1942 ‘the end of the beginning’ 70 years on in the World War Zoo Gardens at Newquay Zoo

Thursday 1st January 1942      Very dark morning. Saw the New Year in with a drop of Don’s special port …

Friday 2nd January 1942            Not so bad a day. On Fire Watch in evening. Got permission and went down the Palais for a couple of hours. Had quite a nice time. (from Eileen’s Diary, 1942 – see below)

Happy New Year? 1941 was reckoned the ‘grimmest year of the war’ for Britain and the Allies by some historians (see our January 2011 blog post). 1942 didn’t start much better with the collapse of Empire outposts like Hong King, Singapore, Burma and Malaya and American bases like the Philippines before the unstoppable Bamboo Blitzkreig of the Japanese Imperial Army, Air Force and Navy.

Clays Fertiliser advert from 1940s Britain

By the end of 1941, despite the Enigma codebreaking successes at Bletchley Park http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/  (where several zoo staff and future conservationists were working, no doubt their ‘Zoo German’ being useful),  the war at sea against the U-boats was going badly for the convoys of Merchant ships supplying Britain, along with several large Royal Navy ships sunk in December 1941 by  the Japanese.   1942 would see large naval battles at Midway and Coral Sea.

Limited successes against the Italians in the Desert War of North Africa in late 1941 and early 1942 might have brought a ready crop of Italian prisoners into POW camps in Britain, soon to be working in the market gardens and fields of Britain. However January 1942 saw the arrival of a new German general for the Afrika Korps Rommel the Desert Fox who would soon see his troops besieging Tobruk (falling 21 June) and threatening Egypt. Only the victory by Montgomery on 4 November 1942 at El Alamein would reverse this long retreat and uncertainty.

The German advance at Stalingrad was stifled by another harsh winter and stubborn Russian resistance; German forces would collapse early in 1943. The church bells (a warning of invasion) were rung in Britain in celebration of North African victories for the first time since 1939. It was as Churchill observed, at a low point in his wartime leadership, the ‘end of the beginning’.  

From a World War Zoo Gardens perspective, one wonders how many keepers and staff from zoos and botanic gardens across Britain, the Empire, Europe, Germany, Russia and now America and Japan were now pitched on opposing sides into this now worldwide conflict.

Already by 1942 the shortages of ‘manpower’ in zoos were being plugged on a  by female staff and old veterans of the Great War.  By 1942, many Japanese zoo keepers and vets had been drafted into the army. The Japanese mainland was raided by Jimmy Doolittle’s US bomber squadron on April 18 1942. The official response to this raid on Tokyo was quite devastating, with many large zoo animals being euthanased on order of  the Japanese authorities and army, a sorry and unpleasant tale told in Mayumi Itoh’s book Japanese Wartime Zoo Policy.   

Percy Murray Adams ZSL Whipsnade Keeper

Already one of the unwilling guests of the Japanese Army, ZSL Whipsnade Keeper Percy Murray Adams was likely to have become  a Japanese POW during early 1942, dying on 28th July  1943  (see our November 2011 armistice blog post). One of his ZSL staff colleagues at London Zoo , ZSL Clerk Lieutenat Henry Peris Davies  RA was already dead ‘Killed in Action’ against the Japanese on 21 December 1941 aged 27 (listed on the CWGC Singapore Memorial, having no known grave). London Zoo staff, many of whom served and suffered through the Great War and the loss of 12 colleagues, were seeing it happen all over again. Almost exactly a year earlier on 18th December 1940 another ZSL Clerk Leonard Peachey had been killed in flying training with the RAF. 

By the end of 1942, quiet and gentle Peter Fallwasser the aquarist from Chester Zoo had died of wounds in North Africa on 22 December 1942, aged only 26, recorded in the Chester Zoo Our Zoo News and June Mottershead and Janice Batten’s book, Reared in Chester Zoo. By 1942, the war was taking its toll on zoo keepers and botanic gardens staff across the world.

