Happy (New Year) as a sandbag from the wartime zoo keeper’s garden from the World War Zoo team at Newquay Zoo

Gardeners and office staff alike get stuck in - Richard (Zoo gardens) and Karen (Zoo Admin) lend a hand filling sandbags, against the bombsite backdrop of a part demolished Coati enclosure, Newquay Zoo, World War Zoo garden project 2009.

As promised, we have posted more pictures of plucky zoo staff of all ranks filling sandbags to border our wartime zoo keeper’s garden project (plot no. 1) with our best wishes for happy and peaceful New Year 2010 from all at the zoo involved in the World War Zoo project.

Site staff and keepers lend a hand with sandbags - Lisa from zoo site staff helping out with the World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo, December 2009

You’ll also find more pictures on our worldwarzoo facebook page and some like minded 1940s friends.

Filling sandbags, 70 years on. Richard (Zoo Gardens) and Mark (World war Zoo project manager/ Zoo Education) take a breather filling sandbags for The World War Zoo wartime keeper's gardens from an old demolished enclosure at Newquay Zoo

Adrian our Operations manager waylaid to lend a hand with the sand(bags) for the World war Zoo keeper's garden! Newquay Zoo, Dec. 2009

Even the odd zoo manager as in wartime would have to pick up a (Cornish!) shovel and get stuck in filling sandbags - Adrian our Operations manager waylaid to lend a hand with the sand(bags) for the World war Zoo keeper's garden! Newquay Zoo, Dec. 2009

Like or unlike our wartime keeper colleagues and their families, who knows what our New Year will bring? Unpredictable weather, garden success and disaster, slug and snail sieges?

We have several original diaries and sets of letters by wartime civilians in Newquay Zoo’s Archive wartime life collection for our World War Zoo garden project. They make poignant reading, as people filling in January 1st with deatils of family events had no idea whether they would run out of interest as most diarists do in late Janaury or even they or loved ones not still be alive at the end of the year. Lots of the diaries mention food, livestock and gardens. At least we know that we are not watching our first crop for frost damage quite as avidly as wartime colleagues who by January 1940 would be running short of reliable food resources and sources of building  materials for repair.

Many fine plans for improvement to zoos (like the building site of an old aviary that we’re digging our sand for sandbags from at Newquay Zoo) went into suspension for ‘the duration’ and a long time after the war, a hold up as frustrating then as it is now!

Serious sandbagging! A sandbagged ARP shelter, London Zoo September 1939 (from a page in Animal and Zoo Magazine November 1939 issue, copy in the Newquay Zoo wartime life collection, World War Zoo project

In January 1940 the phoney war or sitzkreig as it was known was still going on. Not until May with the fall of Europe, Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and the Blitz would wreak hovoc on many lives including those of zookeepers acrosss Briatin and occupied Europe. Each of these 7oth anniversiaries and the happier anniversary of 65 years since liberation, VE and VJ day will be reamambered in our living memorial of the wartime zoo keeper’s garden. For many we know these events are still poignant and painful, although the wartime experince of zoos , their families and vistors almost forgotten. 

It was a hard year and some bitter weather coming in 1940, 70 years ago.   We know from hindsight that 1939 and 1940 saw the destruction or emptying of some fine zoos, aquariums and botanic gardens across Europe and in Britain, some never to reopen. Equally sadly, the bombing and conflict which raged in subsequent years destroyed many more in all sides.

The first few chapters about Warsaw Zoo in Diane Ackerman’s The Zoo Keeper’s Wife (based on the wartime diaries of Polish zoo keepers Jan and Antonina Zobinski, a book worth tracking down this year for your reading list.) make hard but inspiring reading, especially for a dedicated team of staff like those at Newquay Zoo. 

We have seen several zoos close (rightly or wrongly and close for many reasons) since Newquay was established in the post austerity zoo building boom of the the 1960s. To see a zoo destroyed with its vital breeding records, dedicated staff and unique bloodlines of animals (in Warsaw, the Przewalski Horses and European Bison) is every bit as depressing and heart-breaking as seeing the looting of museums in Baghdad, the famous Buddha statues or the spiriting away of art treasures across occupied Europe.

Considering the alternative of their destruction, zoos are increasingly an important institution  in a changing and challenged world and have an imporatnt cultural and social history role as well. So well worth a visit out to your local zoo to support its conservation work, its garden, sustainability initiatives … and to have, we hope, a thouroghly entertaining day as well.  We’ll soon be posting up deatils of the next World War Zoo gardens weekend planned in early May 2010 on the zoo website events page – www.newquayzoo.org.uk

Keep a look out for the Imperial War Museum’s events page for news of their new Ministry of Food Exhibition launching early 2010 http://food.iwm.org.uk

A morale booster and fresh air in dark winter days as ever!

Have a happy and peaceful New Year. Mark and the World War Zoo team

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2 Responses to “Happy (New Year) as a sandbag from the wartime zoo keeper’s garden from the World War Zoo team at Newquay Zoo”

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  2. Funny kitty cat Says:

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