo’s archives, recent 175th anniversary and history including WW1 pictures here along with interviews with John Partridge some fabulous film footage of Bristol Zoos’s gardens including the gardens with uniformed visitors  in the 1940s (with elephants!)

Happy National Allotment Week 4 – 10 August 2014 - see also our previous post on this event.

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo

National Allotment Week 4 – 10 August 2014 in the World War Zoo Garden at Newquay Zoo

July 30, 2014

WW1 soldiers gardening

WW1 soldiers gardening

As an unlikely part of the National Allotment Society NSALG, we at Newquay Zoo like to mark the National Allotment Week in some way on our recreated wartime zoo keepers allotment.

Although the focus of our recreated wartime zoo keeper’s allotment is WW2’s Dig For Victory campaign, we have increasingly been asked about zoos, allotments and gardens in World War 1. part of the focus of Allotment Week this year is the WW1 heritage being commemorated around Britain http://www.1914.org

“The week is also an opportune time to highlight the need to strengthen the protection for our remaining allotment sites and emphasise the benefits allotments bring to people and the environment. The 4 August 1914 saw Britain declare war on Germany and although allotments had existed in the UK from the 18th century, the ensuing food shortages lead to the creation of the local authority allotments that we recognise today. Their numbers have waned considerably but 100 years later working an allotment plot remains a popular pastime. This contribution that allotments make to the health and well-being of people and the quality of the environment is generally acknowledged and has been endorsed by many studies but there is much competition for land in our crowded urban environments and, although protected by legislation, allotments are vulnerable …” (NSALG website)

Allotments on the railway side, South West, WW1 (unnamed magazine photo in author's collection)

Allotments on the railway side, South West, WW1 (unnamed magazine photo in author’s collection)

 

Over the next week, I’ll be changing our small permanent display case in the Tropical House at Newquay Zoo, adding some WW1 material amongst the WW2 Dig for Victory material (such as WW1 ration books, recipe books and postcards). Along with WW1 medals and stories of Keepers in WW1, this will show how the experiences of WW1 prepared zoo and gardens staff for surviving WW2 – what was similar and what was very different?

Display case of wartime memorabilia, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo

More on zoos, gardeners and gardens and WW1 commemoration

We have previously written about the WW1 losses at ZSL London Zoo Regent’s Park, who are planning their own WW1 exhibition. For example one of their zoo gardeners Robert Jones was killed, alongside many keepers and other staff:

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/remembering-lost-wartime-staff-of-zsl-london-zoo-in-ww1/

and at the now closed  Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester:

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/remembering-zoo-staff-killed-on-active-service-poppy-days-are-here-again-in-the-world-war-zoo-gardens-at-newquay-zoo/

 

Spades as Trumps - allotments and an early version of Dig For Victory WW1, The War Budget, 1917

Spades as Trumps – allotments and an early version of Dig For Victory WW1, The War Budget, 1917

 

As we begin the WW1 centenary, many historic houses and gardens are marking their WW1 contribution. Some of these houses eventually became or diversified into becoming zoos and safari parks with the decline, demolition or diversification of the country house postwar after WW1 / WW2. Port Lympne was one such estate, Woburn, Knowsley and Longleat amongst others. Along with Heligan, other places such as Woburn Abbey are celebrating their contribution.

I wrote an article about this last year for the BGEN botanic gardens website on their free resources, all about using your garden or site heritage.

You can also read more about Kew Gardens in WW1 and garden editor Herbert Cowley’s wartime career on our past blog posts.

The UK National Inventory of War Memorials has an excellent project blog post by Frances Casey on Lost Gardeners of World War 1 with many interesting links to zoo and gardens staff memorials.

Exhibitions  on Gardeners in WW1 and at Kew Gardens with wartime garden tours and exhibitions. I look forward to talking on 20th October at Kew Gardens about our wartime gardens research at the KMIS talks – see www.kew.org and www.kewguild.org.uk for its events and 2014/15 talks list.

I’ve also been researching a local Cornish village war memorial and writing recently about food and farming in WW1 Britain.

