“This toy was handmade from an Australian butter box as a Christmas present for a wartime child in the 1940s. It is a sliding puzzle with numbers and a Father Christmas head (both cut from a calender) on the tiles. It is part of the ‘Make Do and Mend’ approach to resource shortages during World War Two. Toys were scarce on the shelves during Christmas later in the war. Simply made and timeless in appeal, it was highly treasured by the child concerned. (We sadly don’t have a name for the child or whether the father was away from home on active service).
Made from butter box wood, this butter and its box would have run the U-boat blockade on convoys to reach Britain and the contents been on ration. Australia was part of the British Empire, under threat in wartime and the butter must have been refrigerated to survive the journey showing how food and trade links had changed. Newquay Zoo http://www.newquayzoo.org.uk houses it in its World War Zoo 1940s wartime life collection in its archive.”
The puzzle will be on display at certain wartime garden events such as the World War Zoo wartime garden weekend 1 to 3 May 2010 at Newquay Zoo, alongside other toys such as a handmade wooden Spitfire (below).
If we had to describe this handmade wooden Spitfire and list this for the BBC 100 objects site, ‘war‘, ‘family‘ and ‘entertainment‘ would be obvious categories. When this plane has been on display outside of a display case, it has been a magnet for adults and children of all ages to pick up. They’d fly it round the exhibition room given the chance, probably making ‘dugga dugga dugga’ noises too.
How would we list this object for the BBC site? “The Spitfire is such an iconic object of the Battle of Britain and of Allied resistance in wartime. The wartime bombing of British airfields after the 1940 fall of Europe 70 years ago came to an end when bombing switched to the ‘Blitz’ of cities and civilian targets, including zoos and botanic gardens.
Just as much food was scarce and rationed in wartime, Hence the wartime zoo keeper’s ‘dig for victory garden’ project at Newquay Zoo, toys would be scarce and often handmade with little, if any metal or rubber parts. Many toy factories making toy soldiers switched to making munitions and machinery. Plastic wasn’t used for toys until after the war.”
I love the ‘Make Do and Mend’ approach to making your own toys. It is a beautiful object to hold. The Peace Pledge Union with its famous white poppy campaign and invaluable archive on conscientious objection would no doubt raise the ‘war toy’ issue about whether such toys encourage aggression and ultimately, the furtherance of war?
On our Facebook site worldwarzoo, you’ll find a link to Alicia Gilbert’s proposed Blitz Memorial site mentions the civilian and pro-peace side of conflict. Some of our wartime life collection of diaries will be featured as part of this.
One toy plane could raise whole numbers of questions, discussions and hold its rank amongst all the other treasures, military and civilian, ancient and modern in the British Museum and A History of the World in 100 Objects series. But we put forward the wartime handmade sliding puzzle toy instead!
Off to go and ‘chit’ some Home Guard variety of potatoes for the wartime garden until shooted ready enough for planting for Spring … or maybe just fly this toy Spitfire round the office making ‘dugga dugga dugga’ dogfight noises.
One of our recent blog and Facebook entries mentions the ‘Newquay Spitfire’ at Spitfire Corner on the road near the Newquay airport, belonging to a local aviation artist. We have been bizarrely and gracefully interrupted during a penguin feeding time talk at Newquay Zoo back in 2000 by the Battle of Britain memorial flight of Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane roaring beautifully overhead.
Just as wartime gardeners must have craned their necks to watch the dogfights high in the sky, every head, penguin, keeper, visitor and meerkat, was raised skywards. Flightless birds, however sleek their shape, must have been envious that day.
For the purposes of balance, we have to point out that many fine German city zoos were incidentally flattened by Allied bombing by such planes as the Lancaster during wartime. Many zookeepers and zoo directors from Germany, across Europe and Britain would have known each other and worked together in peacetime. This is the tragedy of war.
Who knows what you’ll see at Newquay Zoo! We can’t guarantee Spitfires but we look forward to seeing you at wartime garden events, getting your email comments via the blog and hope you enjoy looking at all the other ‘BBC History of the World’ objects online.
Happy gardening! (dugga dugga dugga)
Tags: 1940s, Battle of Britain, Battle of Britain memorial flight, Biggles, Blitz Memorial, botanic gardens, evacuation, evacuees, gardening, gardens, history teaching, Imperial War Museum, Lancaster, Newquay, Newquay Zoo, Peace Pledge Union, Spitfire, squander bug, vintage toys, wartime toys, white poppy, world war 2, world war two, zoos