The ‘miracle of Dunkirk’ remembered, rare macaque monkey webcam and roughly torn (Jamie Oliver style) wartime leeks and cabbage fresh for the zoo animals from the Wartime zoo keepers’ garden at Newquay Zoo

Panzer Tank crew badge, 1940

Symbol of the 1940 Blitzkrieg, Dunkirk and the rapid Nazi occupation of Europe, this German Army Panzer tank regiment metal cap badge features the laurel wreath of victory, Nazi Swastika and eagle symbols and image of an early German Panzer tank. Worn proudly in early years of victory, ironically this badge was found abandoned in Germany at the end of the war in 1945 by Major F.H. Tyler of the British Army. Donated to the World War Zoo gardens project by Major Tyler's family, relatives of a zoo staff member. .

This Dunkirk anniversary weekend,  there have many tearful old men (and not forgetting the women who love them) remembering the hell of the beaches of Dunkirk  and the ‘miracle’ of their escape by sea in small boats back to Blighty 70 years ago. Many were left behind, wounded or imprisoned as Europe was overrun by a Blitzkrieg of Panzer and Stuka, Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe.  

What did Dunkirk and the fall of Europe mean for the zoos and botanic gardens? In 1939, 75% of food in Britain was imported through shipping. This meant that  food from distant Empire or later Commonwealth countries  like India, Australia and Canada in merchant ships had to run the gauntlet of U-Boat submarine blockades, torpedo and aerial attack, despite convoy protection.   

No wonder ‘food miles’ (as they are known today) were a concern  of an early poster slogan,  “Let your Shopping, Help our Shipping” (many wonderful posters viewable or for sale on the Imperial War Museum website and shop www.iwm.org.uk).  Britain and its zoos lost their food supplies from European countries, especially in the Mediterranean,  and the market gardens of the Channel Islands. Onions, tomatoes and other crops became hard to obtain. Strangely, mealworms, a staple insect food for many zoo animals still today, was mostly obtained prewar from Germany, as one British zoo director regretted.  

Before long, botanic gardens and glasshouses, greenhouses, zoo lawns and empty enclosures would be transformed into tomato farms, veg patches, along with pig, rabbit and chicken enclosures by an enterprising and hungry staff.  

Like those in Poland, many zoos across Holland, Belgium and France fell under German occupation, ironically a nation noted for their great interest in zoos. Many British zoo keepers and directors would have had visited these forward-thinking German zoos and known their staff or sent animals there on breeding loan. Tragically for an international minded profession, this choice and option  did not exist by May and June 1940.  Many surviving and prize animals were spirited away to Germany, a story recounted by  Diane Ackerman in The Zoo Keeper’s Wife about Warsaw Zoo.  

Further stories about what happened to other European Zoos, Aquariums  and Botanic Gardens in wartime we are researching as part of the World War Zoo gardens project for a book due in 2011/12.  

The long-lasting damage that food and fuel shortages inflicted across zoos and botanic gardens in Britain and Europe was eclipsed by the firestorms of aerial bombing by both sides and battlefields raging across Berlin, Dresden, Russia, Eastern Europe, Asia  and parts of Japan. Little was left, for example,  of Berlin Zoo after the fighting for example, under a hundred animals from the many thousands in what was before the war regarded as one of the world’s leading zoo collections.  

Poignant photos in the Imperial War Museum collection show empty looking zoos in Hamburg Zoo (Germany) and Antwerp Zoo (Belgium) being used as DP (Displaced People) camps for Polish and Russian refugees, evacuees and German troops captured as prisoners of war locked into the strongly barred Lion House, all pictures difficult to look at without noticing  the eerie echo of the bars and wire of the concentration camps.  

Where the missing animals were from the lion house and other enclosures suggest its own sad story. Many of these refugee and POW camps  soon had scratch vegetable gardens to feed the inmates and also keep them busy, a tale well told in Kenneth Helphand’s recent book Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in  Wartime  (available through Amazon and other suppliers).  

Our baby boom and red bottomed female Sulawesi Macaque monkey group exploring fresh leeks, enrichment from the World War Zoo wartime zoo keepers' veg garden at Newquay Zoo

The urge to garden and raise new life is something staff at Newquay Zoo share having nursed our fledgling ‘dig for victory’ veg patch on the Lion House Lawn through a poor summer and harsh winter  over the last year. This week, some of the long nurtured vegetables from 2009 have been harvested to make room for more planting. 

Leeks away! Robyn Silcock prepares to launch the first of our freshly dug leeks from our World War Zoo keepers' garden into the rare Sulawesi macaque monkey enclosure at Newquay Zoo, May 2010. Great enrichment, fresh picked with the soil still on the roots!

Leeks away! Robyn Silcock prepares to launch the first of our freshly dug leeks from our World War Zoo keepers' garden into the rare Sulawesi macaque monkey enclosure at Newquay Zoo, May 2010. Great enrichment, fresh picked with the soil still on the roots!

 Leeks (probably Musselburgh, a wartime variety) were  served up to our critically endangered Sulawesi Macaque monkeys within a few minutes and metres of being dug up – not bad counting food miles or for freshness,  still with soil on the roots. The young macaques  played with these, racing through the branches and along ropes, clutched like  a favoured doll or  must-have toy and status symbol, an inspiration to race and play vegetable tag.  The adult macaque monkeys peeled the leafy tips apart but were much more excited about the Perpetual Spinach, again another plant grown in the 1940s by wartime zoo keepers and recommended in the 1940s gardening books.  

Leeks with soil on the roots proved equally attractive (and sneezy!) to our rare (critically endangered) Yellow Breasted Capuchin Monkeys from Brazilian rainforests. Pat and Tux, two brothers,  ripped and tore the leeks about roughly in  a style that Jamie Oliver would approve, along with the enrichment bottles that our Junior Keeper made for them.     

African Pygmy goats in our small farm section demolished these giant leafy Savoy Ormskirk Late Green Cabbages, a wartime variety grown from seed in our World War Zoo Gardens at Newquay Zoo - Robyn serves up fresh lunch almost a year in the making!

African Pygmy goats quickly ate every scrap of the Savoy Cabbage Ormskirk Late Green, a variety recommended in the 1940s gardening books. Our critically endangered Visayan Warty Pigs, the world’s rarest pig from the Philippines, were not so impressed by ‘seconds fresh’  cabbage straight from the nearby earth. Noted for next year! 

Hopefully people visiting the zoo via our new macaque monkey web cam www.newquayzoo.org.uk saw this triumph of a Sulawesi Macaque baby boom (four youngsters born into the small group in one year) and patient nurturing of our wartime veg  garden come together at  our 3.15 p.m. ‘playing with your food’ enrichment talk.

Sulawesi macaque monkey, Newquay Zoo

As fresh as they get! One of our youngest Sulawsei Macaque monkeys puzzling over leeks, fallen from the sky, seconds after being freshly harvested with soil on its roots from the World War Zoo gardens zoo keepers' wartime veg garden, Newquay Zoo.

Unusual peacock sized garden pests are becoming a problem, something we’ll blog about in the next week.

Find out more about our project and the year long journey our wartime ‘dig for victory’ garden has taken from seed to Sulawesi Macaque monkey snack by reading past entries from the blog here.

From wartime 1940s allotments to modern times, you can read more about the hi-tech Verti Crop system of growing vegetables showcased by Kevin Frediani and the gardens team at our sister zoo Paignton Zoo www.paigntonzoo.org.uk. Opened in the 1920s, Paignton Zoo survived throughout war in the 1940s and is now at the cutting edge of plant technology in the 21st century.  

We value comments about our project and blog for the World War Zoo gardens project, you can find comment sections on the blog or contact us  via this blog.

Happy gardening!

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3 Responses to “The ‘miracle of Dunkirk’ remembered, rare macaque monkey webcam and roughly torn (Jamie Oliver style) wartime leeks and cabbage fresh for the zoo animals from the Wartime zoo keepers’ garden at Newquay Zoo”

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