Celebration bunting, cabbages and mascot Blitz Bear out in the World War Zoo gardens at Newquay Zoo, Summer 2011

Celebration bunting, cabbages and mascot Blitz Bear out in the World War Zoo gardens at Newquay Zoo, Summer 2011

The lights will be going out all over Europe on the evening of the 4th August http://www.1418now.org.uk/lights-out as part of wider 1914 centenary activities, see http://www.1914.org events.

Happy gardening, and happy National Allotment Week 4 to 10 August!

More pictures of our allotment in summer soon, resplendent with artichokes and broad beans before the animals get to eat them!

Mark Norris, World War Zoo

World War Zoo Gardens project spreads to other zoos and gardens

July 23, 2014

I was very pleased to see that our World War Zoo Gardens idea of celebrating and commemorating your site’s history and the role of zoos and animals in wartime has spread to other collections, just as I had hoped it would. I wrote an article about this last year for the BGEN botanic gardens website.

Whipsnade elephants ploughing for victory (Animal and Zoo magazine Sept.1940)

Whipsnade elephants ploughing for victory (Animal and Zoo magazine Sept.1940)

World War Zoo  – Port Lympne Reserve, Kent  

25 Aug 2014 – 31 Aug 2014

“Mark 100 years since the outbreak of World War I, 75 years since World War II and 70 years since D-Day by celebrating the role of animals throughout the war at Port Lympne.

Enjoy a special week of events and talks at Port Lympne as the park looks back on the extraordinary and untold stories of the animals during the war.  From pigeons carrying top secret messages to elephants helping local farmers in country void of horses, discover how animals helped to change the course of history.

Enjoy special talks at Port Lympne about how animals were cared for and look after during the war.  Learn about The Dickin Medal, a special award that honoured the vital work of animals during war from pigeons to horses serving on the frontline!

Port Lympne has enjoyed a long and rich military history since its construction in 1912 by the Rt Hon Sir Phillip Sassoon. He was Field Marshall Haig’s personal secretary during WW1 and went on to be an avid aviator at the nearby Lympne air field.  With Sassoon’s death in 1939 the MOD took charge of Port Lympne and RAF officers were stationed there from RAF Lympne and RAF Westenhanger. The mansion was now in the front line of the Battle of Britain. With special re-enactors at Port Lympne, you will be able to see how the soldiers and airmen involved in these events looked and lived …and you may even discover Port Lympne’s top secret plot to kidnap Adolf Hitler!”

See more at: http://www.visitkent.co.uk/events/171084/#sthash.hX05K8L4.dpuf  and World War Zoo Port Lympne Events

It’s a nice early summer birthday present for us, as this is what I was hoping would happen when I launched the World War Zoo gardens project in August 2009 six years ago. The WW1 centenary has brought us into contact with many different groups from London Zoo to Kew Gardens, small botanic gardens, re-enactors, garden history societies  and many others.

Over the next week, I’ll be changing our permanent display case over to some WW1 material amongst the WW2 Dig for Victory material, to show how the experiences of WW1 prepared zoo and gardens staff for surviving WW2 – what was similar and what was very different?

Display case of wartime memorabilia, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo

More on zoos, gardeners and gardens and WW1 commemoration

As we begin the WW1 centenary, many historic houses and gardens are marking their WW1 contribution. Some of these houses eventually became or diversified into becoming zoos and safari parks with the decline, demolition or diversification of the country house postwar after WW1 / WW2. Port Lympne was one such estate, Woburn, Knowsley and Longleat amongst others. Along with Heligan, other places such as Woburn Abbey are celebrating their contribution.

You can also read more about Kew Gardens in WW1 and garden editor Herbert Cowley’s wartime career on our past blog posts.

The UK National Inventory of War Memorials has an excellent project blog post by Frances Casey on Lost Gardeners of World War 1 with many interesting links.

Exhibitions at the Museum of Garden History on Gardeners in WW1 and at Kew Gardens with wartime garden tours and exhibitions.

I look forward to talking on 20th October at Kew Gardens about our wartime gardens research at the KMIS talks – see www.kew.org and www.kewguild.org.uk for its events and 2014/15 talks list.

I’ve also been researching a local Cornish village war memorial and writing recently about food and farming in WW1 Britain.

