Gnome guard, Home Guards, meerkats, wartime gardens and the LDV: “Look, Duck and Vanish …” becomes the Home Guard, 23 July 1940

Our World War Zoo garden at Newquay Zoo has a new recruit, a “Gnome Guard” complete with his LDV Local Defence Volunteer armband that would be obsolete after the 23rd July 1940 when the “Home Guard” was renamed.  The Dig For Victory campaign of 1940 was also a successful rebranding or renaming, seen in the poster below  from 1941. 

22nd and 23rd July sees the 70th anniversary of the renaming of the LDV 

Our World War Zoo garden has a new "dig for victory" recruit, a patriotic little "Gnome Guard" complete with his LDV Local Defence Volunteer armband that would be obsolete after the 23rd July 1940 when the "Home Guard" was renamed. Dig For Victory poster from 1941.

Local Defence Volunteers, or as Churchill insisted they were now called “The Home Guard“. Against a real threat of German invasion after Dunkirk from Operation Sealion”, the Home Guard freed up many servicemen for essential war duties. 

Despite our Dad’s Army image of them now,  many of the Home Guard were too old for call up but experienced veterans from the First World War.   Zoo keeping was not as far as I know a reserved occupation, so many younger staff were called up. Many of the zoo staff remaining were over call up age of 41 and would have had extra duties of Home Guard, Civil Defence and Fire watch.   

Newquay’s imposing Great Western stone railway viaduct near the Zoo (over the peaceful Trenance Gardens) and coast were watched and guarded by local Home Guards, according  to our local historian and wartime Newquay child Douglas Knight. 

Whipsnade Zoo as a training base was a big enough estate not only to plough up sections to feed the zoo animals but also for the local Home Guard to have their rifle ranges there. 

Our as yet unnamed Gnome Guard from the World War Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo

The gnome connection is not so strange, its rather similar to the many mascots or cartoon figures used to promote the National Growmore campaign, first name of “Dig For Victory”. Gnomes have an interesting history, and would have been suspect certainly in the First World War as they were mostly made in Germany and so fell out of fashion from the 1920s onwards, recounted in the garden historian Twigs Way’s excellent little Shire book Garden GnomesTwigs Way also wrote the Shire book on Allotments with a good section on Dig For Victory and European allotments, and edited the reprint of the Dig for Victory garden leaflets from 1945 and 

Picture Post, Sep 21, 1940 portrays the Home Guard as youthful, camouflaged and trained by veterans of the Spanish Civil War like Tom Wintringham (ZO71, from our archive: World War Zoo Gardens, Newquay Zoo)

My rusty German reminds me that one  German word for gnome, Erdmannchen also covers that LDV – ‘Look, Duck and Vanish’ – expert. the Meerkat.    My podcast friend at Kernow Pod, Matt Clarke is producing a short podcast on our little Meerkat Royal Observer Corps,  scanning the sky for the “Hun in The Sun” or for us, the “seagull in the dazzle”. Meerkats come naturally equipped with black eye shades to counteract this dazzle, then sound the alarm, especially to protect their young and warn them to run for shelter! You can see them do this at our 12.30 feeding talk each day, whilst 24-30th July is a birds themed event week at Newquay Zoo

To download this MP3 podcast, click on  meerkats.  

There is an excellent short history of the Home Guard on Wikipedia, and BBC werbsite 

Friend or foe? Young meerkats like wartime children have to learn what silhouettes mean safety and which danger. Harmless bird or hawk? (Sweet Caporal cigarette box, Archive item from the World War Zoo gardens wartime collection, Newquay Zoo)

Many Home Guard materials have been republished, now declassified including some of the deadly sabotage tricks of the ‘stay behind, hide  and sabotage’ Auxiliary Units, the equivalent to the French Resistance. 

Some of the Home Guard material we have in the World war Zoo garden archive makes much reference to learning camouflage and concealment from the animal world, ranging from countershading on antelope to cryptic colouration. One of the more unlikely military instructors was Hugh Cott, a university zoologist who wrote Adaptive Coloration in Animals, 1940 – a short biography of Cott and fellow camouflage instructors, surrealist artist Roland Penrose: 

We’re on tour with the wartime garden at Trelawney Garden Centre, Wadebridge  31 July and 1 August 2010 – come and meet us, and our LDV gnome guard! 

Wartime, gardening and outdoor events we’re involved in – we’ve loaned an image and information from our archive of WAAFs in an underground radar station to the Discovering Places Day, Lizard NNR Goonhilly 25th July. Come and meet us as a wartime zoo garden on tour at Trelawney Garden Centre near Wadebridge in Cornwall, along with our minibeasts on 31 July and 1st August 2010.

Meanwhile, enjoy the peace of your garden!


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