The price of oil, paint and big ships of all nations from the Ark to the supertanker. German invasions, budgets, The World Cup and the wartime zoo keeper’s vegetable garden at Newquay Zoo.

Charles Pears (1873 -1958), painting “The Bombing of The British Chancellor 10 July 1940”, signed, oil on canvas, a large painting at 80 x 125 cms and presented by the Falmouth Harbour Commission, 1993. Copyright: Falmouth Art Gallery

England vs. Germany, BP, oil  and the “British Chancellor” have all been in the news  over the last week.

Admittedly, we mean respectively for most,

1. not war but World Cup football (though according to some  past England managers and Newquay Zoo staff, not a “game of life and death”, but “more important than that),

2. giant Gulf Coast oil spills and 

 3. British Chancellor George Osborne and the Coalition’s new Austerity budget of national shared pain.

Chatting about the events of the day to zoo visitors and staff over the garden fence at Newquay Zoo’s World War Zoo garden wartime ‘dig for victory allotment’, it seems that oil, the budget and the World Cup have replaced our frustations at Volcanic ash and swine flu.  Volcanic ash this year delayed enough holidays, stranded our zoo staff and disrupted world wide food supplies by plane. Volcanic ash grounded one of our staff heading over to the World Land Trust / BIAZA zoo nature reserve in Brazil whilst Zoo staff have to think about possible alternatives to air travel when travelling to overseas projects and meetings

"Let your shopping help our shipping" was one propaganda message about saving food - grow your own is another, promoted by a typical piece of advertising from a wartime gardening magazine (from the World War Zoo gardening collection / archive at Newquay Zoo).

 The 2001 fuel strike in Britain (Petrol over £1, outrageous?!) saw similar disruption to businesses and food supply, with a similar bit of wartime hoarding during the recent “snow chaos”  and deadly “Swine flu epidemic” beloved by journalists.