Celebration bunting, cabbages and mascot Blitz Bear out in the World War Zoo gardens at Newquay Zoo, Summer 2011

Celebration bunting, cabbages and mascot Blitz Bear out in the World War Zoo gardens at Newquay Zoo, Summer 2011

Happy gardening, and happy National Allotment Week 4 to 10 August!

Mark Norris, World War Zoo

 

Lost Gardeners of World War One – 1914 and 1915

June 29, 2014

“It is to be hoped that we shall not have too many deaths to record among horticulturalists …”

wrote  a Versailles nurseryman in the October 24th 1914 edition of the Gardener’s Chronicle. It was to prove a false hope.

Reading through First World war period copies of The Garden, My Garden Illustrated and The Gardener’s Chronicle, it is possible to get some idea of the effects of the “Great War” on gardeners, their families and the parks or estates where many of them worked.

I’ve been researching since 2009 for the World War Zoo Gardens project based at Newquay Zoo how zoos and botanic gardens survived wartime and increasingly we’re asked about what happened in WW1.

The Garden 1917, edited by Herbert Cowley.

The Garden 1917, edited by Herbert Cowley.

The Gardener’s Chronicle is now available online in several places including at the Biodiversity Heritage Library www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/83840# Library online at the University of Amherst and other websites. The Garden Illustrated edited by Kew gardener and injured soldier Herbert Cowley is also available online at this and other sites.

In August 1914 within weeks of war being declared, already some estate owners had published or publicised the patriotic response of their gardens staff; Welbeck Abbey was one such estate which soon  became a military hospital and later army staff college. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, assassinated at Sarajevo in June 1914, one of the flashpoint triggers of WW1, was injured in a hunting accident there before the war.

At Rotherfield Park, Hampshire, Head Gardener Wilmot H. Yates joined the National Reserve, one of whose tasks was to guard Prisoners of War (Gardener’s Chronicle, 19 September 1914). POWs by the end of the war would be working on the land to replace the men killed or on active service.

G.B.Blackwell of Woodgreen Park Estate, Cheshunt, Herts proudly sent a photograph of 6 unnamed Woodgreen Park gardeners who had enlisted.

J.L. Veitch of the famous Nursery family was swiftly gazetted a Captain in the 7th Cyclists’ Battalion, Devonshire Regiment and saw action in France by Christmas 1914. He was one of many Kew Gardens trained men to be killed later in the war on 21 May 1918, an obituary being posted in the Gardener’s Chronicle on 1 June 1918. Later in the same month in 1914, 40 Kew Gardens men were noted as volunteered (see our Kew WW1 blogpost).

Baron de Worms of Milton Park was noted as having “sent 6 servants” or estate staff, along with a former South African / Boer War veteran Head Gardener William Gent on the National Reserve (see above), who was also liable for call up.

Notable was also the sons of older nurserymen being called up and for the professional soldiers and reservists amongst them, quickly being killed in the early battles of the war. This loss of heirs “and sons” would have an ongoing effect on historic houses and estate gardens, as well as nursery businesses for many years after WW1. It was to be part of the death and decline of many such gardens.

One correspondent ‘A.C.’ in The Gardener’s Chronicle of September, 19th 1914 notes that some gardens staff were leaving their gardens posts not only to enlist but also to avoid “coercion on the part of employers is to be deprecated.”

 

WW1 soldiers gardening

WW1 soldiers gardening

War, Lord Derby and Knowsley
Interestingly for someone researching the effect of the war on zoos, Knowsley Hall (now home of Knowsley Safari Park) had extensive parkland and an exotic menagerie, once painted in Victorian times by Edward Lear. Many of its gardens staff joined up, supported by Knowsley’s owner the Earl of / Lord  Derby:

Gardeners respond to the Call
Eight young men from the fruit and plant departments of Knowsley [Park], the seat of the Earl of Derby, have volunteered or active service … Lord Derby will keep the places of the men open until the end of the war … Gardener’s Chronicle, 29 August 1914.

Lord Derby went on to set up the Derby Scheme to encourage more volunteers for the Army, but eventually conscription was introduced in 1916. Lord Derby served as Secretary of State for War from 1916 to 1918.

