Peggy Jane Skinner’s wartime schoolgirl June 1940 Diary

June 21, 2020

Dunkirk evacuation, the Fall of France and school exams, dances and sports day in the heat – Peggy Skinner’s wartime diary for  June 1940.

Peggy Skinner (1924-2011) is a 14-15 year old London schoolgirl at school in Scotland.

Read more at:


Believed to be Peggy Jane Skinner’s photograph in her 1943 diary. complete.


Background events of June 1940 and Peggy’s diary entries
10 June 1940 – Italy declares war on the Allies. German occupation of Norway complete.

Peggy’s dairy Tuesday 11th June 1940 – Nice early on today but very cloudy and dull later on. The news is very black now with I [Italy] against us, but we’ll win.

14 June 1940 – German troops enter Paris.

16 June 1940 – French leader Marshal Petain proposes Armistice with Germany.

17 June 1940 – Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech.

18 June 1940 – De Gaulle broadcasts his ‘Free French’ speech from exile in Britain, urging French forces and civilians to resist and fight on.

22 June 1940 – French Armistice with Germany, France split into German occupied North and ‘free’ South and colonies under the Vichy French puppet government.

Peggy’s Diary – Sunday 23rd June 1940 – Went to church and Bible Class, for walk with Isabel in the evening. Things that have [been] brightening up are now getting worse again after awful Fr[ench] Armistice with Ger[many].
Peggy’s Diary – Monday 24th June 1940 – I think Dad is going to have Mick and I evacuated overseas and I do not want to go. I do not think any of my friends are going.

Several Commonwealth and Allied countries such as Canada, Australia and America took overseas child evacuees under a Government scheme (CORB). This was shut down when a children’s evacuee scheme ship, SS City of Benares, was torpedoed by a German submarine with much loss of life amongst children and adults.

30 June 1940 Channel Islands invaded by Germany.

Heavy Allied shipping losses to U boat submarine warfare throughout June, 350,000 tonnes Allied shipping sunk.

Previous month May 1940 – Norway, Churchill, Dunkirk  etc

Next month July 1940 – the first bombs dropped in her area of Clydeside / Glasgow and many air raid warnings.

Blog posted 80 Years on by Mark Norris, ww2homefrontdiaries collection 19 June 1940.



Goodnight Sweetheart – Vera Lynn 103 RIP

June 19, 2020



A few Vera Lynn original photos or sheet music in my wartime collection, 2010

Saddened to hear that Vera Lynn passed away yesterday aged 103. She brought the nation together through difficult times in wartime and more recently in Coronavirus.

I grew up with her 1940s music from my late parents who were both wartime evacuees. Vera Lynn and my Mumalways merged and overlapped a little in my head. My Mum trained post war as a hairdresser and there are plenty of pictures of her with Vera Lynn style 40s and 50s hairdos.

Hearing Vera Lynn interviewed recently, she sounded a bit like my late Mum when speaking as they were born in similar areas of London, albeit twenty years apart. That was part of her wartime pin up  ‘girl next door’ appeal. she was sort of part of our family, as she was for many. I’m sure many people have their Vera Lynn memory or story to tell in the wake of her passing.

A few years ago before my Mum died, she told me a strange Vera Lynn related family story about her being a reluctant five year old child look-out for a gaggle  of scrumping evacuee children  including my uncle in wartime Ditchling. One of the gardens they raided was said to be Vera Lynn’s orchard.

This tiny story of rural crime made it into print in Duff Hart Davies’ book Our Land At War about the wartime countryside. I was very proud to show Mum a copy of the book with her memories in it.


As well as growing “Vera Lynn” sweet peas in the wartime zookeeper’s garden at Newquay Zoo in the past, I have a permanent reminder of Vera Lynn in my home garden – my small orchard of two container apple trees. These two small apple trees were bought in memory of my late Mum when she died a few years ago. They are already in fruit this year.

One is called June after my Mum, the other Vera …

Blog post by Mark Norris, World War Zoo gardens project, on furlough from Newquay Zoo, 18/19 June 2020. 

