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.


1941 grimmest year of the war 75 years on

January 1, 2016


‘It All Depends on Me’ playing card sized propaganda for your pocket diary, from the Brewers Society, 1941/42 (image from the World War Zoo gardens collection, Newquay Zoo)

On the 70th anniversary of 1941, the “grimmest year of the war” according to some, I posted the following blogpost about our World War Zoo Gardens project at Newquay Zoo:

2011 / 2016: We are still hard at work on the wartime diaries project as new diaries come into our collection.

2011 also sadly saw during  the 70th anniversary of the dark days of 1941   the death of ‘Betty Turpin’, much loved British soap actress who in the 1940s was  better known as wartime singing star Betty Driver:

Rereading these 5 year old blogposts from 2011  is sad in some ways, as David Lowe’s wonderful BBC music nostalgia programmes finished in 2012, still much missed.

1941 was also the year of the Plymouth Blitz where a Newquay AFS fire crew was lost, something to remember in April 2016 on the 75th anniversary.

WWZ gardens June 2011 002

World War Zoo gardens graphic sign Summer 2011

Our Graphics sign for the project produced by Stewart Muir, graphic designer Michelle Turton and myself arraived in 2011. Still looking good five years later and would have been read by hundreds of thousands of people.

wartime garden BIAZA award, Mark Norris

Newquay Zoo’s wartime gardener and blogger Mark Norris with the BIAZA award for best plants in a landscape feature and design.

2011 was the year of our BIAZA Zoo Gardening award in November:

2011 also saw me talk about wartime zoos at the Chester Zoo / WAZA / SHNH /  Bartlett Society zoo history conference in May 2011, the talk now published as a journal article in the proceedings.

gnome ZSL war memorail

Our wartime Gnome Guard-ener pays his respects at London Zoo’s staff war memorial, March 2011

2011 was also the year our wartime garden gnome or ‘Gnome Guard’ disappeared, popped up at Paignton Zoo and did a European zoo tour with postcards home before reappearing one day. Still haven’t found how or who aided and abetted this …

LR Brightwell's wartime panda poster London Zoo 1942

L.R. Brightwell’s wartime panda poster for London Zoo 1942

December 2016 will also see the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the USA into the war on the Allied side. This was marked in 2011 by a topical blogpost on Giant Pandas of all things:


Chester Zoo June's Pavilion Oakfield House gardens May 2011 014

George Mottershead in uniform with wife Elizabeth, World War One, one of many family photos in the lovely June’s Pavilion, Chester Zoo 2011

The First World War Centenary was still in the planning in 2011. This year 2016 sees the anniversary of conscription in the UK and the battles of Verdun and the Somme in July 1916.

The Somme and 1916 saw the deaths of several more British zoo keepers and botanic garden staff and no doubt many of their French and German colleagues.

We will post 1916/2016 centenary blogs closer to the time on the effect these battles had on these men and their families and colleagues, not least George Mottershead. George survived a serious disabling injury at the Somme to found Chester Zoo in the 1930s, something celebrated since 2011 in the BBC series “Our Zoo”.

2011 was a busy year of anniversaries and gardening.

Happy New Year for 2016 and thanks for reading.

I wonder what we’ll be looking back on in another 5 years?

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

2015 in review

December 30, 2015

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog

Here’s an excerpt about our reader stats:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Thanks to all our 2015 readers – here’s to many interesting  blogposts and happy readers in 2016.

Happy New Year!

Posted by Mark Norris, World war Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK.

WW1 life in the trenches and on the Home Front through adverts

December 23, 2015

A few ‘Stocking fillers’ for your loved ones, work  colleagues or local village boys serving in the trenches:

Boots items for the Trenches, WW1 advert, The War Budget, 1917 (Author's collection WWZG)

Boots items for the Trenches, WW1 advert, The War Budget, 1917 (Author’s collection WWZG)

Pages of adverts from wartime magazines in my collection such as The War Budget or Chambers Journal give a small glimpse into how civilian families on the Home Front maintained their links with their family or employees in the trenches or fighting fronts around the world.

Buying or making ‘Comforts’ for soldiers or sailors gave a reassuring message from home. It was also one way in which civilians had a glimpse of what life was supposedly like in the trenches.