In the Second World War, parts of the grounds of Knowsley Park near Prescot were used as tank and army training. The craters were still visible when the Safari Park was created in 1971. There was also a No 49 SLG (Satellite Landing Ground) RAF Knowsley Park from May 1942 to November 1944, staffed by No. 37 and 48 MU Maintenance Units. Remnants of a P51 fighter were excavated from a crash site recently.

Knowsley Esate Prescot (now Safari Park) Tank Training 1940/1 IWM image collection English: The British Army in the United Kingdom 1939-45  Matilda II and Light Mk VI tanks of the Royal Tank Regiment on exercise in Knowsley Park, Prescot, near Liverpool, England, 25 July 1940. This training operation formed part of British preparations to repel the threatened German invasion of 1940.  Image source : IWM H2529/ Wikipedia

Tanks on the Lawn! Knowsley Estate Prescot (now Safari Park) IWM image collection The British Army in the United Kingdom 1939-45
Matilda II and Light Mk VI tanks of the Royal Tank Regiment on exercise in Knowsley Park, Prescot, near Liverpool, England, 25 July 1940. This training operation formed part of British preparations to repel the threatened German invasion of 1940. Image source : IWM H2529/ Wikipedia

‘Disruption of the Horticultural Trades’ 1914
The war beginning in the August 1914 harvest season caused much disruption to the horticultural trades. In The Gardener’s Chronicle of the 19th September 1914, boy scouts are noted as harvesting flower and vegetable seeds – in Germany!

Show and exhibition halls became drill halls, being quickly requisitioned for mobilisation and the wave of eager recruits enlisting as volunteers. Many flower and produce shows were cancelled, including wartime Chelsea Flower Shows, the proceeds of others gone towards “the relief of distress caused by the war“. Other nurseries offloaded stocks of flowers and produce patritiocally to hospitals.

The Gardener’s Chronicle featured news in French and Belgian for the many refugee Belgians who had fled to Britain to escape the fighting. Very quickly French and Belgian horticulture was affected as fighting swept through the countryside, destroying vulnerable areas like glasshouses and nurseries. News of casualties of notable gardens and gardeners were carried in these journals and a Societe Francaise d’ Horticulture de Londres continued to meet on the 1st Saturday of each month in London from 1915. The equivalent publication in France Le Jardin shut down at the start of the war by October 1914 as so many of its staff had been mobilised into the war effort.

Much the same happened in Britain in some nurseries and businesses like the Cheddar Nursery of George B. Mallett, who had enlisted in the Bristol Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment when the rest of his eligible staff had enlisted; his nursery business was ‘suspended’ (Gardener’s Chronicle, 26 September 1914).

WW1, Ireland and The Easter Rising 1916

George B Mallett appears to have survived the war, unlike Alan Livingstone Ramsay, a partner in his father’s Charles Ramsay & Son, Royal Nurseries, Ballsbridge Road, Dublin:

“volunteered for service on the outbreak of war and has been gazetted a lieutenancy in the Royal Irish Regiment. He left Dublin on Christmas Eve 1914 to join the second battalion of his Regiment at the front and was last heard of at Rouen” (GC, 9 January 1915).

Although he served in France, Ramsay was to die aged 26 on active service on 24 April 1916 fighting in his home town of Dublin. He was the first Dublin-born British Army officer to die fighting the Irish rebels in the Easter Rising for Irish independence of 1916. According to his CWGC records, he is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery in Dublin. Catherine de Courcy’s excellent history of Dublin Zoo describes more about how the city and its Anglo-Irish institutions like the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland’s zoo fared during the uprising. You can read more about Ramsay and his family on a JSTor archive article from the Dublin Historical Record. 

There is more about how WW1 affected Anglo -Irish estates and gardeners in the WW1 Kew gardens blog post entries about Charlie Beswick and C.F. Ball, along with my ‘garden ghosts’ article on the BGEN website, mentioning lost gardeners from Glasnevin, Kilmacurragh and Fota Gardens in Ireland.  

Other gardens affected in 1914 / 1915

Glasgow Parks and Gardens Department records 5 young gardeners gone from the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. Overall 29 of its men volunteered for the Kitchener’s New Army of volunteers. Kew Gardens, Birmingham and RBGE Edinburgh Botanic Gardens would also lose staff to the war.
5 staff and 3 students had left Wisley to enlist (Gardener’s Chronicle, 12 September 1914) – a memorial exists for their fallen staff.

