Alan Livingstone Ramsay died Easter Rising 24 April 1916

April 24, 2016

WW1, Ireland and The Easter Rising 1916

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.

Newquay’s lost wartime fire crew remembered 75 years on

April 23, 2016

Newquay’s wartime fire crew lost 5 members during the Plymouth Blitz of 23 April 1941.

Remembered 75 years on.

Belfast Zoo and the Belfast Blitz 19 April 1941

April 16, 2016

Belfast Zoo in the Belfast Blitz  75 years ago 19 April 1941 …

“During World War II, the Ministry of Public Security said we must destroy 33 animals for public safety in case they escaped when the zoo was damaged by air raids.

On 19th April 1941, Mr A McClean MRCVS, head of the Air Raid Protection section, enlisted the help of Constable Ward from the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Sergeant E U Murray of the Home Guard to shoot these animals.

The animals included 9 lions (including cubs), 1 hyena, 6 wolves, 1 puma, 1 tiger, 1 ‘black’ bear, 2 brown bears, 2 polar bears, 1 lynx, 2 racoons, 1 vulture, and 1 ‘giant rat’ that is presumed to be a Coypu (a large rodent creature).”

In the account in Juliet Gardner’s The Blitz, the Head Keeper is recorded as having been in tears as he watched.

Similarly, Japanese zoo staff were traumatised by carrying out official orders (from higher military or government authority) the ‘disposal’ of ‘dangerous animals’ in Japanese zoos, due to the threat of air raids, an event described in great detail in  Japanese Wartime Zoo Policy: The Silent Victims of World War II by Mayumi Itoh (Palgrave, 2010).

Lest we forget the sacrifices of staff and animals of zoos in wartime.

Posted in remembrance by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo.

Plymouth Blitz diary 1941

March 20, 2016


April 1941 entries (anonymous Plymouth Blitz diary, c/o Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project)

Plymouth Blitz 1941 diary

‘Awful Blitz’ – Last year this anonymous diary of a Plymouth civilian turned up in an online auction and is now part of my collection of wartime civilian diaries.

I feel fairly sure the anonymous author is a woman, a health worker, health visitor or district nurse. Some of the handwriting in ink and pencil is cramped or smudged and difficult to read in the small section allotted to each day in this small personal diary.

Two excellent books by Gerald Wasley Devon at War (Halsgrove) and the Plymouth:  A Shattered City  (Halsgrove, 2004) describe and illustrate the effects of the Plymouth Blitz very well.

Here is an edited selection covering the March and April Plymouth Blitz weeks of 1941, my small tribute to the people of Plymouth and of Blitzed Britain 75 years on.

Where I cannot make out the smudged or cramped ink handwriting, I have put best guesses in brackets or dots if not sure […] and will add details as they become clear over time.


This section of the diary opens with the royal visit after a quiet unblitzed night.


March 1941 Blitz entries (anonymous Plymouth  1941 diary, c/o Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project)

Thursday 20 March 1941

King and Queen in Plymouth. Peace all night.

Dull morning. Down Beaumont, lovely day later. Dev(onport) dips then town in [?blazing?] Sunshine. To Salisbury Road Schools then Dr. Harrison in Princess Square. Home, tea. Cookery school and Easter Cake. Siren 4.30 and again 8.30pm Awful blitz.

Ended midnight. Lay on bed.

Fri 21 March 1941

Up early and out Swilly. Down town lunch hour. Spooners gone. St Andrews burning via ?ove? street to collect marmalade and cake. House craft. Home, lunch and out Swilly. Then [w..] Hawkes to tea. To CH (City Hospital), had bath – could not see Mac. Packed bag. Put oil away. Awful blitz 8.30 till midnight but felt calmer than on Thursday.

[Editor’s note: CH is the abbreviation for City Hospital. Love Street is in Plymouth. St Andrews Church was lost in the Plymouth Blitz. Beaumont maybe Beaumont Road in the St. Jude’s area of Plymouth.Swilly (now North Prospect) was the original official name (and still known to many as Swilly) given to the first council estate built in Plymouth during the 1920s. There was also a hospital there who dealt with many blitz victims.Spooner’s department store was destroyed in the  bombing (‘gone’) – see photos and more information at Derek Tait’s website:

Sat 22 March 1941.

Up early and out Beaumont, Dentals. Town Hall staff moving into Beaumont. After Dentals went market and then home and cleaned flat. Sun came out. Icky arrived. Had lunch. Went via Drake’s Circus to market and looked at ruins. Firemen still playing hose on smouldering parts. To Stoke House and then walk via Peverell to Hartley Vale and [???] Kelly. Bus home, tea then saw Icky off in awful crowd. Lovely sunny afternoon. To CH  City Hospital – found Mac evacuating and saw ruins of Children’s ward. Home. Supper down with J’s

[Editor’s note: Icky and Mac a nurse of some rank are two friends of the writer who recur throughout the diary entries.
It is possible that Mac is Dr Allison McNairn, who won the George Medal for her bravery at the Children’s Ward of the City Hospital during the Blitz.

The Daily Emergency Bulletin No. 1 March 1941 mentions the “12. Public Health Department has been transferred from the Town Hall Stonehouse to Beaumont House, Beaumont Park, Plymouth Telephone Plymouth 2821, Ext. 249.” Bulletin shown on p. 116, Plymouth – A Shattered City by Gerald Wasley.