19 June 2020 – Newquay Zoo is currently closed to visitors due to Coronavirus restrictions since March 2020. I have been on furlough and not been near my wartime garden since mid March.  We look forward to reopening safely with social distancing this summer. In the mean time, as the zoo relies for its vital conservation work on its gate income and funding by visitors, you can find out how to support Newquay Zoo by donations. Thank you. 


Home Guard Founded 14 May 1940 – Zoo Home Guard Connections

May 14, 2020


My garden tribute to the Zoo wartime Home Guard, my hand-painted Gnome Guard with its LDV armband, Newquay Zoo 2009 onwards. It went missing and travelled around UK and European zoos sending postcards home in 2011 until its quiet return later that year.

On the evening of 14 May 1940 Secretary of State for War in Churchull’s new War Cabinet Mr. Anthony Eden appealed on BBC Radio for a home army of men aged 17 to 65 (below or above military service age or in reserved occupations, the 1940s ‘keyworkers’). They were asked to join the new Local Defence Volunteers or LDV. This name was later changed by Churchill to the now more familiar  Home Guard.

The Local Defence Volunteers was formed to deal with the new  threat of German paratroops who had helped in the swift seizure of key points in the Nazi Blitzkreig that was rolling across Europe.

Anthony Eden on the new ‘Paratroops’: “Their function is to seize important points, such as aerodromes, power stations, villages, railway junctions and telephone exchanges, either for the purpose of destroying them at once, or of holding them until the arrival of reinforcements. The purpose of the parachute attack is to disorganise and confuse, as a preparation for the landing of troops by aircraft.

A well trained, lightly armed force of ‘old soldiers’ who knew their local area and had prepared its defences would be of great use in delaying the German advance and defending key points until the more mobile regular Army arrived.

Anthony Eden: “Now is your opportunity. We want large numbers of such men in Great Britain who are British subjects, between the ages of 17 and 65, to come forward now and offer their service in order to make assurance doubly sure. The name of the new force which is now to be raised will be the “Local Defence Volunteers”. This name, Local Defence Volunteers, describes its duties in three words. It must be understood that this is, so to speak, a spare-time job, so there will be no need for any volunteer to abandon his present occupation.”

You can read the whole speech here at:

Zoos and botanic gardens were full of men of a certain age who had served in and survived the First World War. Many of these men,  now too old to serve, would join the Home Guard, adding another task to their already long working days covering for younger staff who had been called up. others served as Air Raid Wardens, dug for Victory and did Fire Watch.

Home Guard patrolled key areas overnight, in the evenings and throughout the day, freeing up the regular Army for Home Defence and service overseas.

At Manchester’s Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, the local firework and music spectaculars of massed battles had a cast of hundreds of locals. Their old out of date Schneider Rifles were donated or requisitioned by the local Home Guard for drilling and training.

At leafy Whipsnade Zoo, there was a whole Whipsnade Home Guard company of the Bedford Home Guard Regiment to guard the zoo fields and farmland that would be ideal glider and paratroop landing zones only an hour’s journey from London.

ZSL Library Blog “Captain W. P. B. Beal (The Zoo’s first Superintendent, made famous by his curries in the Gerald Durrell’s book, Beasts in my Belfry) became the leader of the local Home Guard and made use of the Zoo’s facilities as far as he could.”

“The Estates Office became the Headquarters, the Cloisters were transformed into an indoor firing range and an outside range was created at the bottom of the downs below Bison Hill. The Zoo witnessed groups of men marching around, initially with just broom handles and farm implements and later with proper weapons.”

The Whipsnade Home Guard is well described in Lucy Pendar’s lovely wartime childhood memoir Whipsnade My Africa:

Zoo staff in wartime from my sister zoo Paignton Zoo, Maidstone Zoo, Bristol Zoo, Edinburgh Zoo, Dudley Zoo and Chester Zoo would have had male staff who served in the Home Guard. Staff from Botanic Gardens like Kew, Edinburgh and Birmingham would also have served in the local Home Guard.