Wright's Coal Tar Soap -tank advert, The War Budget, 1917, WW1 (Image: author's collection, WWZG)

Wright’s Coal Tar Soap -tank advert, The War Budget, 1917, WW1 (Image: author’s collection, WWZG)


Boots 'Roll of Honour' WW1 advert, The War Budget,  (Image: author's collection, WWZG)

Boots ‘Roll of Honour’ WW1 advert, The War Budget, (Image: author’s collection, WWZG)

The need for home-grown food as a patriotic and practical gesture to reduce Britain’s reliance on imported shipped goods from all over the world and the Empire is reflected in the ‘Spades are Trumps’ advert about allotments.

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

Posted from mostly 1917 original magazines in his own collection by Mark Norris on behalf of the World War Zoo Gardens Collection, Newquay Zoo

Fry's Cocoa advert The War Budget, 1917 WW1 (author's collection)

Fry’s Cocoa advert The War Budget, 1917 WW1 (author’s collection)

The Military Miss WW1

December 23, 2015

Amongst my junk shop finds many years ago was this quartet of well thumbed WW1 unposted post cards by an unknown supplier – The Military Miss. Prepared to ‘Face Powder’, the Pride of the Army!

military miss PC

Simply and crudely produced, this bit of WW1 / Edwardian ‘Eye Candy’ may look odd to us today.  I’ve never quite understood the strange Edwardian ‘smiles’ other than to suggest you still have your own teeth.

It has a typical  music hall double entrendre feel … Giving the Glad Eye! “Come an ‘Ave One” dates from the days when Rev William Studdart Kennedy gave out cigarettes to the troops as ‘Woodbine Willie’ or Queen Mary included smokes in her Christmas Box in 1914. It’s a little joke to send, cleaner than many postcards soldiers would have carried (no doubt edited out when their possions were returned to families  after their death).

I would love to know more about this ‘Military Miss’  series if anyone wishes to leave me infromation via our comments page.

women soldiers

Music Hall women soldiers from Strand Magazine 1910 (article from my   wartime collection)


It also embodies  a certain style of music hall recruitment and  patriotism but does it understimate the vast amount that women achieved supporting or opposing the war?

military miss 2

Recent example from Ebay “The Military Miss – To captivate the Enemy”


Other examples exist “The Military Miss – To captivate the Enemy” recently sold on Ebay; going rate is about £5 per postcard.

The series can also be seen on Pinterest occasionally such as BKduncan’s site

1916 would see Conscription imposed in Britain followed by Tribunals and ‘Combing out’ in later war years, removing more men from reserved occupations to fight.

War correspondent Kate Adie explored this wide variety of tasks and representations of women in WW1 in both  Corsets to Camouflage (about women soldiers) and also her interesting recent WW1 book and BBC TV series Fighting On The Home Front: The Legacy of Women In World War One, published by Hodder & Stoughton. Both books are  well worth reading and both are now available in paperback.

Women gardeners at Kew and female zoo keepers or curators at London Zoo were two such diverse employment areas that developed for women in WW1 (only to close again until another war).

Happy Christmas to all our readers from The World War Zoo Gardens project at Newquay Zoo!

Posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo, Christmas 2015

Happy Wartime Christmas?

December 22, 2015

wartime garden PZ  Christmas 2010 009

A rare survival of a cardboard Christmas stocking toy in our World War Zoo gardens collection alongside the excellent Christmas on the Home Front book by Mike Brown

Happy Christmas to all our World War Zoo Garden blog readers, another very busy year at our project base at Newquay Zoo.

Past Christmas blogposts




Our trial War and Peace Christmas Pudding – before pretasting by keepers – at Newquay Zoo.


oxfam unwrapped ecard

We have continued our tradition of buying an Oxfam Allotment gift again this year 2015 on behalf of the project:



wartime garden PZ  Christmas 2010 006

Noah’s Ark handmade by Ernest Lukey for his daughter (in our wartime collection) alongside a cocoa tin and wood pull along train. Wartime Christmas presents.


There’s always the tradition of handmade or recycled presents as well. One of my favourites remains this simple puzzle, handmade for a little girl.

Handmade sliding puzzle World War Zoo Children evacuation suitcase items 003

Handmade sliding puzzle made by a man for his daughter in wartime, from Australian Butter box wood and cut out calender dates, 1940s, Newquay Zoo wartime life collection

This featured in our  2010 Christmas blogpost:

World War Zoo Children evacuation suitcase items 004

Back view of the wartime handmade sliding puzzle showing the Australia butter box markings

Remembering Leonard Peachey London Zoo staff killed in RAF crash 18 December 1940

December 18, 2015

From Zoo Clerk to Air Gunner …

75 years ago today on 18 December 1940 one of London Zoo’s young clerks Leonard James Peachey was killed in an RAF air  crash during WW2.