This Bulletin also mentions “List of Rest Centres open: Mount Gold Methodist, Mount Gold Road; Salisbury Road Baptist, Plymouth; Clarence House, Clarence Place, East Stonehouse; St. Jude’s Hall, Beaumont Road; St. Gabriel’s, Hyde Park Road; Swarthmore Settlement, Mutley Plain; All Saints, Harwell Street; St Peters Hall, Wyndham Street, Plymouth; Central Hall, Saltash Street; YMCA Hostel, Union Street; St. George’s Road, Ryder Road”. The diary writer mentions several of these locations and Rest Centres which were for “Food and Shelter for those rendered homeless”.

From the 1930s, Stoke House became known as Devonport Guardians’ Children’s Home.

See section 4040

The bombing of the City Hospital children’s ward and loss of several nursing staff and young children is remembered in a plaque in Derriford Hospital. It is mentioned in several websites such as the BBC People’s War and also: 

Sunday 23 March 1941

Peace all night but difficult to sleep. To CH City Hospital and Swarthmore. Then back Eggbuckland. Walk Stonybridge, Plymbridge, Estover. Jerry siren and guns. Shown over Estover farm 172 cows. Walk George Hotel. Bus CH (City Hospital), did washing and shampoo. Then out Miss Jago. Home with J’s. Cold.

Monday 24 March 1941

Peace all night. Dull drizzle. On [Mutley] Plain and the Salisbury Road. Siren 11 am. To Beaumont and Cobourg with reports. Home, lunch. Walk out Swilly via Peverell. Quiet clinic. Mist and rain. To Stoke House. Mill bridge to see […] Vine via Odeon to Housecraft then home. Siren 6.30. Washed and wrote. Knitted, J’s.

[Editor’s Note: Cobourg Street in Plymouth was also home to Plymouth City High School for Girls, where the writer seems to go for lunch on her rounds. The High School served “Communal Meals will be served at Portland Square, Treville Street School and Plymouth Girls High School between 12 and 2 pm at a cheap rate. open Sunday” according to a Ministry of Information Plymouth Circular 25-4-41 (p. 165, Plymouth – A Shattered City by Gerald Wasley.]

Tuesday 25 March 1941

Quiet night. Rain and drizzle. Mutley Plain, Central Park and Devonport. Home via Hoe and saw Miss Coburn. Back lunch and out Dev[onport] via Cobourg Street, called Stoke House then Beaumont and saw Mrs Robert Walker. Raining. Muddy. CH City Hospital for bath and saw Mac. Dinner etc and eve[ning] with J’s.

Wednesday 26 March 1941

Quiet night. Mist and rain. Up Henders Corner then Salisbury Rd School to Virginia House and Housecraft. Home lunch. Bank and Peverell Dr Johnstone. V. Wet. Saw smashed up Jerry outside CH City Hospital. Out Stoke House [??] Dev(onport). Walk home via Manadon. Lovely evening. Parcel from Jo and letter. Cleaned. Cooked. Wrote letters. Darned, J’s.

[Editor’s Note: the  Virginia House Settlement were welfare and community buildings in former church and community buildings on Looe Street and Batters Street developed with the help of Plymouth MP Nancy Astor between the wars.]

Thursday 27 March 1941

Good sleep and nice quiet night. Lovely a.m. To Housecraft and Barbican. Then Beaumont. Saw Thynne re. billeting children. To Devonport  Dips then Miss Glover. Lost bag. Hot day out Laira Green School – finished early. Nice walk [??] Marsh Mills, Stonybridge, Estover …Miss ??son, Aerodrome, Stonybridge Eggbuckland and back. Inoc typh: made Easter biscuits. Jenkins gone. Sirens and guns 9pm [??]

[Editor’s note: Inoc typh – See “free inoculations against Typhoid: Persons wishing to avail themselves of this service should go to Prince of Wales Hospital, Greenbank, between 9.30 am – 11 am or 2.30-5pm” according to a Ministry of Information Plymouth Circular 25-4-41 (p. 165, Plymouth – A Shattered City by Gerald Wasley.]

Friday 28 March 1941

Wet. Swilly via Swarthmore and St. Gabriel’s. Home. Lunch via Peverell and to Compton Lodge and saw delicious flat. Walk out Milehouse and did clinic. Rain in through Lukes roof. Home via town. Parnell called. To CH City Hospital, bath. Home and cooked Easter biscuits and saw Jenkins. Knitting and darning.

Saturday 29 March 1941

Cold and dull. Restless night ac/o

To Beaumont no D.S. to town found Dingles and Town Hall Devastation awful. Beaumont billeting Thynne. St Jude’s Rest Centre. after lunch walk over moors Moorland Links. Saw Dr and Mrs Harrison. Bus home from Derriford. CH City Hospital for ironing. Dinner etc Siren 8.45. V.cold talked mrs Montague on steps.

[Editor’s Note: Dingles was a major department store which was damaged like the Town Hall during the Blitz].

Sunday 30 March 1941

Lovely sunny a.m. Up CH City Hospital and saw [???] MacN? Icky arrived. Walk Mount Gold and saw babes then Rest Centre. Then Stonybridge,  Plymbridge. Lunch, pine wood in baking sun ….

[Editor’s note: Mount Gold was a hospital in wartime Plymouth. Rest Centres were part of the WRVS, civic and Civil Defence responses to displaced or bombed out people – see previous note.]

Monday 7 April 1941

Brilliant sun but very cold. Town v. Late then punctured so reached Plymouth at noon. Letters and lunch then stopping in lovely sun up Swilly. Back Plain bus and cleaned up flat. Raid 9.30 – 12.30 then again 1.30 – 4.30 am. Dressed in cupboard. Fire watched at Rand and Co.

Tuesday 8 April 1941

Up early for good bath CH City Hospital incendiaries ++ Hartley and HE at Swilly. Devonport via Hartley bus v. Tired all day. Had tea Stoke House then in lovely sun to flat, did ironing and had dinner CH then sewing at Sellecks. Peace all night.