In the British and American press, BP is under fire for the PR and physical handling of its clean up operations in the Gulf of Mexico, with several interesting articles in the press. A glimpse at just one Sunday paper last week, The Observer, had pages of coverage of this environmental, financial, diplomatic and political “nightmare“, seemingly threatening the wartime special relationship of America and Britain. 
The analysis of these events in business and comments pages by columnists like Ruth Sutherland and Sir David King (no less than the Chief Scientific Adviser to Blair’s wartime British government from 2000 -2007) reads more like warnings about Peak Oil in Resurgence or The Ecologist green magazines a few years ago. Sutherland and King  argue about  of “a dangerous addiction to Oil”, our “thirst for oil’s inextricable link to conflict and corruption” and David King’s  warning of the imperative need to “end our dependency on petrol”, not just in Obama’s America but around the world.
Satirical press cartoonists don’t quite reach the understated and quiet anger of Zec’s controversial wartime cartoon of a torpedoed merchant seaman clinging to wreckage in a dark stormy sea, beneath which stated simply and unemotionally  “The price of Petrol has increasd by one penny – official“.
 Newquay Zoo amongst others, is not alone as a business considering the price and future of Extreme Oil, transition towns and future food and fuel security.
Newquay is no stranger to tanker disasters, having seen the Cornish coast  coated with oil in the 1967  Torrey Canyon disaster. Reputedly the prospective zoo site which opened two years later in 1969 was the dumping ground for much of the oiled sand from the clean up operation. Oiled birds were frequent ‘first aid’ inmates in the zoo’s Wildlife Hospital operational in the 1990s before passing up the line to experts like Rex Harper of the local RSPCA, author of Otter on the Aga and other animal books.
As for the “British Chancellor”, whilst the rest of the weekend papers were full of World Cup prediction and Budget summary, I was looking at a postcard and a picture on the Falmouth Art Gallery website of tankers on fire in  Falmouth Docks.
From near the Gem fish and chip restaurant up the Hill above Falmouth Art Gallery, both with many  maritime paintings on the wall, you can watch ships heading up river or into the docks. From the nearby National Maritime Museum Cornwall’s observation tower or from the Docks and its viewing area at Castle Drive, from  Pendennis Point and the fabulous rockpools at Castle Beach  or from the wartime gun emplacements of King Henry’s Pendennis Castle or matching St. Mawes Castle (both English Heritage) , whose garrisons once watched  saw Darwin’s Beagle sail home past, you can see still big ships of all nations
There are large cargo ships waiting for  bunkering for low sulphur fuel (an environmental requirement) before heading through the Channel or bulk tankers hanging around for months waiting for the oil or commodity prices to change.  There is the regular friendly invasion of Germans aboard giant cruise ships, heading off to tour the Eden Project or nearer heritage gardens like Trebah, Glendurgan or Trelissick (the latter two both National Trust) whose woodland walk up the Falmouth and Helford  river reaches take you (always by surprise) past huge laid up freighters and cargo ships in the river, a sign of recession in the 1930s, 1980s or of the fuel crisis in the 1950s. Trebah Gardens Trust was mentioned in a previous blog posts for its role as an embarkation beach for US troops in D-Day and its Archive of wartime memories, one featured below from the BBC People’s War website.  Secret resistance and commnmdo operations took place from the quiet waters of the Helford river sneaking in under cover of the French and Breton fishing fleets , whilst HMS Campbelltown and its daring Commando raids on St. Nazaire in 1942 are remembered on the Prince of Wales pier near Falmouth Art Gallery.
A week or two earlier I had been looking at the original big picture of the British Chancellor in Falmouth Art Gallery (viewable online at ) with its Curator, Brian Stewart after an awards tea party. The Gallery was celebrating the fantastic educational and community role of the gallery recognized by another major heritage award received in London for our partnership work on Darwin 200, Darwin having arrived back from his Voyage of The Beagle through Falmouth Harbour. Newquay Zoo and Falmouth Art gallery, like wartime America and Britain, have a ‘special relationship’.
We were talking about how the gallery and zoo could do “Darwin 200 meets Spike Milligan” to celebrate landscape and wildlife painter Edward Lear’s forthcoming bicentenary in 2012 with a suitable “Festival of Nonsense” (other Olympic sized events are available that year). Lear spent two dismal rainy weeks, not quite doing much painting in Cornwall and Devon. 
Surrounded by the plant art of “A Mixed Bunch” on the walls, Brian Stewart was bemused and puzzled by my rambling tales of successes and failures of the World War Zoo ‘dig for victory’ garden at Newquay Zoo (including failing to get last year’s zoo painter in residence Cornish artist John Dyer to paint the fledgling wartime allotment plot during his residency).
Then the painting of the British Chancellor and its 70th anniversary date caught my eye – 10 July 1940. The first day of the Battle of Britain. The first day of serious bombing of Briatin , effectively the start of the Blitz
I asked Brian Stewart whether he and his team would be using the painting for one of his amazing award-winning “across the generations” community projects. There must be many in Falmouth Town and the local area amongst the older generation who grew up there or worked in the Docks when this wartime bombing happened, if the conversations at the world’s best and friendliest fish and chip restaurant The Gem up the hill from the gallery are anything to go by!