Oh, and the American GIs arrived … in increasingly large numbers, in Britain on 26 January 1942, and on 8 November 1942 in North Africa an Allied landing  Operation Torch. Quickly, America, still reeling from the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 went onto a war footing. Rationing of food, sugar and later coffee began in 1941 in the USA.

Victory Gardens sprang up across America again. (Again? They had briefly flourished in America as in Britain in the First World War). See Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victory_garden for many great links and the PBS US TV gardening series http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/victorygarden/watch/video_3301_wm.html 

So 1942. It’s all dates and history book stuff – but what did it feel like to people there? Sadly December  2011 saw the passing of Fred Thornhill, aged 92, one of Newquay  Zoo’s oldest volunteers well into his eighties. Fred had been a medic and stretcher bearer in the British Army in the 1941/2 Western Desert Campaign and didn’t talk about it often, but from the rare comments, his experiences dealing with the human debris of the desert war had left a strong impression on this big man. He occasionally produced the odd tiny photo snapshot of his family or army travels. Once for a display of horns, antlers and other ‘animal weapons’ , Fred brought in his bayonet for us to borrow and mount on the wall. He’d somehow acquired or swapped it with a Free French  Foreign Legionnaire, he said, as I weighed it in my hands. Despite its current polish, it had been used in action, he added quietly. I handed it quietly back for him to keep with a slight shudder thinking where it had been.  Strange how objects can be ‘haunted’ or suddenly change in your estimation – another grisly candidate object for the BBC’s excellent series History of The World In 100 Objects?

Another personal touch or view of 1942 has been in the pocket diaries of Eileen K. and of Peggy Skinner that I have been editing for publication, the first hopefully in 2012.  Eileen,  a young Post Office clerk in London is passing a more peaceful year on Fire Watch several times a week after the Blitz of 1940/41 (recorded in her 1941 diary). Recently engaged, her fiance is a war worker also on regular exercises with The Home Guard.  

10 Monday August 1942      Wynne came round first thing. Joins the WAAF on Wednesday week. Cold morning. On Fire Watch tonight. Warning during night but did not have to get up.

Her friends steadily leave for work as nurses, WAAFs. There’s regular cinema trips, dancing at the Palais and getting a trousseau and bottom drawer ready for a wartime marriage against a backdrop of rationing of food, scarce household items  and clothes. The clothes rationing she records as introduced in June 1941 (Utility, Civilian Clothing  1941 or CC41 label ) soon extends to furniture and further restrictions in summer 1942 on clothing and the amount of material used.  It’s obviously a struggle to stay presentable and well fed with all the shortages.

With fuel restrictions. Eileen also ‘Holidayed at Home’ with nearby country relatives in Surrey, an anticipation of the Staycation holidays of our New Austerity since 2007. Allegedly zoos near cities have had a better year 2011 than ones like ourselves at the seaside. (In wartime, seaside was often too far, hotels requisitioned for the forces or evacuees, the beaches of which in wartime were in many cases off-limits or on ‘Invasion coasts’). 

The music that Eileen would have listened to included Bing Crosby’s White Christmas and Vera Lynn’s White Cliffs of Dover. Films released in 1942 included classics such as CasablancaIn Which We Serve and Mrs. Miniver.

Thurs 8   October 1942   “Not seeing Don as he’s on Home Guard all night. Went to the  Chelsea Place with Mum. Max Miller up there. Did not think much of the show.”

Fri 9  October 1942       “Met Don outside the Forum. Our film quite good. Humphrey Bogart gone good.”  [Is this film Casablanca?]

Peggy Skinner an 18 year old  London born student at Glasgow University saw these films in 1943  and records in her diary on  Saturday 9th  January 1943:      Very uninteresting day for my last Saturday of holiday.  I would have liked to have gone with mum and dad to see Noel Coward In Which We Serve but I did not like to ask and anyway I’d made up my mind that next term I must work harder (what a hope but I must try) and must try also to enjoy myself more, but how I could do that without going to dances which is impossible, I don’t know.”