[Editor’s note: ++ is probably the diarist’s symbol for many. HE is High Explosive bombs].

Wednesday 9 April 1941

Cold raw morning. Out school St. Budeaux, shopping and to Communal Dinner [at] High School. Back Devonport and called Stoke House with Rawlin. Back flat and did good clean up. Siren 11 pm just as in bed. Quiet at first then planes and guns. In Sellecks and out firewatching till late.

Thursday 10 April 1941

To CH bath early. Lovely sunny morning. Down Beaumont, fetched luggage from flat > Devonport Dips to [???] Lunch, lovely sun. Throng in shattered Plymouth to Sussex Street Re. patient. Home, flat, cleaned up then caught 3.45 bus Exeter. Coffee Dellars [???] See Whole City. Home. Supper. Planes + Siren in [???] Incendiaries. House burned out Copplestone.

[Editor’s Note: according to website, “Deller’s became a favourite venue after the outbreak of war for the many who were displaced, or had been evacuated to Exeter. Members of the Women’s Land Army were guests at the café, along with evacuated children, and of course, service men meeting their sweethearts.” It was damaged by bombing and fire damage in 1942 in the Exeter Blitz.]


Friday 11 April 1941 Good Friday

Did not hear all clear. Nice morning. Walk […] Copplestone and St. [???] road. Incendiaries + Then [???] Home and to 3 hours [church] service. After walk [Radford or Redditch] lake, St. Johns and Ex??? Then home same way. Tea guesthouse St. Johns. Apples, tour round Ralditch. Dinner in drawing room. Sirens. Played piano + + all clear 5 am.


Saturday 12 April 1941

Lovely sunny morning V. Hot walk Exmouth and met DB there and home by bus Littleham. Cycled Marley, Lympstone, Woodbury village, Hogsbrook Rise [in] afternoon. Tea bungalow and home. Dull and cold. Nice ride home. Knitting eve. Siren, noisy, planes + Bombs at Exmouth. Got to bed 12.30.


Sunday  13 April 1941 Easter Sunday

Lovely morning . Up 5.30 and to 6 am service then home and breakfast etc. then walk Littleham church. Packed. Sat on font. Home over cliffs and fields. In afternoon to Exmouth on cycle, see bomb on beach. V. Cold windy Home rain […] Rd. tea and took run out up Knowle. Washed hair. Potato cakes.


Monday 14 April 1941 Bank Holiday

Siren on and off all night. Common on fire and bombs? […] Up breakfast and out before on bike collecting news. Then bus Exeter RB and on Plymouth. Sun came out Ivybridge. To flat. Looked dilapidated after Budleigh. Tea Mrs. Hynes. Home and cleaned then took luggage Mrs H. and slept there night v. Comfy. Siren about 5am.


Tuesday 15 April 1941

Lovely morning. Up dressed and down flat then out Devonport. Down Town and OU Comm Church, did shopping Town and out Dev(onport) – slack ish. Home eve[ning] via Peverell and Mutley. Note Rands re sleeping there. Up Hynes – lovely eve. […] knitting […] Long raid 9.30 to 5.20 am.

Wednesday 16 April 1941

Lovely morning v. Tired. Down flat and baked cake, Sellicks then town and Stoke House and lunch High School. Glorious day. Devonport Park afternoon (crossed out section – up to see Mrs O’Sullivan who was v. Depressing) Think no air raids. Put advert in paper for flat.

Thursday  17 April 1941

Lovely morning. Out to St. Budeaux for A.N. [AnteNatal?] clinic. Lovely day. Home and cleaned flat and to CH City Hospital for tea. Then Dr Hynes. Shoals of adverts from flat, spent week inspecting them.

Friday 18 April 1941

Swilly as usual. To High School, lunch and met [? at ? ?] City Hospital. Caught 3.45 bus Exeter, v. long and crowded journey. Home night perfect peace. Good sleep.

Saturday 19 April 1941

Lovely morning. On bicycle to Exmouth for some margarine. Lovely ride home. In afternoon cycled with DB to Tidwell, Bicton and Yettington. Then to find bomb craters near Blackberry ??farm?? Lost DB. Started to rain. Went home. DB arrived later and lively debate ensued re leaving her. In evening did much cooking ac/o Mick’s injured hand. Peace night. Mick from Skinners [???]

Sunday 20 April 1941

Lovely morning but cold. To Littleham. Church DB home over cliffs. After lunch walk ?? To cliffs in sun. Caught 3.35 bus Exeter and Plymouth. Back to flat prepared supper. To Hynes and peace all night.

Monday 21 April 1941

Down flat early then to School Clinic. Lovely sun. Met Thomson. To town and flat there flat lunch and out [to] Hynes [in] evening. Air raid 9.30 pm Fires planes ++ ended 4.30 am. Devonport attacked and rest of Plymouth.

Tuesday 22 April 1941

Up early and down flat. Still intact. Then out Devonport. Time bomb near Stoke House, much damage Albert Road. Lunch High School and back Devonport. Visited Welcome Rest Centre. Back there afternoon then Yelverton to see Black. Lovely.

Air Raid all night 9.30 to 3a.m. Devonport badly attacked and Police Station and terrace by Hospital. All Town roped off.

Wednesday 23 April 1941

To St. Budeaux school dull and wintry walk Eggbuckland vicarage and Wideycourt. Could not get [to] High School for lunch. Out Devonport – time bomb near [???] Back Stoke House burned out. Then to Gratton [… Fayre …] And to see […] Bus home. To flat and out [to] Hynes.