I’m sure Falmouth’s  wartime role and this fantastic painting will be featured in a forthcoming book From Sailing Ships to Supertankers by BBC Radio Cornwall regular broadcaster, harbour expert and pilot David Barnicoat (listen out on Wednesdays, 8.35 a.m. BBC Radio Cornwall). Falmouth Docks are 150 years old this year, its story being told in the book with proceeds going to the Mission to Seafarers helping distressed mariners of all nations.
You can read more of Falmouth and Cornwall’s wartime  story in Bob Acton’s two books on wartime Cornwall and Peter Hancock ‘s Cornwall at War 1939-45 (all usually  available on and E-Bay). 
Online or at the gallery in person, you can have a closer look at Charles Pears (1873 -1958) painting “The Bombing of The British Chancellor 10 July 1940”, signed, oil on canvas, a large painting at 80 x 125 cms and presented by the Falmouth Harbour Commission. Not quite as large as the ship though –  built in 1921 by Laing& Sons, Sunderland for The Britsih Tanker Company as one of 47 sister ships, she was about 7,085 gross tons, (10,925 deadweight) 440 x 57 x 34 feet in dimensions, a single screw propellor ship  powered by two steam turbines.   
During World War 2, Brian Stewart told me it was “evident that Falmouth would be a target for German bombers”. On Wednesday 10 July 1940 at 2.30 p.m.  hours, Falmouth  Docks received one of their heaviest raids, being difficult to disguise or camouflage being the third largest natural harbour in the world. The Docks and Harbour were well known to crews and ships from all over the world. Two years earlier, a large German warship the Schleswig Holstein had made a courtesy visit (or closet espionage trip?) to the same harbour. Falmouth streets today are still places to glimpse or hear sailors and crews from all over the world, not just during the Tall Ships event. 
Charles Pears’ dramatic painting shows three vessels ablaze. Three ships were hit, one of which sank.
The first ship,  British tanker TASCALUSA or TUSKALUSA (6499grt) was sunk by German bombing, alongside the Northern Arm of the Docks. TASCALUSA was refloated on 29 August 1940 and beached at Mylor Flats opposite the harbour for scrapping.
Two other ships were burnt out. The second ship, Greek steamer MARI CHANDRIS (5840grt) was in Falmouth in June for repair after a collision. It  was set afire by TASCALUSA but the entire crew of the Greek ship was rescued.
The third ship is the one named in the painting, the British tanker BRITISH CHANCELLOR (7085grt) was damaged by German bombing and set ablaze at Falmouth. She was later dry-docked for  extensive repairs before  being sold in the 1950s, renamed and eventually broken up in 1961.  A dramatic and hard life which ended at only 40!  
In Peter Gilson’s local eyewitness words from the BBC People’s War online archive  “The Docks became the focus of attention for the Germans and on July 10th 1940 the docks were quite badly hit.”
“There were three vessels along the Northern arm, the Maria Chandris, a Greek vessel, the Tuskalusa and The British Chancellor a tanker, fortunately not loaded with oil at the time. These three were hit and after notable acts of bravery notably by one of the Falmouth pilots who managed to dodge the fire to get on board one of the ships. The Maria Chandris was towed away from the burning wreckage of the other two ships to St. Mawes Creek and put on Amsterdam Point where it burned fiercely for three days …”
Strangely, Peter Gilson recalls “even though the whole of St. Mawes was illuminated like day, the ship fiercely burning for a few days 400 yards offshore, [an Air Raid Warden in St. Mawes] went around the village instructing everyone to put out their lights. The Tuskalusa was towed to St. Just Creek and it was allowed to burn out, after which it was broken up and taken away and used for scrap. The British Chancellor was repaired and put back in service and strangely enough, my brother served on it later in the war.”
© Article ID:  A8710210,  CWS 180804D 16:23:57 — 16:25:50 story has been added by CSV volunteer Linda Clark on behalf of the author Peter Gilson. His story was given to the Trebah Video Archive, Trebah Garden Trust,  supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund 2004
Marine paintings such as by Rob Jones the ex-fisherman painter of amazing Cornish seas, or the many paintings at Falmouth Art gallery and National Maritime Museum Cornwall show are often very good on depicting weather, a topic of conversation beloved of sailors and gardeners. Looking  at the sky and sea conditions  in the British Chancellor painting, above the clouds and flames can be seen tiny black  flecks of ‘flak’ (Anti Aircraft fire) from the AA defences at Pendennis Castle.
Does the British Chancellor painting show the following troubled skies?
10th July  1940   Weather Forecast
Overcast with rain over most of Britain. Southeast England and Channel, showery.
Combat Report – first day of The Battle of Britain, July 10 – October 31, 1940
The main Luftwaffe attacks concentrated on shipping. At 1100hrs a convoy was attacked off North Foreland by 1 Dornier (Do17) bomber escorted by Me109s. Spitfires of No: 74 Squadron, scrambled from Manston, engaged the enemy aircraft. At the same time Spitfires of No: 610 Squadron were scrambled from Biggin Hill to intercept Me109’s over Dover. At 1330hrs about 120 enemy aircraft had formed in the Calais area to attack the convoy between Dover and Dungeness. Hurricanes from No: 34, 56 & 111 Squadrons along with Spitfires of No: 74 & 64 Squadrons were scrambled.
Later in the day enemy raids took place along the West, South and East coasts with the largest being nearly 70 bombers attacking Falmouth & Swansea.
During the night, further raids were plotted with bombs dropped on Guisborough, Canewdon, Hertford, Isle of Grain, Isle of Mull (West Coast of Scotland), Colchester, Welwyn and Ely.
Statistics:  Losses include non-combat patrols and accidents
R.A.F. Losses: 8 aircraft damaged or destroyed and 2 pilots killed.
Luftwaffe Losses: 20 aircraft damaged or destroyed, 23 pilots & aircrew killed or missing and 10 wounded