Remembering the Brave Men and Women of Britain’s Home Guard 14 May 1940 / 2020.

Blog posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens Project, Newquay Zoo, 14 May 2020.



VE Day 75

May 8, 2020

churchill cake ww2 national Trust

No street parties this time … and I’ve  eaten all the Churchill’s Fruit Cake already!

No street parties for VE day 75 during Lockdown but still a chance to eat cakes and be thankful …

tea and peas to all

My dig for victory allotment at home – dried peas grow well. All I am saying is Give Peas a Chance!

Hopefully we can mark VJ Day a bit more once Lockdown has eased a little

Don’t forget our free learning at home WW2 resources from Newquay Zoo including our WW2 World War Zoo Gardens project resources including more recipes

VE Day Remembered 75 years on …

Keep Safe. Stay Home. Save Lives.

Blogposted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, 8 May 2020


Blitzkrieg Month – Peggy Jane Skinner’s Diary May 1940 WW2

May 7, 2020


Believed to be a picture of Peggy Jane Skinner found in her 1943 diary

Peggy Jane Skinner (1924-2011) is a fifteen year old school girl from the Kingston upon Thames / London area who is at school in the Renfrew area of Glasgow. We are not yet sure which school she attended.

Her tiny pocket diary records a few daily details of her personal life but also mentions of national and international events of the war events.

You can read the whole month at:

and her whole diary for the year 1940 here:

Previously in April 1940 after months of inactivity in the ‘Phoney War’ or ‘Bore War’, Peggy mentioned the Nazi invasion of Denmark and Norway and naval battles.

May 1940 – Selected war related entries in Peggy’s diary of school life

Monday 6th May 1940 – Did not go to gym today. There are 100 French soldiers coming to school on Thurs, we‘re going to give them tea for which we’ve to provide the grub and a concert. Several items from school concert are to be included but not our play. The other one is.

Who were these French sailors? France had yet to be invaded (but only a  few days). One likely answer is that these ‘French soldiers’ may have been French troops involved in the Norway campaign.

Tuesday 7th May 1940 – Went round church to help clean with AYPA [ her youth club, the Anglican Young Peoples Association]. French officers in school today, they visited all senior classes except us because we don’t take French Grammar. People took some of the soldiers home. There are a lot in the district.

Thursday 9th May 1940 – Went to baths first two periods this morning, did not go in. French soldiers in school today, got away at 3 o’clock and had to line the hill as they came up. I hear the concert and tea were awfully good.

Note in between entries – “Election”. Churchill succeeds Chamberlain as Prime Minister.

Peggy does not mention hearing or reading of Churchill’s Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat speech on 13th May 1940

The next few weeks leading to the Fall of France,  Dunkirk evacuation and the threat of invasion or bombing of Britain are tense ones for Peggy as she is trying to focus on her end of school exams.

Firstly, France and the Low Countries (Luxembourg, Belgiun and the Netherlands / Holland) are invaded on 10 May 1940 by surprise Blitzkreig (combined tank and aerial attack).

Friday 10th May 1940Germany invaded the Low Countries today. Got away from school today at 3 o’clock as a mark of [Headteacher the] Rector’s gratitude for food for French troops.Went to concert in our church in Govan, was quite good though dance afterwards was washout.

Saturday 11th May 1940 – I went to tennis in the afternoon, I only had one game because there were so many people there. Churchill has made new war cabinet, air raids on Holland and Belgium. There is either an awful lot of news or none at all.

Peggy is in the middle of her school exams so much of the diary entries are a mixture of exam worries, school life, her church youth club social life, family news and wartime entertainments.

Air raid practice obviously happened not just in response to those in Holland and Belgium but as a routine every Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday 15th May 1940 – Had an air-raid practice at Higher History this afternoon. I don’t think we’ve had one yet which hasn’t been first two periods Wednesday afternoon. Holland given up.

News from Europe that she read in the newspapers or heard over the BBC Wireless (Radio) did not get any brighter. She often records the news of an event the day after it happened in published wartime timelines, as she would have not heard of it on the news or read it in the paper until the day after.

Tuesday 28th May 1940 – Belgium gave in, at least the King did and since he’s in command – the government say they are still fighting. What an awful predicament he must be in.

If you want to read ahead, here are her diary entries for June 1940:

Peggy Skinner vs. Timeline of WW2 May 1940 events

You can compare her diary entries with a timeline of international news for May 1940.

12 May 1940 – Germany invades France –  not directly mentioned by Peggy
14 May 1940 – Dutch forces surrender to the Germans after 4 days –
mentioned by Peggy 

14 May 1940 – LDV (Local Defence Volunteers, later the Home Guard) formed after radio appeal by Anthony Eden.

It is curious that Peggy  doesn’t mention her father joining the LDV or Home Guard. We know from later entries that Peggy’s father William Ernest or Ernest William Skinner does volunteer for this; it is possible that his engineering job makes him ineligible for National Service.

15 May 1940 – RAF bomb the Ruhr industrial area of Germany –
not mentioned by Peggy

26 May 1940 – Dunkirk or Operation Dynamo, the naval evacuation of British and French forces from Dunkirk, with the armada of ‘little ships’ from 27th May 1940. This is completed by 4th June when Churchill makes his famous speech of resistance: “We shall fight them on the beaches”
curiously not mentioned by Peggy directly in May or June. 

28 May 1940 – Belgium surrenders –
mentioned by Peggy

30 May 1940 – British government orders removal of signposts and street names in Britain to confuse potential invaders –
not mentioned by Peggy 

Copyright: Peggy Jane Skinner (1924 – 2011) / Mark Norris, my WW2 Home Front Diaries collection. If you wish to reproduce or quote from these diaries, please contact me first via the Comments page.




Adopt an Animal Schemes in Zoos WW2 and Today

May 6, 2020

newquay zoo pandemic adoptions 2020

Newquay Zoo Pandemic Closure April May 2020 fundraising web page 

War and Pandemics require fast and creative solutions to new problems.

Since March 23rd 2020, Newquay Zoo, Paignton Zoo, Living Coasts, London Zoo and all other British Zoos and Aquariums have been temporarily closed under Social Distancing concerns and Government guidance. Keepers remain working, other zoo staff have been furloughed until the public return.

September 1939 – At the start of WW2, zoos and other places of mass gathering and entertainment were immediately closed by Government order on Sunday 3 September 1939. The fear was that large groups of people concentrated in small crowded areas without enough public air raid shelters would be an easy target for the gas attacks and aerial bombing that many feared would happen straight away.

As a result, with no visitors allowed, all of a sudden the zoo’s  gate income (the major source of income) disappeared, yet keeping staff needed to be employed and animals fed. Wage bills and feeding bills needed to be paid.

In the days before furlough schemes, one innovative fundraising solution independently appeared at several different zoos – Bristol, London and Chester – in the form of animal adoption schemes. At London Zoo the Fellows (effectively then the modern Zoo  Membership / Season Ticket Holders) came up with a good solution.

adoption scheme zsl 1941

The Geographical Magazine November 1941

James Fisher wrote in The Geographical Magazine November  1941 that

“to bridge the gulf between rising costs and falling income the Fellows hit upon an excellent plan. Early in the war a group of them approached the [ZSL London Zoo] Council and asked if they could adopt their favourite animals.

As soon as this scheme was started it proved a success, for not only did the Fellows join in but also many other individuals – regiments, business firms, schools and so on. The adopter does no more than pay a weekly fee calculated by the Superintendent to offset the animal’s board, lodging and maintenance in good health. the most expensive animals are sealions and elephants, the cheapest small birds and mice.

A full list of animals still available, and their price, will be given to anyone who asks for it by the Superintendent at the London Zoo, N.W.8.

The Zoo has, of course, had its share of blitz …”

The whole Wartime Zoo article in Geographical Magazine is featured on our blog post here

Even then, a bit of celebrity endorsement for a charity like London Zoo  did no harm: famous detective story writer Dorothy L. Sayers is shown in the magazine as having adopted a Porcupine.

p78 Sayers adopt porcupine

Photo of Dorothy L. Sayers by W. Suzchitsky,  The Geographical Magazine November 1941

p79 Pelican

This Pelican didn’t get adopted by Dorothy L Sayers in 1940/41 …

Today as then, zoos have adoption schemes. Although furloughed and away from Newquay Zoo, the zoo website, Facebook page  and staff e-newsletter  keep me up to date with how fundraising is going.

During the pandemic, Newquay Zoo has made a similar request for support from visitors toward which the public have warmly responded:

The website sets out five ways visitors can help Newquay Zoo whilst it is closed:

five ways to help NZ 2020

Five Ways to help Newquay Zoo. Zoo Website accessed: 6 May 2020

Fundraising  support for Newquay Zoo 2020

virgin money page may 2020 newquay zoo

Newquay Zoo Virgin Money Giving page accessed 6 May 2020

One day, these web pages will become part of our zoo archive, like our coverage of the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease epidemic closure to which the public also warmly responded with fundraising.

Until then, you might want to support us with a small donation if you have any spare cash but best of all, you can support us coming back to see us in person when we are open again.

Our sister zoos in the Wild Planet Trust charity, Paignton Zoo and Living Coasts in Devon also have  similar appeals out, as does London Zoo 980 years on from WW2)

Blog posted by Mark Norris World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo, 6 May 2020 

Wartime Zoo London Zoo June 1941

May 6, 2020

cover 6 41p74 wartime zoosSuscp75 wartime zoos barrage balloonp76 Bushby Black Widowp77 black widow captionp77 sealion cropp78 Sayers adopt porcupinep79 Pelicanp80 fish tortoise housep82 lambp83 eagle vulturep84 text blitz zslp85 acorns higher dpip85 text higher dpip85 text blitz zsl acornspaper shortageshipping and fags adsadvertsp65 wartime Middle East

VE Day National Trust Churchill’s Fruit Cake

May 4, 2020

churchill cake ww2 national Trust

Churchill’s Fruit Cake – I managed to photograph the last slice in our house before it vanished!

We tried this National Trust recipe for Churchill’s favourite fruit cake one at home and really enjoyed it. It didn’t last till VE Day on may 8th. We ate it all, a few days early! Delicious, even without the treacle which we didn’t have.

Ingredients – serves 12

Preparation time – 20 minutes (prep. time)
Cooking time – 1.5-2 hours (cooking time) 

  • 225g butter
  • 170g dark brown sugar
  • 285g self-raising flour
  • 280g dried mixed fruit
  • 2 cups strong black tea
  • 5 eggs
  • 110g halved glacé cherries
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 1tbsp black treacle (optional)


  1. Soak the dried fruit in tea, preferably overnight.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl, until almost white. Remember to scrape the sides of the bowl and continue to cream together.
  3. Gradually beat the eggs into the mixture, remember to add a little flour to stop the mixture from splitting or curdling.
  4. Fold in the flour and add the mixed spice to the mixture.
  5. Add the mixed fruit and the glacé cherries and continue to fold together.
    Continue to fold and stir, whilst adding in the black treacle.
  6. Preheat oven to 150 degrees and line and grease a cake tin.
  7. Once completely mixed together, scrape the mixture into the cake tin and leave to bake for 2 hours.
  8. Check that the cake is cooked throughout before leaving to cool on a wire rack.
  9. Finish with a light dusting of caster sugar.

From the National Trust / Chartwell website:

Churchill and Mrs Landermare
Mrs Landemare cooked for the Churchill family from 1939 throughout the duration of the war, until she retired in 1954.
During the war period, meals were often created using the most basic of ingredients as part of the rationing era.
According to Mrs Landemare, Churchill was an ‘incredibly fussy eater’ but she was often able to produce something delicious that satisfied his appetite for ‘simple’ British food.
Such was the impact of her cooking, on VE night Churchill actually thanked Mrs Landemare for her efforts by saying that he ‘could not have managed throughout the war without her cooking’.