Thursday 24 April 1941

Air raid 9.30 to 1 a.m. Devonport again and oil tanks Torpoint. To Beaumont Dips and then Town Hall. High School lunch. Lovely sunny day. To Stoke House children in a school and then school inspect[ion] St. Budeaux. Home and cleaned flat. Then [to] Hynes. Shampoo. Lay down and slept 2am.

Friday 25 April 1941

Good rest. Lovely evening. To Swilly via Peverell, Beacon Park. Seized with renal colic before lunch at High School. Could not do clinic. Home. Saw Mrs. Collier. Bed. Down for news and then long good night. Lovely day. Siren 10pm and 1.30am.

Saturday 26 April 1941

Up early and down to get breakfast. To Town Hall, Stoke House, Rest Centres etc. Home lunch. Finished Rest Centres and Ben lovely sunny walk [???] Tralee and back to flat. Then to another Rest Centre then home,  washed stockings. Icky rang up. Pleasant evening. Siren 6pm.

Sunday 27 April 1941

Dull and v. cold wind. Down flat and did rest centres. Visited Smellie. Home lunch and up [to] Hynes and down out Holbeton. Walk along Hill Drive into Holbeton […] home to flat and started packing. Walk [… ] Eggbuckland and home.

Monday 28 April 1941
Lovely morning out St Budeaux and Swilly then home flat. Called Marshall’s in Cornwall. Up Mrs. Hynes. Siren 10 to 10 and v. intensive raid. Finished about 1.30 am. Dreadful damage St. Budeaux and Saltash.

Tuesday 29 April 1941
Lovely sunny morning. Out to Devonport – still time bombs. Then to Stoke House children – Matron going Clovelly. Walk out [Linkelly?]
then to High School lunch. Out Swilly afternoon. Tea Mrs. Kennedy. Packed up and went Hynes. No go at [Coll …] Dreadful raid 10 to 10 – 2 a.m.



[Editor’s note: Our local NFS Newquay Fire Crew were lost attending the 27/28 Plymouth April fires.

The diary continues for the rest of the year. Another notable entry is on “May 1 1941 evacuation school children” and “Friday 9 May Evacuation Exam” along with “Saturday 3rd May Churchill Visit” but that is another story for another post.

Children from Stoke House Children’s Home and the related Scattered Homes were evacuated to Clovelly in Devon – see Plymouth Archive catalogue 4040

Posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens Collection, Newquay Zoo.

If you wish to reuse or quote extracts from this Plymouth 1941 Blitz diary, please credit it back to the above and this website. I can be contacted through the Reply / Comments page on this  blog.


Plymouth Marine Biological Association blitzed 20 March 1941

March 18, 2016

Remembering Stanley Wells Kemp and the fire teams in the Plymouth Blitz

The Laboratory of the Marine Biological Association on the Hoe in Plymouth was severely damaged on the evening of 20 March 1941 in the Plymouth Blitz. It also suffered HE bomb damage to its extensive glass on 28 December 1940.

The 1941 bombardment is described in the obituary of Stanley Wells Kemp who was the director of the MBA at the time. He sacrificed his living quarters to the flames in order to try and save his ‘aquarium’ laboratories.


More resources on the MBA in the Plymouth Blitz can be found on the MBA website including a typed description of the damage, republished in the journal Nature

Somme 100 at Kew

March 16, 2016

Somme 100 at Kew

Kew’s upcoming First World War Centenary event ‘Somme 100 at Kew’ takes place on Wednesday 6 July 2016, 18:00-20:30.

The evening will include a drinks reception followed by a welcome address by Kew’s Director, Richard Deverell, and two fascinating talks in the Jodrell Lecture Theatre, with a Q&A session afterwards. Among the invited guests will hopefully be two living relatives of Kew staff who were on the Somme in 1916.

In a unique and poignant tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, Kew has joined forces with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to present this exclusive evening event.

Kew’s longstanding relationship with the Commission places us in a unique position to tell the story of the First World War in a new light, focusing on the relationship between people, plants, conflict landscapes and remembrance.

Please see this link for more details:

Our previous blogposts on Kew’s lost WW1 gardeners:



Blitz and pieces at our Wartime zoo workshops

March 10, 2016

Another successful wartime zoo workshop at Newquay Zoo, an annual event for St Joseph’s School in Cornwall.

Before busily  packing away our interesting archive of wartime items until their  next outing for a schools workshop, so I thought I’d photograph a few more items in our collection to share with you.

wartime toys

Previously we showed a little of our  wartime workshop for schools about how  wartime changed life for zoo staff, animals, visitors and more generally for people on the Home Front in Britain in World War 2.

It’s always interesting to see what items attract children’s attention each time. The handmade toys proved popular and the school may well have a go at making some of their own. (I have a few plans and books of these).


benenden newquay war weapons week

Benenden School student (evacuated to Newquay) wartime poster design for a competition for Newquay War Weapons Week (1941?)

Shrapnel collection (including V2  rocket pieces), alongside many other treasures of a wartime childhood and a fabulous handmade wooden Spitfire.  The ARP bell proved pretty noisily popular, along with the wooden gas rattle.

wartime childhood

A wartime toy ark made from whatever wood was available by Mr Ernest Lukey, teacher from Poole, Dorset for his daughter Wendy (kindly loaned to Newquay Zoo).

wartime toy ark

Mr Lukey’s  hand carved wooden toy animals are the only time you’ll see elephants, rhinos, camels and giraffes at Newquay Zoo. The real ones are usually seen at our sister zoo at Paignton, operational throughout World War 2.

wartime wooden animals

Trying on helmets and heavy woollen wartime uniforms and clothing was also popular:

wartime clothing.png

land army greatcoat label

Inside the Women’s Land Army greatcoat was this 1943 label and inside the pocket this curious cardboard roll of labels – maybe to do with size?

land army greatcoat label and size tags.png

In our next Blitz and Pieces we’ll feature another popular item on display – the insides of the family ARP (Air Raid Precautions) First Aid Box, still intact 70 years on.

Posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens Project, Newquay Zoo (March 2015).


Dad’s Army and the Home Guard in the Wartime Zoo

February 6, 2016

Gnome guard wartime garden 015

Our LDV ‘Gnome Guard’ in his usual allotment spot in our wartime ‘Dig For Victory’ garden, Summer Newquay Zoo, 2010

The Home Guard has long suffered from the Dad’s Army image of the 1960s and 1970s comedy programme, but an image that has helped to keep its memory alive.

The new Dad’s Army  film with Bill Nighy and other famous British actors is due out on 5 February 2016.

Zoos and botanic gardens sometimes had their own Home Guard companies ranging from Whipsnade Zoo to Kew Gardens, with big wide open spaces suitable for paratroop or glider landings.

Kew also possessed its very own Home Guard in the shape of a special Garden Platoon. Many of those involved were old soldiers or regular visitors. The manning of Kew Bridge was one of their tasks.

Kew Gardens staff were involved in the local 63rd Surrey (RICHMOND) Battalion V Zone Home Guard:
“Few units have such a beautiful and historic area to defend as the 63rd Surrey (Richmond) Battalion.

In the early days its members were called on to provide nightly guards on the Thames bridges in their territory and on such historic premises as Kew Observatory and Wick House, once the residence of Sir Joshua Reynolds, which stands on Richmond Terrace …

Major Bott, who had fought so hard for this, was offered the command of the new Battalion. He refused on the ground that his work did not allow him the time to do the job as he felt it should be done. So the command was given to Sir Geoffrey Evans, C.LE., eminent botanist and soldier, who held it until his appointment as Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Major Bott was made second-in-command.

Many zoo keepers over or under military age served in the Home Guard, along with other evening jobs at their zoo or in the local community in the National Fire Service, Firewatching, Air Raid wardens (ARP)  or other war work including Dig For Victory gardens.

Often these Home Guard staff from zoos  were veterans of the First World War.


Home Guard lapel badge for your civilian clothes to indicate your branch of National Service. Author’s collection.

In the chaos and lack of weapons after the British Army’s evacuation from Dunkirk in May 1940 when German invasion by paratroops or landing craft seemed imminent, surprisingly zoos were often allowed to keep their rifles and rifle-trained staff on account of the fears over large dangerous animals being loosed by air raids. Angus MacDonald (‘Mac’) was one such sure shot and a fine pest controller as well at London Zoo, as remembered by  the zoo writer L.R. Brightwell.

Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester became a source of some rather ancient weapons from its theatrical spectacular firework displays including 1866-vintage Snyder rifles, which were issued to members of the local 49th Lancashire Battalion of the  Home Guard during the Second World War (mentioned in Norman Longmate’s The Real Dad’s Army published in 1974 / 2012).

In 1943 the Fireworks Island itself was used for a public display of Home Guard Training, the Home Guard capturing a ‘nazi Flag’ as part of the display:

More information on Belle Vue as a venue for the Home Guard can be found on the Virtual Belle Vue digitised collection at Chethams archive:

Belle Vue Zoo remained a popular brass band venue in wartime including local Home Guards Bands, 

Whipsnade  Zoo in Bedfordshire had its local Home Guard unit under ex-Army Captain W.P. Beal, the Zoo Superintendent.  Areas were turned over for rifle ranges and Home Guard training as mentioned in Lucy Pendar’s Whipsnade My Africa and Paul Wilson’s ZSL website article:

Mrs Beal’s jovial husband 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.

Bristol Zoo was also home to its local Home Guard Unit:

The Home Guard of the 11th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment was based in the zoo’s cafeteria during World War Two. One member based at the zoo recalled how they were not allowed to march and parade in front of Alfred’s cage lest he become aggressive. At the time the troops discussed the causes of this, musing that it might be that their uniforms reminded Alfred of other primates. On reflection, as the keepers also wore uniforms, the writer concluded that it was more likely the marching itself which upset the gorilla.

He also recalled how night watch at the zoo was his scariest experience during his time in the Home Guard. On the one hand, he was worried about Germans appearing out of the dark but he was equally concerned that if a bomb dropped near the zoo the animals might escape from their cages. ‘Often, 17 year olds like myself exchanged our fears about what one would do if, spare the thought, in such an event the monstrous form of Alfred were to lumber forward out of the darkness’, he recalled, ‘probably run towards the enemy!’ he concluded.

Source:  quoting Bristol Museum, Alfred Archive L13, 23 July 1993.

home guard cert ww2

Home Guard certificate for Frederick Redvers Booth, Hailsham Sussex Battalion (Author’s Collection)

If you come across a Home Guard certificate, they only have the person’s name (as both men and women served) on the front but very usefully they are often stamped on the back with the Home Guard group and battalion they belong to.

home guard cert ww2 reverse

Certificate (back) for Frederick Booth, Hailsham Sussex Battalion

Training this new civilian or old soldier army in national defence brought forth a wide range of publications, some recently reprinted.

Home Guard cover

(Author’s collection)

The aims of the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) or Home Guard are set out in many of these rapidly written and published advice books, focussing on tone modern methods of war shown in the Invasion of Poland and Blitzkreig across Holland, Belgium and France of 1939/40. Parachutists, gliders and  tanks required training in roadblocks, street fighting and ambush techniques.

