The poignant story of Harry Munro ZSL London Zoo keeper killed or missing in action on 29 September 1915 and the King Penguin (nicknamed ‘Billy’ in the press) has touched many people and received over 1500 hits or readers over its first few days around the world.
Thanks to all of you who read it or passed it on to others. Harry Munro is definitely not forgotten 100 years after his death.
This has become our new highest most read story in the shortest time since Armistice in November each year.
Since posting on the 29 September (the centenary anniversary) I have been tracing the penguin’s story, starting with an interesting picture of Princess Mary with a King Penguin was taken in 1911 by the photographer (possibly Lewis Medland) of this image from Queen Mary’s Album in the Royal Collection. It has also, like Harry Munro the Keeper With King Penguin, been used as a postcard by ZSL London Zoo.
This Princess Mary and Penguin photo is published on page 246 in London Zoo from old photographs 1852-1914 (2nd edition) by Bartlett Society member and zoo historian John Edwards. This fascinating 2012 book is still available from ZSL London Zoo’s online shop on Amazon.co.uk and other booksellers, well worth buying.
Interestingly the picture of Harry Munro and Penguin doesn’t feature in John Edward’s book as his book is designed to complement the historic photos already published in Golden Days (Duckworth 1976) the photographic history of London Zoo covering 1914 to 1939 (also still available second hand via Amazon and others)
The photo (possibly from Queen Mary’s Album) shows King George V and Queen Mary on a Royal Visit with Princess Mary on 4 June 1911, greeting London Zoo’s only King Penguin.
This King Penguin appears to be named and identified by John Edwards as “Napoleon”, a grander name than the news picture of Keeper Munro with “Billy the famous Zoo Penguin” shown in the 16/11/1915 Daily Graphic reprinted picture of the missing Keeper Munro.
John Edwards notes on p.246 of London Zoo from Old Photographs:
“the King Penguin known as Napoleon was the only one in the Zoo at that time, having been presented on 11 February 1911 by Dr Clemente Onelli, the very capable director of Buenos Aires Zoo (1904-24). He died on 15 September 1914.”
So this seems to be the same King penguin pictured with Harry Munro.
Was the King Penguin called Napoleon or Billy?
Is this a press invention or keeper nickname, different from his official house name?
The naming of animals goes back traditionally as far as Genesis and Adam, and No-ah doubt it went on in the Ark too.
I know from long working in zoos that this is still very common, what a keeper nicknames an animal can be quite different from what the official record keeper, previous zoo or enterprising press and marketing department have christened this same animal. Its name in the Crib Room or keeper’s staff room may vary quietly from that used in the Marketing Office.
Princess Mary (1897- 1965) shown in the photograph with ‘Napoleon’ was well known in WW1 for her interest in nursing, women’s services and the comforts of soldiers.
There is a short Wikipedia biography: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary,_Princess_Royal_and_Countess_of_Harewood
This was expressed most famously through the Princess Mary’s Christmas Boxes sent in December 1914 to each serving sailor, airman or soldier like Harry Munro.
So hopefully Harry enjoyed the smokes and chocolate out of his Christmas tin in the last year and Christmas of his life, away from home a week or so before he embarked for France
Napoleon or Billy was sadly dead by then, reputedly on the 15th September 1915, around the time of Harry’s enlistment and absence from the zoo.
Harry Munro would be missing or dead just over a year later.
Harry’s name stayed – hopefully? – as ‘missing’ on the typed list that I saw pasted into the London Zoo Daily Occurrences Book (now in the ZSL archive). It remained as ‘missing’ well into the 1916 typed list of staff on active service.
Reactions to the photograph
I have been interested in how different people react to this photograph from amongst zoo staff and animal management students, so have been dropping the picture into conversations and teaching recently. The equality of eye level and ease or affection between them are often what are commented on, unprompted.
I put it up on screen between talks at a recent bird keepers meeting at Newquay Zoo, so Harry Munro and his penguin were there in spirit 100 years on. Sadly on a busy day I didn’t get a chance to ask the bird keepers from other zoos what they thought of it.
You can use the comments form to contact us with your thoughts on the photograph, we’d love to hear from you.
If I named a rose, it would be for Walter Morland of Kew Gardens and RBGE Edinburgh, lost at Gallipoli (1915), mentioned in this previous 2013 WW1 blogpost:
If I had the price of a zoo statue, it would probably be of Harry Munro with his King Penguin (pictured on the postcard) or on the Daily Graphic photo watering his Penguin.
Something along the lines of the Winnie Statue, now relocated near the ZSL War Memorial.
Along with the Animals in War memorial statue in London has no human figures, just a wartime ark if different companion animals large and small.
A similar lovely statue of Man and animal can be found in the Wojtek the WW2 Soldier Bear statue near Edinburgh Zoo http://www.wojtekmemorialtrust.com/
Harry Munro and Billy or Napoleon, Remembered.
London Zoo staff will be remembering Harry Munro and other lost colleagues of WW1 and WW2 during the Armistice / Remembrance silences this November: https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/remembering-lost-wartime-staff-of-zsl-london-zoo-in-ww1/
Posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo.