Remembrance 2019

November 9, 2019


Poppies in the World War Zoo Garden< Newquay Zoo, Summer 2019 

Remembering at 11 o’clock on Remembrance Sunday and Monday the 11th November the many zoo staff who served and suffered in WW1 and WW2, along with their animals.

Blog posted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo / World War Zoo Gardens Project 10 / 11 November 2019-


Remembering E.H. Robson, Kew Gardens Coventry Parks Department died 23 October 1944 Italy WW2

October 23, 2019


 Captain E H Robson’s name on the Kew Gardens staff war memorial WW2 section

E.H. Robson, gardener, died 23 October 1944, Italy.

Born in 1912, Edward Herbert Robson entered Kew Gardens for training in 1935 after working in private estate gardens and became foreman in the Temperate House at Kew  until 1938 when he moved to work in the parks of Coventry.

He had already joined the Royal Berkshire Regiment in October 1940 by the time Coventry was bombed in late 1940 and 1941.

Autumn  1944 was a bad year for the Robson family. His brother Major John Elliott Robson of the same regiment was also killed in Italy on 7th October 1944 and a third brother was injured and taken prisoner at Arnhem.

His Kew Guild Journal 1946 obituary notes him as collecting and sending back plants and seeds throughout his service in Palestine, Egypt and Italy.

CWGC records list him as Captain ROBSON, EDWARD HERBERT
Service Number 203877
Died 23/10/1944, Aged 32
Royal Berkshire Regiment (attd. 5th Battalion. Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment)
Mentioned in Despatches
“Son of Reginald Herbert and Mary Eliott Robson, of Bloomsbury, London. His brother John Eliott Robson also fell.”

Service headstone inscription chosen by family-

His grave is now in Florence War Cemetery in Italy.

Edward Robson and family, and the lost gardeners of Kew, remembered 75 years on on 23 October 2019.  

Blog posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo, 23 October 2019.

Poland Overrun 6th October 1939

October 7, 2019


Back on 1st September this year I posted about the events in Poland 80 years ago, including the effects of wartime on Polish zoos like Warsaw.

Many male zoo staff like Jan Zubinski the Warsaw Zoo Director would have been called up, his family story told in the film and book The Zoo Keeper’s Wife.

Five to six weeks later, the last major Polish army unit in the field under General Franciszek Kleeberg surrendered on 6th October 1939 after a four day battle around the city of Kock.

Remnants of some  Polish army units and pilots escaped to Britain to carry on the battle, including a  group of Polish airmen who fought notably as pilots in Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain.  Others including cavalry units survived for a while as partisans.

Many others were captured as POWs and many of the officers were shot by the Russians at the infamous Katyn Massacre.

Russians? Struggling to hold the onslaught and blitzkrieg of the German Army and Airforce, Polish army could do little when the Soviet / Russian Red Army invaded from the East on 17th September 1939.

25th September 1939 was known as “Black Monday” after a massive Luftwaffe (German Air Force) air raid on the capital city of Warsaw (including its Zoo) with heavy civilian casualties.

Warsaw Zoo and Polish zoos in wartime 

Ironically the 1939/40 International Zoo Directors Meeting was supposed to be hosted in Warsaw Zoo, by which time it was in ruins.

After the surrender of Warsaw to the Germans, most of the ‘valuable’ animal species (in the eyes of German  zoo director  Lutz Heck) were taken to the Schorfeide reserve in Germany.

Others described as ‘not valuable’ were shot and the zoo was closed. It survived as a fur farm and pig farm and played a valuable underground role in smuggling Jews out of Warsaw.


Jan Zabinski – Wikipedia source

During WW2, Jan Żabiński, the director, together with his wife Antonina and their son Ryszard, saved more than 300 Jews from the Holocaust.

Jan Żabinski was seriously injured and taken prisoner  during the 1944 Warsaw uprising. When he returned to Warsaw Zoo after the War, animals started being reintroduced, which  reopened in 1949.

Poor old Poland. 

Other Polish zoos like Wroclaw Zoo also suffered in WW2:

“During the siege of Festung Breslau, most of the [Wroclaw] zoo animals were killed and the remaining ones were sent to other zoos located in a number of Polish cities including Poznań, Kraków and Łódź.

After the Second World War, the plans to rebuild the zoo were drawn and one of the main initiators of this project was zoologist Stanisław Kulczyński from the Wrocław University of Technology. In 1947, Karol Łukaszewicz, who previously worked at the Kraków Zoo, was appointed the first Polish director of the zoo that was soon to be reopened. He played a key role in rebuilding the ruined zoo, bringing back the animals that were taken away from the zoo as well as acquiring new ones. On 18 July 1948, the Wrocław zoo was ceremonially [re]opened.” Wikipedia source

Before the start of World War II, the Poznań Zoo was home to over 1100 animals of  300 species. Many of the zoo buildings were destroyed. Only as few as 175 animals survived the war including surprisingly wolves, deer and a hippopotamus.

