April, as T.S.Eliot wrote in The Wasteland just after the First World War “is the cruellest month” … it’s also one of the busiest for gardeners. Chaucer notes April as with “showers sweet” or April showers as we now call them. We’ve had our fair share of those to slow us up , especailly as you “never sow when the soil sticks to your boots” as one wartime garden advice book suggests, quoted in Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall’s interesting new book Ministry of Food accompnaying the Imperial War Museum exhibition www.food.iwm.org.uk.
More than the weather was being talked about in April 1940. This month proved to be a particularly cruel and rude awakening for many on the Home Front for whom a state of war had become almost a joke – the ‘Bore War’, the ‘Phoney War’ or The ‘Sitzkreig’. Many evacuees had returned home to the cities from the boredom of country life. ARP and Blackout restrictions seemed an uneccessary nuisance, especially to the diminishing number of zoo keepers in wartime zoos.
After the ‘lightning’ Blitzkrieg invasion of Poland of September 1939, nothing much had happened for months, except at sea. (The BBC History magazine this month has an article on the War at Sea in 1940.) Chamberlain the British Prime Minister unwisely observed on April 5th that “Hitler had missed the bus” in terms of wartime success. Four days later on April 9, the Nazi invasion of Norway and Denmark began, followed shortly in May by the invasions and rapid collapse within weeks of Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium and France.
On May 10, Churchill replaced Chamberlain as Prime Minister, on May 26 Britain evacuated its troops at Dunkirk and the Spitfire Summer of 1940 and the Battle of Britain and the Blitz were not long away.
Soon much of Europe, its fine network of zoos, its market gardens, food imports etc would be occupied in German and Italian hands. Britain would soon be in easy range of bombers and U-boat submarines along the Atlantic and Northern coasts, seriously affecting shipping of food and other raw materials into the UK. Rationing of many foods would rapidly be introduced as the imported foods from Channel Islands, Mediterranean countries and South of France disappeared.
Fuel and petrol would soon be rationed, leading to people using public transport and “Shank’s Pony” (on foot). Newquay remained popular as a seaside resort despite the difficulties of wartime train services, requisitioned hotels for servicemen and evacuated schools like Benenden, along with mostly wired off and mined beaches. The Easter visitor season has started well this year with reasonable weather. Newquay has a fabulous ‘on foot’ trail and map to explore the town, along with public transport links out into its wonderful coastline http://www.newquaymap.co.uk/
So no need like Hitler or Chamberlian “to miss the bus”. Newquay Zoo, as part of COAST www.cstn.org.uk the sustainable tourism network, offers discounts for vistors arriving by public transport. A flavour of Newquay in wartime can be glimpsed in Alf Townsend’s book of wartime evacuee life in Newquay and Cornwall, Blitz Boy. Emma Smith’s Great Western Beach gives a flavour of Newquay seaside life between the wars in the 1920s and 1930s.
‘Dig for Victory’ became more necessary than ever. We’ll be marking this effort at our next World War Zoo wartime garden weekend on 1 to 3 May 2010 with our displays of objects illustrating wartime life and the wartime garden launch for 2010, along with our planthunters trail www.newquayzoo.org.uk
Civilain and Home Front Re-enactors are welcome to attend our 2010 event. We remain a “no weapons or tanks on the lawn, no bangs or flashes” site due to the animals here, who will benefit form the food grown in the wartime garden.
We’ll have the recycled plant pot makers out for you to try your hand at potting up and taking your own seeds or plants home as part of 2010 Year of Biodiversity, to encourage you to grow your own and do a bit of wildlife gardening. Check out the BBC’s Dig In campaign as well (on our blogroll).
Tags: 1940s, dig for victory garden, evacuees, Fearnley-Whittingstall, food waste, gardening, gardens, history teaching, Imperial War Museum, primary history teaching, reenactment, salad, wartime gardening, world war 2, world war two, zoo