Home Gaurd Brophy book parachutists

Advice about parachutist and glider troops: Page 50 from the Home Guard Handbook (1940) by John Brophy


The Last word Home Guard

Page 125 from the Home Guard Handbook (1940) by John Brophy


LDV checklist Home Guard Brophy

Page 126 from the Home Guard Handbook (1940) by John Brophy

As we come across new stories of zoo or botanic garden Home Guard units or links, I will post them on this blogpost.

Posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo.

Gallipoli evacuated 8 January 1916

January 6, 2016

On the 8th and 9th January 1916 the final British and French troops were quietly and successfully evacuated from the Gallipoli beaches of Turkey.

They left behind blazing stores and some surprised Turkish enemies.

They also left behind thousands of dead comrades, many who have no known graves and are remembered on the Helles Memorial.

cwgc helles

Helles Memorial to the missing of the Gallipoli campaign, Dardanelles, Turkey. (Image: CWGC website)

Amongst these casualties were several naturalists and botanic garden staff from Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Edinburgh and Melbourne.

Some individual stories are mentioned here of art gallery curators, soldier naturalists, Wisley gardeners, all careers cut short by Gallipoli.



Remembering ecologist A.S. Marsh Somerset Light Infantry killed 5 January 1916

January 4, 2016

Captain Alfred Stanley Marsh (1892-1916)

a s marsh 8th Battalion

From the Somerset Remembers website, a photo of officer of the 8th Battlion Somerset Light Infantry – is Alfred Marsh amongst them?


In 2014 we wrote a short piece about the members of the British Ecological Society lost in WW1.

One  ‘bright scholar’ of the early British Ecological Society  (BES) was Captain Alfred Stanley Marsh (born 1892) of Crewkerne who was, according to the BES 75th Anniversary Book, “shot through the heart by a sniper’s bullet in the trenches of Armentieres in 1916” (p.41).

He was the son of William Warren Marsh, a relieving officer and E. M. Marsh, of Blacknell, Crewkerne, Somerset.  (In John Sheail’s book about the BES he is called ‘Albert’ Stanley Marsh.)

Marsh’s posthumous work was published by British ecologist and psychologist Arthur or A.G. Tansley in 1917, who had been unfit for military service and worked as a clerk in munitions.

Marsh’s experiments on competitive species of Bedstraw were finished by Tansley and published under Tansley’s name in 1917 as “On Competition between Galium saxatile and Galium sylvestre on different types of soil.” Journal of Ecology 5, 173-9, 1917.

Tansley also wrote an obituary of Marsh in 1916, as Albert or Alfred Stanley Marsh, New Phytologist journal, 20, 132-6, 1916 (see endpiece of this post)

S.R.Price also wrote an obituary on Captain A.S. Marsh in the Journal of Ecology 4, 119-120, 1916.

Based on his salt marsh and sand dune surveys and mappping work in summer 1913, Marsh was the author in 1915 of “The Maritime Ecology of Holme next the Sea, Norfolk” in the Journal of Ecology, 3: 63-73, 1915. His map reading and landscape survey  skills were to prove highly useful  as an infantry officer in wartime.

There is more about Captain Alfred Stanley Marsh of the 8th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, killed and buried in Armentieres on 5 January 1916 on the Somerset Remembers website with obituary and  a unit photograph.  Sections from the 8th Battalion war diary,  5 January 1916 mention Marsh:

That day Capt. Marsh was killed by a sniper about 3 P.M. at the junction of Trenches 69 & 70.

Some interesting comments turned up through our previous blogpost and that on the Somerset Remembers website:

In Everard Wyrall’s SLI 1914-18 at p 77 there is also a reference to Lt Marsh being sent with his platoon along the Hulluch-Lens Road (September 26 1915 – 8 SLI heavily engaged in the Battle of Loos.) He appears to have been specially selected and was very much an upfront officer.
On the ‘What Might Have Been Lost Generation’ point : ASM’s younger brother Ralph Warren died aged 92 years on 29 February 1992 – fruit tree pathologist and former Assistant Director at Long Ashton Research Station. He served as honorary editor of Annals of Applied Biology from 1946 and edited the first book to be published on Systemic Fungicides. He had been appointed mycologist at the U of Bristol’s Dept of Agri and Horticulture during the 1926 General Strike and was appointed OBE on retirement. He had been president of the British Mycological Society. According to the FT obit ‘His sharpness of mind, delightful sense of humour and his humility, endeared him not only to the colleagues who were privileged to work with him, but all those who knew him only in retirement for these gifts continued undiminished to the end.’ As a Somerset man who would have known all about apple pathology and the photograph does rather remind one of a cheerful Cox’s Pippin.
It had long been a legend that my father’s mother had cousins who went to Cambridge and the legend turned out to be true. At least there’s an indication here of what glories ASM would inevitably have achieved. RWM ‘combined an insistence on scientific accuracy and clarity with a remarkable gift for literary dexterity for improvement of texts with minimal alterations’ – which sounds very much in line with his older brother’s abilities.

Geoff Orton

This  ‘What Might Have Been Lost Generation’ point is partly what motivates the World War Zoo Gardens project, wondering what human potential  was lost to zoos and botanic gardens from the impact of WW1 and WW2.

Another Somerset Remembers comment by Michael Day lists Marsh’s  Trinity College Cambridge links:

Captain Marsh also features in the list of Trinity men that died in the First World War, as published on the Trinity College Chapel web pages:

“Marsh, Alfred Stanley
Born Feb. 1, 1892, at Crewkerne, Somerset. Son of William Warren Marsh. Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset. Admitted as Entrance Exhibitioner and Subsizar at Trinity, June 25, 1909. College Natural Sciences Prize. Senior Scholar 1911. BA 1912. Captain, 8th Somerset Light Infantry. Killed in action Jan. 5/6, 1916. Buried in Cité Bonjean Military Cemetery, Armentières, France.”