When Polish zoos were rebuilt after the end of the war in 1945,  their site remains were then in Soviet hands, cut off largely from the rest of Europe  until 1989, 50 years after the start of WW2. 

Finally after 1989 the western and eastern Europe zoos could be united in international breeding programmes through networks like  EAZA and WAZA, “Working together for Wildlife” and finally “United for Conservation.”

Blog posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens Project, 6/7 October 2019. 



Remembering Georges Henri Larsen Kew Gardens exchange student died 13 September 1944 75 years ago

September 30, 2019



G.H.Larsen 13 September 1944

Born November 25 1914 in France, Georges Henri Larsen came to Kew on exchange from the Luxemburg Gardens, Paris 1935-36.

Georges Larsen died serving with Corps Franc d’Afrique and Free French forces in Normandy,  killed in the fighting at Epinal in 1944. 

Remembered 75 years on at the Kew Gardens Staff War Memorial.

Larsen is one of the many casualties of zoos and botanic gardens that we have been researching since 2009 as part of The World War Zoo Gardens project on how zoos and botanic gardens were affected by wartime challenges.

Blog posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens Project, Newquay Zoo  September 1944 / 2019.

Battle of Britain Day 15 September 1940 2019

September 15, 2019

benenden newquay war weapons week

A dramatic Battle of Britain style poster design 1941 by two young Benenden School students evacuated to Newquay (remembered in a plaque in the Hotel Bristol) – Zoo collection

Today is Battle of Britain Day, a day to remember all those involved in the months of aerial combat, the air crew, the in summer 1940, the pilots,  ground crew, the casualties and their families.

“On Sunday, 15 September 1940, the German Luftwaffe launched its largest and most concentrated attack against London in the hope of drawing out the RAF into a battle of annihilation. Around 1,500 aircraft took part in the air battles which lasted until dusk. The action was the climax of the Battle of Britain.” (Wikipedia source)

You can read more about the Battle of Britain on our previous blogposts, including extracts from Peggy Skinner’s wartime 1940 diary:

These posts are about the Battle of Britain:

Several Kew Gardens and London Zoo staff served with the RAF, including several who died in training or on active service.

Battle of Britain Day Remembered 79 years on. 1940 / 2019.

Blog posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, 2019



3rd September 1939 – Britain declares war on Germany 80 Years On

September 3, 2019

A parliament in chaos, diplomatic relations with European governments at a crucial point, uncertainty over the future of the nation and disruption of life as we know it …

No, not BREXIT.

Nor even Climate Change.

I’m thinking back to Sunday 3rd September 1939, as Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced on the BBC radio around 11 am that Britain once again was at war with Germany over its invasion of Poland.

Shortly afterwards the air raid sirens sounded and people headed for the shelters.

What were they supposed to do with their pet animals? What could zoos  do with their zoo animals?

Thankfully it was a false alarm. That time.

Today is the 80th anniversary of that day and for many ageing child evacuees and young people of that era , they still clearly remember the disruption of evacuation, the fear of aerial bombing and over the next six years many upheavals in ordinary life it caused their parents and families.

This Chamberlain BBC radio broadcast is featured in this newspaper coverage:

Over the last ten years as home of the World War Zoo Gardens project at Newquay Zoo we have been researching how life changed in zoos, gardens  and botanic gardens.

How things changed for animals, for zoo staff, for zoo visitors and families and their neighbourhoods around Britain and in many other countries …

Look through our Blogposts going back to 2009 for more details.


World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

We have explored this since 2009 through events, partnership projects, signage, an allotment garden in the zoo, this blog, articles, and many chats with zoo visitors over the garden fence. We have developed schools workshops for primary and secondary schools

Look through our Blogposts going back to 2009 for more details.

A poppy blooms in the quiet September garden, a symbol of all that we have learned about zoos in WW1.

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

Blogposted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo, 3rd September 1939 / 2019 



Richard Bartlett WW1 casualty of the famous London Zoo family 23 October 1914

September 2, 2019

cwgc menin

Having no known grave, Richard Bartlett’s name should be up on the walls of this Menin Gate Ypres memorial, home to the last post each evening. Image: CWGC 

Lance Serjeant Richard Bartlett 10029, died in action on 23 October 1914 aged 28, serving with the 1st Battalion, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment . He has no known grave and is remembered on Addenda Panel 57 of the Ypres  (Menin Gate ) Memorial.

CWGC lists him as the “Son of the late Clarence Bartlett, of Zoological Gardens, Regent’s Park, London“.