Leonard Peachey, ZSL Clerk is buried among these RAF graves at North Coates (St Nicholas) Churchyard, Lincs. Image:


The first of ZSL’s five WW2 casualties, ZSL London Zoo  Clerk Leonard Peachey  is buried among the RAF graves at North Coates (St Nicholas) Churchyard, Lincs.

ZSL Clerk Leonard Peachey,  RAF Volunteer Reserve,  died aged 32 as Sergeant Wireless Operator / Air Gunner in an air  crash, serving with 22 Squadron in Lincolnshire at RAF North Coates / Cotes (various spellings exist!).

He is buried in North Coates (St. Nicholas) Churchyard, Lincs alongside the rest of his crew from 22 Squadron, and buried alongside in adjoining graves in the same row:

  • Sergeant Pilot Dennis George How, RAFVR (aged 23)
  • Sergeant Observer Paul Victor Renai (aged 22, from Wellington, New Zealand) 
  • Sergeant Wireless Operator / W.E. Mechanic Ralph  Gerald Hart (22).
The roles involved – pilot, observer, wireless operator / mechanic and Peachey’s own role as Wireless Operator / Air Gunner suggest that this is an entire Beaufort crew of 4.
There is more about Bristol Beaufort  and the roles of its crew of four  at this site:
You can see inside the cramped cockpit of one of these Bristol Beauforts of Peachey’s 22 Squadron here:
Peachey’s air gunner post can be seen here in this 22 Squadron Beaufort photo around December 1940 (sadly not his individual aircraft) The caption reads:
Air gunners at their positions on board a Beaufort Mark I, L4461 ‘OA-J’, of No. 22 Squadron RAF at North Coates, Lincolnshire. One gunner occupies the Bristol Mark IV turret, mounting a single .303 Vickers K-type gas-operated machine gun. For added protection against beam attacks, 22 Squadron has installed another K gun, mounted in the port entry hatch. IWM photo CH 637

Peachey’s headstone can be seen at

Leonard Peachey in the London Zoo staff records

ZSL London Zoo has not only a fine library but an amazing archive including staff records cards dating back to Victorian times.

Leonard was born on 19 October 1909. He joined the zoo as a young Office Boy on July 17 1927 on 27 shillings and 6d a week, promoted to Messenger by 1928 and finally Clerk on 20th December 1935.

His Pay increases and records then tended to be in mid December eerily almost on the date or  day of his air crash. On the 17th December 1938, his Clerk’s pay went up a further 5 shillings to 95 shillings a week.

The following year, he would be dead in an air crash.

His record card mentions that he was a ‘Territorial called  RAF  16 September 1939′ two weeks into the war (presumably the RAF VR Volunteer Reserve). His record card simply recalls 18.12.40 Killed in Air Crash North Coates Lincs.

A married man, his family address like many London Zoo staff shifts around the North London area, in his case  finishing at Woodhouse Road Finchley (with a temporary address in 1936 curiously at Veyges, Bystock, Exmouth, Devon; a long journey to work!)


Royal Air Force Coastal Command, 1939-1945. Aircrew of No. 22 Squadron RAF walking away from their Bristol Beaufort Mark 1s after a mission, at North Coates, Lincolnshire. Wikipedia Public Domain source via Daventry B J (Mr), Royal Air Force official photographer – Photograph CH 639 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

From zoo clerk to air gunner … Peachey’s life in the wartime RAF

Peachey’s 22 Squadron brought the Bristol Beaufort into operational service in 1939/ 1940: a preserved Beaufort can be seen at the RAF Museum Hendon  RAF Museum Bristol Beaufort In their illustration, Peachey’s exposed position as a dorsal (mid to back of plane) ‘rear gunner’ can again be seen.

There is an interesting Wikipedia Bristol Beaufort article describing and picturing  the Beaufort.

Several of the first production Beauforts were engaged in ‘working-up trials’ and final service entry began in late November 1939 / January 1940 (according to different sources) with 22 Squadron of RAF Coastal Command.

After this intense work up at RAF North Coates in Lincolnshire, the Squadron resumed operations in April 1940, beginning with mine-laying sorties.