The Battle Of Britain in miniature for a wartime boy! A beautiful wartime handmade wooden Spitfire toy, our other favourite suggestion for the wartime object collection on the BBC A History of The World.

In the skies during the ensuing Battle of Britain , from the Newquay / Cornwall  Sector St. Eval, both  Gladiator Squadron  247  and Squadron 234 Spitfires of 10 Group  – there’s more in the book Devon and Cornwall Airfields in World War Two by Graham Smith. This book and airfield near Newquay Zoo was mentioned in our previous post about the Newquay / Watergate Bay Liberator crash relics featured in our Wartime garden weekend, May 2010.

And what became of the British Tanker Company that operated the British Chancellor? Around about 1954, as the ship was being sold, the  worldwide operation of the former  Anglo-Iranian or Anglo Persian Oil Company (hence the Persian national colours of red, white and green on the funnels) and the British Petroleum Company (ironically originally a German firm) finally became known  by the now familiar (or currently notorious in the USA) name of British Petroleum, BP.

We mentioned in our blog post title, From The Ark to the Super Tanker. The Ark always was an unusual boat, probably now aground and Stationary on Jersey. Newquay Zoo’s electrician Mick has an unusual Channel Islands family name, LeFevre, or Mick Le Ferret as he is affectionately known to some, being accustomed to working in small spaces around and under the zoo.  LeFeuvre is mentioned in a list of names amongst the fascinating website

The list tells of many Channel Islanders and ships’ crews feelling to prots just across the Channel, escaping in small ships throughout July 1940 onwards from the German invasion of the Channel Islands –  Alderney,  Jersey and Guernsey (home of the world’s only Tomato Museum) . Some arrived into Falmouth in Cornwall around the time of The British Chancellor’s bombing, Brixham (home area of our sister zoo Living Coasts and the Start Bay area where The Whitley Wildlife conservation Trust has its Slapton Ley Nature Reserve (later events in 1944 there were mentioned in our June 2010  blog entry about D-Day). 

Newquay Zoo and its sister zoo at Paignton has long had a connection or ‘special relationship’ with Jersey, some of our staff from Directors to keepers worked at Jersey Zoo as keepers, others worked there as volunteers or trained at the headquarters of the international Durrell  Wildlife Conservation Trust,  Our partner college Cornwall College Newquay established in 2000 has proudly named one of its new buildings The Durrell Centre, opened by Lee Durrell, the Honorary Director.

Gerald Durrell was and remains a huge influence on the development of conservation minded zoos around the world; had Durrell not failed his army medical through sinus problems, could have been called up.

Luckily Durrell was not killed in World War Two nor indeed was his mischief unleashed on the armed forces of any nation unlike Spike Milligan. Instead he was sent to Whipsnade Zoo in 1945 as  a “student keeper”, experiences later recounted in Beasts in My Belfry and Lucy Pender’s lovely memoir about growing up at Whipsnade. Whipsnade was London Zoo’s home for some of its evacuated animals, keepers and their families.

Keeper Billett of Whipsnade Zoo ZSL in tin hat and gas mask pictured in the shortlived 'Animal And Zoo magazine', November 1939 (magazine / photo from the World War Zoo archive, Newquay Zoo)

Durrell thankfully wasn’t too unfit as his adventures on collecting expeditions after 1945, some with Paignton Zoo keeper the late Ken Smith,  helped restock the empty postwar zoos of the world.

Durrell’s amusing books and television films won animals and conservation many friends in its early days.

His passion for training “Durrell’s Army” as they are known, the many students who have been through the International Training Centre from Durrell’s field projects around the world, have done much to preserve and conserve endangered wildlife and habitats.

I wonder what Durrell or Peter Scott would have made of the Florida oil spill? Without Durrell and others of his postwar generation like Desmond Morris, the late Peter Scott of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust and David Attenborough, the natural and human world would be the poorer.  Durrell’s  books prove as challenging as ever, a personal favourite being The Stationary Ark, his image of the zoos of the world working as a Noah style ‘rescue ship’ to breed endangered animals past the ‘floods’  of environmental disaster. That’s one ship I hope is never sunk or scrapped too soon.

So, the high price of oil …Look out for more about the World War Zoo garden project at Newquay Zoo in future blog postings or conatct us via the comments page below.


Sources: 1. Dave Edge, from Middlemas, The British Tankers 


3. Today in World War 2 History http://

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4 Responses to “The price of oil, paint and big ships of all nations from the Ark to the supertanker. German invasions, budgets, The World Cup and the wartime zoo keeper’s vegetable garden at Newquay Zoo.”

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  2. Diehl Art Gallery Says:

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  4. Network Switch Says:

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