The war affected not only the staff of London Zoo who joined up (as we have covered in previous London Zoo WW1 blog posts) but also the sons,  grandsons and wider families of zoo staff.

The Bartlett Society was set up by Clinton Keeling to link people with an interest in zoo history together. It is named after Richard Bartlett’s grandfather, Abraham Dee Bartlett,  the great nineteenth-century superintendent of the Zoological Society of London’s gardens at Regent’s Park – a post which Abraham held from 1859 until his death in 1897 at the age of eighty-four.

70 years later  on from Richard’s death, The Bartlett Society, named in honour of Abraham Dee Bartlett, was founded by the late C. H. Keeling on 27th October 1984. It is devoted to promoting the study of zoo history or ‘yesterday’s methods of keeping wild animals’.

Hopefully the following Bartlett family history is correct – I’m sure the Bartlett Society members will correct me if I’m wrong. 

In between a strange career as a publican, Abraham’s son Clarence also lived at the London Zoo or zoological gardens as its deputy superintendent and briefly superintendent on his father’s death.

Born in St. Pancras in  1887, his son Richard enlisted in Preston, which is probably why he enlisted in a Lancashire regiment. Richard is listed with his Lancashire Regiment in the 1911 census at the Bhurtpore Military Barracks, Bhurtpore Barracks, South Tedworth, Hants.

As a result of his prewar soldiering, Richard was able to get overseas quickly in the few weeks after war was declared, whilst many others were still enlisting in recruiting offices.

Richard appears to have been by trade a butcher when he enlisted, a slightly different animal-related career than his famous grandfather. His effects and will went to his brother Joseph.

By reading regimental diaries and histories, we get a glimpse of Richard Bartlett’s war and how he died.

The 1st Battalion were part of the BEF (2nd Brigade in 1st Division) and landed in France on 13th August 1914. The 1st Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment sailed to France on the newly built S.S Agapenor on 12 August 1914.

They embarked at Southampton, but having started to cross over they ran into another ship on the Solent, giving her ‘a nasty bash’. One man was injured. That night they continued their crossing to La Havre.

The Battalion originally comprised regular pre-war soldiers. They were the only LNL battalion at Mons, and subsequently were part of the ‘Great Retreat’. They were present at; Marne, Aisne, Ypres, Langemarck 1914, Gheluvelt, Nonne Bosschen, Givenchy 1914, Aubers, Loos …  The 1st were the only LNL battalion to qualify for the 1914 Star, the majority of recipients also being awarded the clasp ‘5th Aug.-22nd Nov. 1914’ for being under-fire at Mons.

On the excellent Loyal Regiment website, there is a diary of a Private in Richard’s battalion: it mentions the day that Bartlett died during


“Thus ended the Langemarck engagement so far as we were concerned. On October 26th, 1914, General Headquarters issued the report, a copy of which appeared in the current account of The Times of November 17th, 1914, as follows:”

26TH OCTOBER, 1914

In the action of the 23rd of October, 1914, the 2nd Infantry Brigade
(less the 2nd Royal Sussex Regiment left at Boesinghe) was allotted the task of reinforcing the 1st Infantry Brigade and retaking the trenches along the Bipschoote-Langemarck Road, which had been occupied by the enemy.

In spite of the stubborn resistance offered by the German troops, the object of the engagement was accomplished, but not without many casualties in the Brigade.

By nightfall the trenches previously captured by the Germans had been
reoccupied, about 500 prisoners captured, and fully 1,500 German dead were lying out in front of our trenches.

The Brigadier-General congratulates the 1st Loyal North Lancashire
Regiment, Northampton Regiment, and the 2nd K.R.R.C. (King’s Royal Rifle Corps), but desires specially to commend the fine soldier-like spirit of the 1st Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, which, advancing steadily under heavy shell and rifle fire, and aided by machine-guns, was enabled to form up within a comparatively short distance of the enemy’s trenches.

Fixing bayonets, the battalion then charged, carried the trenches, and occupied them; and to them must be allotted the majority of the prisoners captured.

The Brigadier-General congratulates himself on having in his Brigade a battalion which, after marching the whole of the previous night without food or rest, was able to maintain its splendid record in the past by the determination and self-sacrifice displayed in this action.

The Brigadier-General has received special telegrams of congratulations from both the G.O.C.-in-Chief, 1st Corps, and the G.O.C., 1st Division, and he hopes that in the next engagement in which the Brigade takes part the high reputation which the Brigade already holds may be further added to. Signed B. PAKENHAM, CAPTAIN, Brigade Major 2nd Infantry Brigade.

The area is also covered on

Remembering Richard Bartlett, grandson of Abraham Bartlett, one of those “many casualties in the Brigade” on that day.