The Squadron’s torpedo operations against enemy shipping used several bases during the war including RAF North Coates, RAF Thorney Island Sussex, RAF Abbotsinch and RAF Portreath and RAF St Eval in Cornwall, only a few miles from where our project base at Newquay Zoo for the World War Zoo Gardens allotment is based.

It was presumably during  these operations that ZSL London Zoo clerk and RAFVR Sergeant Leonard Peachey and his fellow Sergeants in the crew were killed on 18 December 1940.

22 Squadron was re-formed at RAF Thorney Island in 1955 as a Search and Rescue Helicopter Squadron and was finally stood down from Search and Rescue duties with the Bristow privatisation in October 2015. Further squadron information from

Peachey’s airfield is now home to the North Cotes Flying Club but the main concrete runways that Peachey’s 22 Squadron have now been removed for agriculture. Photos of the now discontinued airfield can be found on various sites including

These photos are amongst  others on the informative Airfield Information Exchange website:

I came across the Airfield Information Exchange website whilst researching a  forthcoming 2016 blogpost on British zoos that were once wartime airfields. Watch this (landing) space.

The circumstances around his air crash 18 December 1940

Researching the crash there appeared to be one most likely candidate (right type of plane, right squadron, right date) for Peachey’s fatal air crash.

Leonard Peachey and crew were the crew of 22 Squadron’s Bristol Beaufort L4516 OA-W which crashed on 18 December 1940 listed as “Marshchapel  – Engine Failure after take off for Wilhelmshaven, aircraft stalled and crashed.” (Source:

This plane L4516 OA-W is photographed around the same time in the Imperial War Museum archive by official RAF  war photographer  Flight Lieutenant Bertrand John Henry Daventry in 1940.

The caption for one IWM photo  (CH 1851) offers some interesting additional information: :

Mark XI aerial torpedoes being taken out on trolleys towards a Bristol Beaufort Mark I, L4516 ‘OA-W’, of No. 22 Squadron RAF at North Coates, Lincolnshire. Shortly after this photograph was taken, L4516 was destroyed when it stalled after a night take-off from North Coates and hit the ground near Marshfield, detonating the mine it was carrying.© IWM (CH 1851)

Is this Peachey’s crew and aircraft? A helpful aircraft historian at the RAF Museum sent me the following helpful infomation from the first volume of Coastal Command Losses by Ross McNeill confirming that the crew of L4516 is that resting in the churchyard at North Coates after taking off at North Coates at 20.10 for the target of  Wilhelmshaven

Stalled due to an engine failure shortly after take-off and crashed at Marshchapel, Lincolnshire. The Time Impact Mine exploded setting the aircraft on fire and killing all the crew. Sergeant Renai of Wellington, New Zealand and the other crew members (Hart, How and Peachey) rest locally in St. Nicholas Churchyard, North Cotes, Lincolnshire.

Wilhelmshaven was a German naval base and port, hence the mines and torpedoes that these 22 Squadron Coastal Command aircraft were pictured carrying.

Leonard Peachey and crew / colleagues are mentioned in this RAF North Coates related blogpost, showing the original preserved airfield gates that Leonard and crew would have known.

ZSL War Memorial 010small

Names of the five fallen ZSL staff from the Second World War, ZSL war memorial, London Zoo, 2010 – these worn original plaques have now been replaced with new ones.

Peachey is also remembered on the ZSL London Zoo staff war memorial WW2 plaque.

ZSL War Memorial 003small

Autumn colours behind the ZSL war memorial, London Zoo, November 2010 (Photo: Kate Oliver, ZSL Education)

Leonard Peachey and his Crew L4516 OA-W remembered, each November by London Zoo staff and 75 years on by the World War Zoo Gardens project online.

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



Peggy Skinner’s Wartime Christmas 1940

December 10, 2015

December 1940  – a schoolgirl’s wartime Christmas in Scotland

If you are struggling to choose or afford Christmas presents this year, spare a thought for the fashion conscious 1940s wartime young woman like Peggy Skinner!

Peggy Skinner is a 15 to 16 year old schoolgirl in her final years of school, transplanted in wartime to Paisley in Renfrewshire, Scotland from her South London home.


Peggy Jane Skinner’s 1943 diary and a photo believed to be her. Source: Mark Norris, WWZG collection.

Like many school girls she is worrying about exam results and making it into her  school leaving year in 1941. She makes it to wartime Glasgow University on a Carnegie Grant to study Astronomy, Maths, Radio and Science, but all this seems far away in Christmas 1940. [I’ve added additional notes in brackets].