Messrs. Sanders and Sons notes from their orchid houses 12 out of 27 staff joined up including 3 Belgians, leaving behind a staff of “nearly all married and elderly” whilst at Chivers & Sons 40 joined the colours, many Reservists or Kitchener volunteers (Gardener’s Chronicle, 5 September 1914). Other presumably smaller nurseries note single staff leaving such as P.C. Bridge, the travelling salesman from J. Cheal’s Lowfield Nursery joining the 25th County of London Regiment Motorcycle Section (GC, 12 September 1914).

Bridge appears to have survived the war, unlike another Cheal’s man, Private Richard Hubert Holton, the son of Richard Henry and Sarah Holton,

“foreman at J. Cheal and Son’s Nursery, Crawley, Sussex to whom the deepest sympathy will be extended by his numerous friends in the horticultural world …” (Gardener’s Chronicle, 31 August 1918)

Private R.H. Holton, 201034, 1/4 Royal Sussex Regiment died in the closing months of the war aged 25, on 29 July 1918 and is buried at Jonchery-sur-Vesle British Cemetery, Marne, France.

Jonchery sur Vesle cemetery, France a post war concentration cemetery where Holton lies buried. Image CWGC website

Jonchery sur Vesle cemetery, France a post war concentration cemetery where Holton lies buried. Image CWGC website

Sutton’s Seeds and WW1

9 staff went from Suttons Seeds of Reading into the Territorial Force, along with several of Arthur Sutton’s sons, Eric and Noel quickly gazetted as officers. Arthur Sutton established a rifle range for his staff at Bucklebury Place.

Sutton was to lose most of his sons in the war, “of his five sons who have joined HM Forces, four have laid down their lives for their country” (Gardener’s Chronicle, 6 April 1918). His other son Leonard Noel Sutton was badly wounded. A fuller account of this is given in Richard Van Emden’s recent book, The Quick and the Dead. A memorial (UKNIWM#1940) survives to his sons and the staff of the Royal Seed Establishment (Sutton’s), listing 23 names, worthy of a separate blog post in future.

Several articles in 1914/5 and even adverts by Clay’s Fertiliser notes the bizarre development of trials by Sutton’s of using radioactive uranium to encourage lettuce growth! This substance would be put to an even deadlier and less optimistically constructive use at the end of the next war.

1916 onwards

After the Somme battles beginning 1st July 1916, I thought that long casualty lists would appear in the pages of Gardener’s  Chronicle and other journals in the weeks after July 1916 as  many of  Kitchener’s 1914 and 1915 volunteers, Derby scheme men and Pals battalions saw action. However surprisingly few obituary entries appear in the second half of 1916 and into 1917, although I’m sure the deaths and wounds of many ordinary gardens staff went unnoticed in the garden journals. We shall describe the effect on gardeners and the horticultural world after 1915 in the second part of this article in a future blog post.

Gardening, allotments and food production was soon to change gear with the unrestricted U-Boat warfare of 1917, loss of men, disastrous harvests and the spread of patriotic allotments along with food rationing in 1917 and 1918. Herbert Cowley’s editorials in The Garden Illustrated increasingly reflected this.

ww1 ration book

ww1 ration book

Gardening was also suggested as horticultural therapy during and after the war for recovering physical and mental health of returning veterans, something that has reoccurred recently through Gardening Leave with links to Chelsea Physic Garden and Royal Chelsea Hospital and other groups, again another blog story here for the future, illustrated with contemporary WW1 gardening journal links.

 

Inside a ww1 ration book

Inside a ww1 ration book

More on gardeners and gardens in WW1
You can also read more about Kew Gardens in WW1 and garden editor Herbert Cowley’s wartime career on our past blog posts.
The UK National Inventory of War Memorials has an excellent project blog post by Frances Casey on Lost Gardeners of World War 1 with many interesting links.

As we begin the WW1 centenary, many historic houses and gardens are marking their WW1 contribution. Some of these houses eventually became or diversified into becoming zoos and safari parks with the decline of the country house postwar after WW1 / WW2. Along with Heligan, other places such as Woburn Abbey are celebrating their contribution.