Blog posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo, September 2019

cwgc menin


1st September 1939 Poland invaded 80 years ago

September 1, 2019

80 years ago today, 1st September 1939: German tanks rolled into Poland as part of a Blitzkrieg of air, land and  sea attacks on the small Polish armed forces.

A day to remember the Polish people and to remember how quickly many countries were sucked into the fighting.

Poland had several allies such as France and Britain with treaties  guaranteeing its neutrality and promising to respond if Poland were attacked by Nazi Germany.

Britain followed by its Empire, and shortly later France, declared war on Germany on the 3rd September 1939.

Within days Warsaw Zoo was in ruins, many of the animals dead and their younger male keepers like Jan Zabinski the Zoo Director called away to fight. Other valuable zoo animals were taken away by German zoo director Lutz Heck  back to zoos in Nazi Germany.

Very soon the Soviet Russian army invaded Poland from the North.


Diane Ackerman’s account of the Zabinskis and Warsaw Zoo in WW2 

For a more detailed account of this time in Poland, read The Zoo Keeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman.

Of Polish descent, American nature writer Diane Ackerman used the accounts of Jan Zabinski and his wife Antonina, and many other sources and interviews to tell their story of  how they saved the lives of many Polish Jews, hidden and smuggled to safety through the ruins of Warsaw Zoo.

Both survived the war – Jan Żabiński  (1897 – 1974) and his wife Antonina Żabińska (1908–1971),  along with their  young son ‘Rys’ or Rysyard Zabinski who died recently in April 2019.Żabiński

The book was made into a film in 2017.

1st September 1939, a day to quietly remember 80 years on how  millions of lives that were changed by the events of that day and what followed throughout World War Two. 

Life would change in many homes and in many zoos and botanic gardens around the world from 1939 to 1945 and beyond,  as we have been exploring through the World War Zoo Gardens project at Newquay Zoo over the last ten years since 2009.

Blog posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens Project, Newquay Zoo, 80 years on from the 1st September 2019.

Remembering Cecil George Last of Kew Gardens died Italy WW2 22 June 1944

June 22, 2019

C.G. Last, 22 June 1944 MM, Military Medal
Corporal 9900V, Cecil George Last served with the South African Medical Corps, attached First City / Cape Town Highlanders, South African Forces.  Cecil died aged 36 and is buried at Assisi War Cemetery, Italy.

He is remembered on the Kew Gardens staff war memorial WW2 section.


Assisi CWGC War Cemetery, Italy (Image source: CWGC)


Assisi War Cemetery  is mostly made up of burials from June to July 1944 from battles with the Germans who were trying to stop the Allied advance north of Rome.

Born October 12, 1910,  he was the son of William G. and Beatrice Last of Letchworth, Hertfordshire.
His Kew Guild obituary notes that he was killed at Chiusi in Italy whilst attempting “under heavy shell fire … to bring to safety one of his native stretcher bearers who was wounded and exposed to heavy fire.”

He was previously noted for gallantry and awarded the Military Medal whilst wounded in the Desert campaign. He served as a medic with the South African Highlanders until after El Alamein.

Cecil was one of several Kew Gardens staff killed in the fighting in Italy in WW2 in 1944. You can read more about the lost gardeners of Kew in WW2:

Cecil George Last of Kew Gardens, died 22 June 1944 WW2 – remembered 75 years on. 

Blog posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo, 22 June 1944 / 2019. 

Remembering Percy Ernest Thyer Kew Gardens WW2 died 17 June 1944

June 17, 2019


Percy Thyer remembered on the Kew Gardens WW2 Staff war memorial

P.E.. Thyer, 17 June 1944
Lance Corporal 589614V, Royal Natal Carabineers, South African Forces, Bolsena War Cemetery, Italy.
Born July 5 1911, Percy Ernest Thyer  was the son of William H. and Kate Thyer, Glastonbury, Somerset.

(Oddly Percy is listed in places on the site as R.E. Thyer but elsewhere and  in the Kew Guild Journal as P.E. Thyer).

Thyer was at Kew between 1936 and 1937. He transferred to South Africa as an Exchange student at Government House Gardens, Pretoria in 1937 until he enlisted in 1943 after part-time service whilst still employed as a gardener.

Thyer died aged 32, in action at Belvedere Farm, Citta d’Pieve, Italy. Many of the burials in this cemetery are related to a tank battle between the 6th South African Battalion and the Hermann Goering Panzer Division in Italy.

Percy is remembered in Italy, on the War memorial at Glastonbury St.  John’s Church High Street (online as R.E. Thyer?)

and at Kew Gardens on their staff war memorial

Percy Ernest Thyer and the Kew Gardeners of WW2 – Remembered 

Blog posted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo / World War Zoo Gardens project, 17 June 2019

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