World War Zoo project – Newquay zoo’s wartime garden 2009 / 2010
30th and 31st August 2009, Newquay Zoo
Bank holiday weekend launch, then ongoing …
Blog No 1 :
A living war memorial, history you can eat and a change of uniform for zoo keepers…
70 years ago this summer on 3rd September 1939 dawned a quiet and sunny Sunday morning for many in Britain. A Sunday when London Zoo was usually closed to the public, a nation gathered around the nearest wireless set to hear the sad and disappointed tones of Neville Chamberlain. In churches and houses all over Britain, the Prime Minister was heard at 11.15 a.m. declaring over the radio that, despite last minute attempts to avert war following Hitler’s surprise invasion of Poland, Germany refused to withdraw her forces and as “no such undertaking has been received … consequently England is now at war with Germany.”
Almost immediately (in popular memory) at 11.28 a.m. the air raid sirens went off across London and around the country and people headed for shelter; many people feared annihilation by bombing and poison gas.
What did the many zoo keepers around Britain do on this fateful day? Were they carrying their gas masks? What were their fears for the future? And what would happen to them, their families and their colleagues worldwide over the next six years of conflict and an equally difficult aftermath of austerity and shortage? (Zoos have long been an international and generous ‘brotherhood’ of like-minded, if somewhat eccentric staff, with strong links to colleagues in European and especially German zoos, but also a ‘brotherhood’ as few female keepers were known until wartime).
What awaited keepers and other zoo staff in wartime? Rationing of food for staff and animals, shortages of many materials, fire-watching at night, bombing, digging up lawns and breeding rabbits, land girls arriving in the zoo. For the younger staff, zoo keeping not being a ‘reserved occupation’, there was call up for active service, exchanging their peaked caps and smart keeper uniforms for those of a different and more deadly purpose.
Follow our blog as we research and recreate a wartime garden and find out more aboput life in wartime for zoo keepers, their families and children and zoo visitors