When she saw it later, she liked the film, more so than Mrs Miniver:

Wednesday 7th  April 1943    I went to pictures by myself this evening to Paisley to see “Mrs Miniver” with Greer Garson  and Walter Pidgeon. As I rather expected I would be I was rather disappointed with it. I’d heard such a lot about it  that I’m doubtful if any picture could come up to standards which were to be expected of a film  of which I’d heard such glowing stories. The little boy in it was awfully good, also the clergyman and Walter Pidgeon and the Young Mrs Miniver but Greer Garson seemed to have an awful fixed grin on her face.

We’ll feature a little more about Peggy Skinner’s diaries 1940, 1943 and 46-49 in later blogposts; eventaully she will be added to the Glasgow University Story website and  blog  http://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/ww2-background/

Like Churchill with his view that the end of 1942 was the ‘end of the beginning’, Peggy’s  1943 diary entries start on a more optimnistic note than her (missing) 1942 diary would have done:

Tuesday 2nd     February 1943:                I’m going to bed very late again as I had a bath and once I get in I can never be bothered getting out. The war news has been good now for a month or two, it is the best spell we have had since war began, the only trouble seems to be inTunisia and it’s not too serious there – yet. It must do the occupied countries a lot of good to hear good news for a change.

Eileen  or Peggy mention little by 1942/3 in the way of actual bombing (though still many air raid warnings) but the Baedeker raids of 1942 saw several historic and largely undefended British cathedral cities such as  nearby Exeter (23 and 24 April; 3 May 1942), Bath , York and Canterbury badly damaged in surprise air raids.

This was no doubt retaliation for the steady increase of bombing raids on Germany by Bomber Harris’ RAF Bomber Command  , including Lubeck and the first RAF 1000 bomber raid on Cologne in May 1942 followed by other German cities. These raids accidentally took a heavy toll on the German city zoos, many of which historically had been built in cities partly as green parks and gardens.

2012 sees the 70th anniversary of the daring commando raid Operation Chariot at St Nazaire  (commemorated nearby our Newquay Zoo  in the departure port of Falmouth 28 March 1942 ) and the disastrous Dieppe Raid  on August 19th. This was a forerunner of the 1944 D-Day landings which saw the Southwest countryside and towns around ourselves in Cornwall and our sister Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust sites at Paignton Zoo and Slapton Ley occupied by huge numbers of Americans arriving for the Second Front which was being discussed throughout 1942.

So many anniversaries throughout 2012 which we shall document from the unusual perspective of how they affected zoos and botanic gardens and their staff.

We’re also widening our World War Zoo Gardens research to include the Great War and how this affected zoos and their staff, as well as mnay animals as the 100th anniversary of the Great War is not far off in 2014. This will be much in the news with the relaese of the film of Micheal Morpurgo’s book War Horse in mid January. (Morpurgo has also written about the German zoo animals of the Second World War in An Elephant in the Garden).  The lessons learnt from the First World War was of some use to a generation of zoo keepers, often veterans themselves,  preparing to survive another potentially very different war.   What can we learn from them for our own future?

It’s now raining in Newquay, great start to 2012! 2011 was on the whole a good year for the World War Zoo Gardens, with reasonbly good crops (some almost sweetcorn!) and the BIAZA Zoo award for planting in November 2011. Off to go through the wartime advice books and today’s seed catalogues to plan the next year’s planting in the wartime zoo garden … then there’s the website due soon … some time needed to wade through a few more gardening and history books that friends and family have kindly given at Christmas. Busy few months ahead. I’ll share the pick of these books in future posts …

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One Response to “1942 ‘the end of the beginning’ 70 years on in the World War Zoo Gardens at Newquay Zoo”

  1. Peggy Skinner’s Wartime Christmas 1940 | Worldwarzoogardener1939's Blog Says:

    […] https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/1942-the-end-of-the-beginning-70-years-on-i… […]

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