Much of her social life revolves around school friends and a church youth group, attending a Bible Class en route to becoming a Sunday School teacher of a weekend throughout her wartime student years. 

Peggy is obviously a bright girl, daughter of an engineer and draughtsman. School is thankfully going well for her despite relocation and wartime disruption. Unusually at the time for a female student, she is doing well studying Science and Maths.


Glasgow schools in wartime

Many Glasgow schools were closed early on in the war or requisitioned for military and civil defence use. Peggy’s school seems to have a range of teachers on loan from other schools.

Amongst the range of teacher names and nicknames somebody in Paisley or Glasgow might recognise or identify Peggy’s school:

Jetta Yuill her French teacher from Renfrew High School, Bone her Latin teacher, ‘Fanny’, Miss Buchanan, Miss Reid and Miss Blair her Gym teachers, ‘Doc’ and Billy Robb her Science teachers, Stoney, Denham or Denman her Physics and Science teacher, Tommy Henderson, Alice Young, Miss McKim, Miss Walker, Hutchison or Hutchie, Stevenson her History teacher, Mr. Reid her music teacher and McCrossan who produces the school play.

Does anyone recognise any of these names from wartime school days?

Peggy Skinner’s summer in Scotland safe from the London Blitz and Battle Of Britain in July to September 1940 were covered in a previous blogpost:

More about Peggy’s life (1924-2011) and other wartime birthdays and Christmas entries can be found here on what would have been her 90th birthday tribute in December 2014:


Peggy Skinner’s wartime diary, December 1940

Sunday 1st                    As [the local vicar] Mr Laming is away, the Marines’ chaplain took the Eucharist. Mr [Bovey?] took Bible Class and some one from Trinity Paisley took evensong. His profile was like Tyrone Power’s but he spoke so slowly.


[Tyrone Power, the famous U.S. film actor of the time, was a bit of a Peggy Skinner favourite!]

 Monday 2nd                  Physics marks back, they were really out of 120 but they were counted out of 100 since we didn’t get all the time we were supposed to. I’ve got 50% for my Latin.

Tuesday 3rd                 I have found out that I am the highest in lower History in our class, so I’m quite bucked. I got 67% for my Chemistry which is far better than I’d expected.

Wednesday 4th            Dance practice with boys at Gym. Latin sentences in place of or in addition to the exam ones, of course I couldn’t do them. AYPA – went to Youth welfare meeting, pretty boring.

[Anglican Young People’s Association, a church youth and social group of the time]

Thursday 5th                Dance practice with boys. Latin marks back, the sentences we had yesterday were counted in place of the ones in the exam. They brought my marks up a bit. It is 55% which I think is good.

Friday 6th                     Half day. Went to Whist drive round church hall. I just filled in, had to help Mum get the hall ready first.

Saturday 7th                 Went to Paisley with Bunty to see My Two Husbands, it was very amusing.   Altogether, it was quite a good show. Paisley was crowded, it was War Weapons Week.

[See our separate blog post for Paisley War Weapons Week]

Sunday 8th                    Communion and Bible Class. It is very cold. I think it is freezing tonight. Trying to think of Xmas presents.

Monday 9th                   Higher History marks back. I am second equal and first equal when averaged British and European history is taken.

Tuesday 10th                Xmas is getting very near and I haven’t brought any presents. I don’t know what to get. Our parcel from Grandma arrived last Friday.

[Grandma is back home with the family in London]

Wednesday 11th          Literature back, I got 30 ½ out of 45. I’m third equal in our section. Didn’t do much at AYPA tonight.

 Thursday 12th              It is Paisley War Weapons Week this week, our savings collection last week towards it was £175, this week it is £333, making a total of over £500 which is five times as much as we aimed at.

Friday 13th                   English marks back. We got away at 1.30, because of yesterday’s collection. I went to Paisley in the afternoon, Xmas shopping, I wasn’t very successful, everything’s so expensive.

Saturday 14th               Very miserable day. Went to Paisley with Mum in afternoon, got nothing we went for. Stockings are 2 to 3 times the price they used to be.


Editor’s note: This shortage and price increase was pre-clothes rationing, which would arrive in six months time on Sunday June 1st 1941, partly to manage and organise scarcity, profiteering  and excessive prices.

The shortage of shoes and everyday clothes became a major irritation for Peggy throughout her diary including into the austerity and rationing period long after the war, especially being tall.

