Of Gerald Durrell, wartime gnomes and gardens (and air raid shelters) in zoos … Spain and London latest

Our 'missing' wartime gnome sends another postcard home ... from the former air raid shelter tunnels at London Zoo.

Taking shelter at London Zoo September 1939, a sandbagged tunnel under the road (Zoo and Animal magazine, November 1939)

 

Our missing Gnome Guard-ener  from our recreation of a 1940s wartime zoo gardens project sends a message home. ‘Bert’ mysteriously disappeared over a month ago and reappeared first at Paignton Zoo, then has sent another card back from a wartime site at London Zoo:

They used this tunnel as an air raid shelter during World War 2. Unfortunately there wouldn’t have been this bright light then. It would have been cold dark and scary. Just looking at it makes me feel small! Love from your Gnome Guard!”

In our wartime collection of photos, you can see one end of the tunnel sandbagged, a tunnel usually used for moving pedestrians and elephants (which were evacuated to Whipsnade).  In many zoos, empty animal enclosures (London, Bristol, Edinburgh), slit trenches (Whipsnade),  underground aquariums  (Chester) and visiting Birmingham Botanic Gardens last week, underneath their bandstand! Evacuee Peter Pollard was present at Chessington Zoo when the zoo air raid shelters took a direct hit with many casualties – he’s interviewed on BBC Radio Cornwall (see website link on our blog roll).   

In the peace of Newquay Zoo, we’ve been busy fencing and smartening up our wartime garden at Newquay Zoo in advance of an expected to be busier than normal  weekend this weekend, 19 and 20th March 2011, for  our Locals weekend – £2 entry (with proof of Cornish address) – see our website www.newquayzoo.org.uk for details.

Hopefully our wartime Gnome Guard-ener will have returned in the next few months for May is proving busy – a talk at Chester Zoo about wartime zoos for members on Saturday 21st May and  a busy May half term week of activities  at Newquay Zoo celebrating both BIAZA’s Love Your Zoo campaign and our Newquay Zoo wartime garden weekend (May 28 – June 5th 2011 http://www.biaza.org.uk 

LATEST POSTCARD RECEIVED 23 March 2011

Have gnome, will travel ... Newquay Zoo's missing wartime Gnome Guard-ener makes it out from Cornwall to Devon and London to Spain! Bioparc Valencia,  March 2011

Have gnome, will travel ... Newquay Zoo's missing wartime Gnome Guard-ener makes it out from Cornwall to Devon and London to Spain! Bioparc Valencia, March 2011

Our roaming gnome has sent a postcard back from Spain – Bioparc Valencia hosted the EZE European Zoo Educators meeting recently, with several British zoo education staff attending. This is probably how Bert got there.

Unusual Bristih visitors in Spain are nothing new. Many unusual British volunteers fought against the ‘fascist’ forces in Spain in 1936, including writer Laurie Lee or observed the fighting  like journalist George Orwell.   

The memory of this civil war time and Franco era is still raw in Spain, as described in Giles Tremletts’ excellent book Ghosts of Spain.  We haven’t yet researched what happened to zoos such as Madrid and Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War. The bombing of Guernica (famously pictured by Pablo Picasso)  gave British zoo staff planning for the next war a good idea of what to expect from aerial attack.

Whildst this was going on in late 1930s in Spain, not far away the young Gerald Durrell was exploring the animal rich nooks and crannies of the Mediteranean island of Corfu, famously described in My Family and Other Animals.

They also serve, who only sit and read ... Looking a bit like Gerald Durrell, 'Gerald' our replacement wartime Gnome Guard-ener (until the original one returns from his travels, pictured in The Cornish Guardian miniature copy). World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo, March 2011

Soon after his return to wartime Britain, Durrell’s time at Whipsnade Zoo in 1945 as a student keeper are described in his other early books. Two mysterious gnomes arrived last week  in our lovely refenced, repaved garden (all work done by zoo builder John Murrell and Mike his garden volunteer). We have a stop-gap Gnome Guard-ener in place until Bert returns, which we have christened “Gerald”.  A slightly more expensive bronze statue of Gerald Durrell can be found at Jersey Zoo.With his cartoonist’s great sense of  humour and his love of travel, we’re sure Gerald would approve of the whole gnome escap-ade, our  wartime garden and its animal enrichment work, not disimilar to the poly tunnel market gardens at Jersey Zoo and now Paignton Zoo.

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One Response to “Of Gerald Durrell, wartime gnomes and gardens (and air raid shelters) in zoos … Spain and London latest”

  1. Rapid Gigabitz Says:

    i like it Of wartime gnomes and gardens (and air raid shelters) in zoos … latest « Worldwarzoogardener1939's Blog now im your rss reader

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