The information was compiled from the University War List, Forces War Records and the CWGC.

PDF file at:

Marsh’s cemetery and headstone

On the CWGC website entry for him there is more about his headstone and his cemetery.

Ecologist A.S. Marsh lies to the left rear of the block of back to back Allied headstones in Cite Bonjean Militray Cemetery, Armentieres, France. Image CWGC website

Marsh’s cemetery

On the TWGPP website is a photo of Marsh’s headstone:

The town and cemetery where Marsh is buried have an interesting, almost symbolic history. Armentieres is a town in Northern France, on the Belgian frontier. The town was occupied by the 4th Division on 17 October 1914 (giving rise to the soldiers’ marching song “Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Parlay Vous?”). The cemetery  remained within the Allied lines until its evacuation ahead of the German advance on 10 April 1918, recovered again in 3 October 1918.

Plot IX of Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery, Armentieres,  where Marsh is buried (Plot IX, row D headstone 79) was begun in October 1914 and continued to be used by field ambulances and fighting units until April 1918. Plots V, VI, VII and X were then used by the Germans. Although the cemetery now contains 2,145 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, more than 500 German graves remain in the cemetery even after 455 German graves were re-interred or concentrated elsewhere in 1925.

So A.S. Marsh lies appropriately in a cemetery where Germans and Allied soldiers rest close together, united again in death as in life, except during a war which was greatly disruptive of international scholarship, especially among for scientists or naturalists forced onto opposing sides. John Sheail notes (p.41) in his 75th Anniversary history of the BES that:

“Not only did the war bring to an end foreign excursions, but it ruptured the often close links with German scholars. It meant an inevitable dislocation of plans and careers …”

This paragraph could stand as an epitaph for so many scientific and cultural groups including the botanists and zoologists, gardeners, zoo and botanic garden staff that I have been researching for the World War Zoo Gardens project.

References: The British Ecological Society published a history on its 75th anniversary,  75 Years in Ecology: The British Ecological Society  by John Sheail (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987) that gives a few hints on how the First World War affected the lives and work of British and European ecologists.

Endpiece – Marsh’s New Phytologist obituary

In case you are unable to download this journal, here is Marsh’s obituary reprinted from the New Phytologist Obituary 20, 132-6, 1916 by A.G. Tansley, an obituary that can stand in for many young, educated and promising officers of his generation.


On  January 6th, Captain A. S. Marsh of the 8th (Service) Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry was shot through the heart by a sniper as he was passing a gap in the trench parapet near Armentieres. Marsh was not 24 years old when he died and

in him we have lost a botanist full of love for his subject and of promise for the future.

Marsh was the son of Mr. W. W. Marsh of Blacknell, Crewkerne, in Somerset, where he was born on February 1st, 1892. He entered Sexey’s School at Bruton in 1903 with a Junior County Scholarship, and was a great success throughout his School career both in examinations and in the general life of the school. He gained two more county scholarships and also first-class honours in the Senior Oxford Local Examination, and took a conspicuous part in the school debating society and in other school activities. His headmaster writes that “his energy was amazing and he never appeared to find work a burden.”

In his third year Marsh began to take a keen interest in natural history and started with great enthusiasm on the geology and botany of the district, making large collections of fossils and plants for school prizes.

Among his close school friends were several boys who did well in science at the Universities and are now doing successful research.

Marsh also showed a marked talent for languages, both at school and later. For instance, he “got up” Greek in a very short time (neither Greek nor Latin are included in the ordinary curriculum of the school), and later on he very quickly acquired a good working knowledge of German and French, spoken as well as written, in a way that impressed one as the way of a real linguist.

Marsh was considered a delicate boy when he first went to school, and was never an athlete, though his health rapidly improved, but he was a tireless walker, and always played a good game of fives, that favourite of so many students.

In December, 1908, while still under 17, Marsh entered for the scholarship examination in natural science at Trinity, Cambridge, and his work in botany was really wonderful for a boy of his age. At the time it was hard to be sure how far his high standard of knowledge was due to real scientific ability and how far to the excellent and careful teaching for which his school is well known.

But he was easily top of the candidates in botany, though by far the youngest of them, and he got an exhibition at Trinity, and the same year the Drapers’ Company’s “Soley” Scholarship. He came into residence at Trinity in Octoher, 1909, and later on obtained a foundation scholarship there.

Of his undergraduate days it is difficult for one who was not his contemporary to write at all adequately. He was modest and reticent in demeanour, with a strong sense of humour and a pretty gift of irony, and he always gave one the impression of a great deal of personality beneath the quiet surface. One of his friends writes of “that sudden intense keenness and sparkling interest that used to bubble up when he was aroused about something and wanted to carry you with him. It was a great charm . . . .”

Apart from the talent for languages, which has been already mentioned, he had distinctly literary tastes. Especially, as one of his close friends writes, was he attracted to the quaint or the bizarre.

He contributed some excellent stuff to the humorous Cambridge Botany School “Tea-Phyt-ologist,” an erratic production — it can hardly he called a periodical — of which three numbers appeared at irregular intervals. For his work he always showed a genuine love.

After getting a first class in Part I of the Natural Sciences Tripos in 1912, he took Botany for Part II in 1913. During the last year or so before the final examination, perhaps he scattered his interest too much to be good for his botany and he rather neglected some parts of the subject, so that though he got a first-class he did not get it too easily. After his Tripos he was awarded the Frank Smart studentship in botany and migrated to Caius.