Exhibitions at the Museum of Garden History on Gardeners in WW1 and at Kew Gardens with wartime garden tours and exhibitions.

I look forward to talking in October at Kew Gardens about our wartime gardens  research at the KMIS talks -see www.kew.org and www.kewguild.org.uk for its events and 2014/15 talks list.

I’ve also been researching a local Cornish village war memorial and writing recently  about food and farming in WW1 Britain.

Meanwhile its forward in time and back out onto the WW2 Dig For Victory allotment at Newquay Zoo to tidy up after some delicious and much needed days of rain and clearing all that has bolted in the recent hot weather, some to the animals at the Zoo, some to the compost heap.

Happy gardening,

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens Project , Newquay Zoo, 29 June 2014

D-Day and a curious 1944 matchbox diary

June 1, 2014

Amongst my World War Zoo Gardens project collection of original civilian diaries and letters from WW2 is a recently acquired  1944 HMSO No. S3 Diary, its military date stamp [Jan?] 1944, crossed out with childish writing: “Matchbox Album”

Front cover of Bernie Walker's curious 1944 diary. Image: Mark Norris, WWZG

Front cover of Bernie Walker’s curious 1944 diary. Image: Mark Norris, WWZG

Inside along with adverts to buy 3% Defence Bonds from the National Savings Committee is the pencilled inscription S/Sgt Bernie Walker US Army for ‘Sammy‘, amidst lists in childish writing [by Sammy?] of countries where the matchbooks and matchbox covers pasted on the pages have come from.

'For Sammy' title page 1944 diary. Image: Mark Norris, WWZG

‘For Sammy’ title page 1944 diary. Image: Mark Norris, WWZG

January to March 1944 pages are covered with matchbox covers some of which have overprinted “War Quality 2 Pices” on Indian made matchboxes, a few possibly postwar ones (marked 1947) from almost every country in Europe and many countries of the Empire (India, Burma, S.Africa) as well as Canada, USA, Japan, Lebanon and others.

Wartime propaganda matchbooks  & matchbox labels, 1944 diary WWZG collection  Image:  Mark Norris, WWZG.

Wartime propaganda matchbooks & matchbox labels, 1944 diary WWZG collection Image: Mark Norris, WWZG.

The matchbox labels themselves are interesting as wartime propaganda, with lots of patriotic slogans:
– “Waste in wartime is a crime”
– “Save food, save metal, save bags, save paper”
– “Save coal gas electricity paraffin, save fuel for battle!”
– a football picture with the words “Back up your side, and help the war effort”.
– “Don’t talk about your work, get on with it!”
– “We must win! Buy more war bonds stamps” and other similar
– “Invest in America, Buy War Bonds” (Maryland USA match co.) and “Keep ‘Em Flying Buy War Bonds” (Jersey USA match co.)
– Canadian YMCA War Services Along with a big “V for Victory” (Canadian matches)

More wartime propaganda matchbooks  & matchbox labels, 1944 diary WWZG collection  Image:  Mark Norris, WWZG.

More wartime propaganda matchbooks & matchbox labels, 1944 diary WWZG collection Image: Mark Norris, WWZG.

A colourful childhood collection given to & continued by Sammy?

However on the first blank pages in late March 1944 is written:

Wednesday 29 March 1944: Surgeon Commander Visit to Unit with General Bradley and General Gerhardt and [?] HQ.

1944 diary WWZG collection  Image:  Mark Norris, WWZG.

1944 diary WWZG collection Image: Mark Norris, WWZG.

Charles Gerhardt (June 6, 1895 – October 9, 1976) commanded the U.S. 29th Infantry Division from 1943 throughout its training in Cornwall and Devon and D-Day until the end of World War 2.  Omar Bradley was chosen to command the US First Army throughout D-Day. I’m not sure who the Surgeon Commander was, it may well have been US Army Surgeon General Norman Kirk

More wartime propaganda matchbooks  & matchbox labels, 1944 diary WWZG collection  Image:  Mark Norris, WWZG.

May 1944 diary entries, Walker diary WWZG collection Image: Mark Norris, WWZG.

Monday 24 April 1944: Intensive Training Category B Exercise (Amphibious) (B)

Ditto for Tuesday 25 to Thursday 27 April 1944.