Thankfully her family were competent makers of clothes with whatever remnants became available.


Sunday 15th                  Poured with rain again, I had to borrow an umbrella to come home from church this morning. I went to Bible Class and evensong.

Monday 16th                 We had our report cards back. The Rector [the School Headmaster] sent for some people but luckily not me. Packed Xmas presents this evening.


[These presents are to be posted to her remaining family down south in London.]


Tuesday 17th                I hate Maths now (although the periods are often quite good, like the ones today) because we always seem to be so keyed up.

Wednesday 18th          Dancing in boy’s shed this morning because the Gym was being decorated. Only 7 at AYPA tonight, so as usual did nothing.

Thursday 19th              Half-day for 4th, 5th, 6th year dance – I did not go. I’ll hear all about it tomorrow I expect. It was just an afternoon affair.

Friday 20th                   [Peggy’s 16th birthday] Black velvet for frock, jumper, ring and money to buy books were my presents. Half-day for 3rd years dance. We have a big Hamlet crossword puzzle to do. Short air –raid warning this evening.

Saturday 21st               Another short warning, which I did not hear last night. Bessie and Jean came to tea, just talked. I at any rate quite enjoyed myself.

 Sunday 22nd                 Woke so late that I had a job to get to church in time but service was only beginning as I went in. I went to Bible Class. I tried to finish the [Hamlet school] crossword but couldn’t.

Monday 23rd                Two boys had managed to get the crossword done. We only had two periods this afternoon then got away early. I’ve still some Xmas shopping to do.

Tuesday 24th                Half day, broke up, we did X-word puzzles in Maths, nothing in History and Bible and worked in English and Chem. I went to midnight Eucharist, took communion. Church was crowded.

Wednesday 25th            Christmas Day  Went to [neighbours] Read’s for tea and evening, two other people there, we had a very good time but I’m so sleepy now Xmas is over. This year it’s come unexpectedly and passed quickly.


Christmas in Wartime

Not the first Christmas of the war, but this was the first Christmas in wartime where rationing was beginning to have an effect on food and gifts. Later entries by Peggy Skinner for 1943 and 1946-9 record the ongoing difficulties of finding suitable presents and making of things to sell for charity fundraising.


Thursday 26th              Didn’t wake till midday. Went round to Bunty’s but I got no reply So I just came home and read. I haven’t started my homework yet.

Friday 27th                           Saw Bunty this morning. We have a [barrage] balloon opposite us now, the site has been prepared for months but the balloon wasn’t brought till today.


Peggy Skinner’s wartime home  is towards the top of the photograph,  (top right) a barrage balloon on the balloon site nearby protecting the Hillington Rolls Royce and other factories at the bottom left. ID 211548

This barrage balloon site near her house is on the National Historic Monuments Record for Scotland in the Glendee Road area of Paisley, protecting factory areas at Hillingdon.

Saturday 28th             Got letters from Bessie and Jean this morning, they were very amusing, especially if they were compared. Went to see Pinocchio the full length cartoon alone this afternoon.

Sunday 29th                    Good crowd at Communion, had service in church at Bible Class. Good number of carols at evensong, choir alone sang them all, quite a few I didn’t know.

Monday 30th                   Went round to Bunty’s this afternoon, we both tried to do some history. She and I went down to library this evening . Miserable cold wet day.

Tuesday 31st                   Reads came over this evening, had a little party, quite a good time. I’m full and tired. Mr Read saw the ‘New Year’ in,  so this should actually be here.


Editor’s note: This list entry about ‘first footing’ by neighbours gives you a clue when her diary was sometimes written, often at the end of day before sleep.


January 1941

Wednesday 1st               I did not get up till dinner-time today, all the family was late up. Did some English this afternoon. Snow.

Thursday 2nd                  While I was down the town this afternoon the siren went but I just finished my shopping and then wandered home. Nothing happened, the [barrage] balloon opposite didn’t even go up.

We have no diaries from Peggy for 1941 and 1942. These two January entries give us a few clues as to what was to happen in coming months.

Like her entries for January 1940, the winter of 1941 is recorded by other diarists in our collection and other published diaries as a harsh one of frozen pipes and snow.

The lack of reaction to the air raid siren and ‘nothing happened, the balloon opposite didn’t even go up’ would change on 13 and 14th March 1941 when Clydebank and the Glasgow area were heavily bombed. Sadly we don’t have Peggy’s diaries for this eventful year.

Happy Christmas!

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



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