His favourite subjects in botany were ecology and taxonomy, but his interests were very wide and he definitely refused after his Tripos to confine himself to one line of research. During the long vacation of 1913 he carried out (with help from several others in the laborious work of surveying) the main part of an investigation of the vegetation of the salt marsh and sand dunes at Holme just north of Hunstanton in Norfolk. This work he continued at intervals till the summer of 1914, and the results were published in “The maritime ecology of Holme-next-the-Sea, Norfolk ” (Journal of Ecology, June, 1915). For the lines on which it was conceived this is an admirable and admirably executed piece of work, bringing out very clearly certain of the edaphic relations of the salt marsh vegetation.

In the long vacation of 1913, Marsh also carried out a small investigation on Cycad anatomy, “Notes on the anatomy of Statigeria paradoxa” (New Phytologist, Jan., 1914).

A large part of the winter of 1913-14 he devoted to investigating the anatomy of some xerophilous ferns and the results of this work were critically presented in “The anatomy of some xerophilous species of Cheilanthes  and Pellcea ” (Annals of Botany, October, 1914).

Stimulated by the sudden appearance of Azolla in large quantities in a ditch by Jesus Close, he also at this time put together a summary of the curious sporadic occurrences of the two species of this plant in Western Europe — “The history of the occurrence of Azolla in the British Isles and in Europe generally” (Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, February, 1914). All his papers are marked not only by sound critical ability, but by a certain distinction of style. One of his friends says “his precision in the use of language was a constant spur to a careless person like myself.”

Perhaps Marsh’s most promising work was his attack upon the conditions of competition between two closely allied  species naturally inhabiting different types of soil, when grown in competition under controlled conditions on the two soils. The experiments he devised were already bringing good results when he left Cambridge to join the army.

In the spring and summer of 1914, Marsh was carrying on this work, finishing his Holme paper and collecting material for some research on the Ranales that he had in view. At midsummer several of us spent a fortnight or three weeks in Provence, for the study of the vegetation between Marseilles and the Maritime Alps. Marsh was of the party and revelled in his introduction to the vegetation of so distinct a climate and in his first glimpse of the high alpines. On his return to Cambridge, he demonstrated, as he had done the summer before, for Dr. Moss’s field classes. For some time previously he had demonstrated in the elementarybotany and elementary biology practical classes.

We were all rather dazed by the outbreak of war early in August and I remember Marsh reading Treitschke and trying hard to get the German standpoint. As un-militarist by nature as he could be, he evidently did some hard thinking away from Cambridge during September and when he came up in mid-October he at once joined the O.T.C. and put in every afternoon at the preliminary training. At the end of the month or early in November he applied for an infantry commission and

in less than three weeks was given a commission as second lieutenant in the 8th battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. I well remember his excitement when he showed me the letter—he was like a girl with the invitation to her first ball.

He joined his regiment within a week, and put in ten months of hard training hefore going to the front. I saw him only three or four times during that period ; generally when he got leave for a day or two he came over to Cambridge and stayed at my house. In March he told me he was beginning to feel his feet, and indeed it was quite evident from his talk that he was getting a real grip of the work and of his men : in April he got his lieutenancy.

His battalion went to France early in September 1915  and his first letter to me after that was about half full of the botany of the region where they were in billets.

At Loos, his battalion was in support and was heavily shelled and sniped during the German counter attacks. The casualties were heavy, especially among the officers. As Marsh expressed it in a wonderfully vivid and very characteristic letter to another friend,

” We were told that once we got the Germans on the run it would he all right, but they had the audacity to counter-attack ! . . . The high explosives dazed the men and the snipers slaughtered the officers.”

Then—after giving a (for him) quite exceptional glimpse of the after effect on his mind of the scenes he saw at Loos—he breaks off:

“If you are fond of Antirrhinum orontium, this is the country for


He promised to tell me all about Loos the first time he came home on leave, but that was never to be. Marsh’s own company, “A”,  got off fairly lightly, and he escaped unscathed, but so heavy were the officer casualties that Marsh got his captaincy immediately, and commanded the battalion when it was soon afterwards inspected by the King.

Then came the regular routine of alternating trenches and billets till January 1916, when, just before he was to come home on leave, he was killed.

Marsh was, I believe, just beginning to find himself mentally when he joined the army, and it is impossible to say what he would have done if he had lived to return to botany, as he certainly would. I should not describe the work he actually did as “brilliant” though it was distinguished in style and of very excellent quality.

He was very young — only 22 when he got his commission. His talents were certainly remarkable and his love for his subject most undoubted. I fancy his experience in the army was having a great effect on his character, which would have been evident when he returned to scientific work. I am sure he felt that here was a very serious joh and though it might he, at any rate at first, an uncongenial job, it was up to him to make good in it. He certainly did make good. His brains and his underlying grit told, for all that he was a peace-loving student by nature and inclination.

Though far from being “typically English ” in mentality and tastes, he had some of the best English qualities—modesty, reticence, humour, pluck, and gaiety under trying conditions. One of his friends says that during the training, Marsh gave him the impression of acting from a sense of duty and of never being really keen on the work, though he did not confess anything of the kind. It may have been so: he did not give me that impression, but simply that of a man who put all of himself, as a man should, into the job he had taken.

His humour stood him in very good stead. “He was so cheerful — everything was always a joke” writes one of his brother officers. He evidently had a real hold on his fellows in the army.

“I’ve never known a captain so much liked by his men ” says one : “Nearly all the men spoke of him in tbeir letters” written just after his death. And his servant wrote: “He was not only respected, but loved.” He had the same hold on tbose who knew him well at Cambridge, and, quite apart from his scientific promise, his loss is very bitter to those who loved him.

written by A.G.Tansley

There is a portrait and biography of ecologist Arthur Tansley on Wikipedia A G Tansley here.

A.S. Marsh, Remembered.

Posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens, Newquay Zoo.



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