Friday 28 April 1944 – Training Live Category A ocean and beach Assault (A)
Enemy shipping in Area (U/T) some units engaged. Some of our boats lost.

Saturday 29 April 1944: All information heavily censored and restricted.

The following first week of May the diary is ruled across and the words “Censored” written in, no other entries recorded throughout the rest of May. It is interesting to see contemporary references to Exercise Tiger, where hundreds of US servicemen were lost off Slapton Sands in Devon on 28/29 April 1944.

Friday 2 June 1944: large movement of forces and equipment

Saturday 3 June 1944: ditto

Sunday 4 June 1944: boarding for Exercise Category A

Monday 5 June 1944: En boarding for Exercise. Weather heavy swell / Storm

More wartime propaganda matchbooks  & matchbox labels, 1944 diary WWZG collection  Image:  Mark Norris, WWZG.

More wartime propaganda matchbooks & matchbox labels, 1944 diary WWZG collection Image: Mark Norris, WWZG.

No further entries are recorded for the day after, 6th June 1944, which was of course D-Day.

There are only a couple more scrawled entries:

Tuesday 18 July 1944:  St Lo France Falls.

Thursday 26 August 1944:  Brest France Offensive

Monday 18 September 1944:  Brest France Falls

Thursday 7 December 1944 page lists River Elbe 4/19/45
River Roer 2/23/45. Bremen Germany 1945

The remaining pages are full of matchbox and matchbook covers, some from wartime, others from the 1950s (for example Festival of Britain 1951, Ascent of Everest 1953).

More Research Needed?

I’m not sure at the moment about the full story behind the diary / album and it demands more research. If you have any other thoughts or insights on this unusual diary, please contact me through the comments page.

  • Who was ‘Sammy’ for whom the diary or album was a gift?
  • Who was Staff Sergeant Bernie Walker who gave the album & presumably wrote the diary?
  • When and how were the matchbooks and matchboxes collected?

Looking at these places and dates, it seems likely that this album is from someone connected with the 29th Infantry Division. In May 1943 the division moved to the Devon–Cornwall peninsula and started conducting simulated attacks against fortified positions. At this time it was assigned to V Corps of the First United States Army. After training in England for two years, the 29th took part in D-Day or Operation Overlord, the landings in Normandy. The division was among the first wave of troops to the shore at Omaha Beach, suffering massive casualties in the process. It then advanced to Saint-Lô, and eventually through France and into Germany itself. All this tallies with entries in the diary.

Hopefully the 29th Infantry Division Historical Society or Regimental Association may have a record of Staff Sergeant Bernie Walker. There is an excellent autobiographical article by PFC Mills H. Hobbs in the recent 29th Association newsletter. The 29th have several related reenactment groups which you can find online, no doubt very busy with June 1944 commemorations.

Previous related blog posts
I have written several times about D-Day stories uncovered during World War Zoo Gardens research, and our Cornwall and Devon links, through Newquay Zoo, Paignton Zoo and Slapton Ley (all run by the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust).
http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2010/06/23/d-day-1944-and-the-disappearing-peacocks-and-ducks-of-wartime-paignton-zoo/

http://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/over-here-70th-anniversary-of-first-us-troops-arriving-in-britain/

TRebah and LC USA links 014

So this week on the 70th anniversary of the 6th June 1944 landings I will be thinking of S/Sgt Bernie Walker, among  the many V Corps / 29th division troops that embarked from our local Cornwall & Devon beaches, hards & harbours like Brixham & Trebah, those that trained at Slapton Sands, as well as the US IVth Infantry Division  GIs (the “Ivy Boys”) camped at Paignton Zoo not to mention some missing & delicious peacocks & wildfowl …

Over Here, then off to D-Day beaches 1944: wreath at Trebah Gardens war memorial, Cornwall

29 Lets Go –  Over Here, then off to D-Day beaches 1944: wreath at Trebah Gardens war memorial, Cornwall

 

I’ll also be thinking of one of my neighbours whose late father went in with the British 48th Royal Marine Commandos at Juno Beach (pictured in the IWM image B5218  & survived the Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944, but that’s another story for another blog post …

Thanks to Nigel & Tony at http://www.militarytrader.co.uk for their sourcing & assistance with the item.


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