Chartwell, Churchill’s family home is interesting to visit when it reopens – I went there in the late 1980s.

Like Chartwell, Newquay Zoo is also closed at the moment  (May 2020).

More recipes and WW2 home learning resources here

Blog posted (still on furlough!) by Mark Norris, World war Zoo gardens research project blog 4 May 2020

Denmark invaded 9 April 1940

April 10, 2020

April 1940 – 15 year old London schoolgirl Peggy Jane Skinner (1924-2011) is busy at school in Glasgow.

80 years ago – After exams, fellow pupils relax with a school dance and school play nerves but there is worrying news.  The Phoney War or Bore War, where little has happened in Europe since Poland was invaded by the Germans in September 1939, is suddenly coming to an end.

Tuesday 9th April 1940 – School dance today but I did not go, got away at 3 o’clock. Score at match yesterday was 2-0 for boys. Had dress rehearsal at dinnertime, it went quite well but I’m terribly afraid that I’ll laugh when I shouldn’t. Had dancing with boys instead of gym today. Rather miserable day because rumours everywhere because Germany has invaded Denmark and Norway.

Peggy notes correctly these ‘rumours’ of the end of the Phoney War, the German invasion of Norway and Denmark (Copenhagen) with troopships, strong air and naval cover after a naval battle in Norwegian waters.

A few days later she notes in amongst schoolgirl gossip that:

Saturday 13th April 1940 – Went to pictures in Govan with Bunty Campbell to see “Golden Boy” [starring] William Holden, who I saw for the first time was awfully good. We didn’t know what was on and first went on chance since nothing else decent on anywhere else and as I write this, news came through that the Navy has sunk 7 German destroyers in Narvik Bay. [M.DL ? or U.DL.? illegible]

Peggy is obviously writing at night, “as I write this”,  listening to the BBC news on the wireless or radio.

Things get worse in May 1940 – news of the war steadily intrudes into her wartime schoolgirl life as Norway and much of Europe are invaded:

You can read the rest of Peggy’s 1940 diary here:

All diary entries copyright of Peggy Jane Skinner (1924-2011)/ Mark Norris WW2 Diary Collection). Any enquiries or comments via the comments page please, which is checked every few days.

Blog posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo gardens research project, c/o Newquay Zoo, 10 April 2020.



Newquay Zoo Wild at Home Free WW2 Wartime Home Learning Resources

March 31, 2020

tea and peas to all

Three free news stylish pdf downloads for home learners about wartime zoos, wartime food, life in WW2 and Grow Your Own / Dig for Victory wartime gardening, complete with garden tips and WW2 recipes:

Amongst many other great learning resources if you are stuck at home and garden, or only allowed out for short walks,  have a look at these pdfs available  on the weblinks above:

  • Rationing and food pdf about the challenges of feeding people and animals in wartime
  • Zoos in wartime pdf about the challenges of running a zoo in wartime from blitz to evacuation
  • Grow Your Own pdf on gardening tips and recipes

Thanks to David and Kerry our amazing graphics team at Paignton Zoo / Wild Planet Trust for producing such stylish work from my notes and picture archive.

These are some of the Wild at Home activities we made specially for you whilst our zoos are closed due to the Coronavirus situation.

Enjoy! Teachers/ parents – tell us what you like about the activities through our comments page.

Further Sources of WW2 information suitable for KS2 and KS3

IWM Imperial War Museum

ZSL London Zoo Archive blog

BBC History webpages

BBC Wartime Farm clips (DVD of BBC series also available)

Books for KS2/KS3

There are lots of brilliant books for primary KS2 and KS3 including the Horrible Histories series by Scholastic – The Blitzed Brits and Woeful Second World War by Terry Deary

For KS3 the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness series has a useful book on WW2.

Newquay Zoo – World War Zoo Gardens wartime blog

Over the last ten years since 2010 I have been sharing my research into how zoos, botanic gardens and many others coped with wartime life throughout WW1 and WW2 – suitable for adults and KS3/4

Blog posted by Mark Norris, World war Zoo gardens research project, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall. 31 March 2020


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