Archive for the ‘Home front’ Category

Dad’s Army and the Home Guard in the Wartime Zoo

February 6, 2016

Gnome guard wartime garden 015

Our LDV ‘Gnome Guard’ in his usual allotment spot in our wartime ‘Dig For Victory’ garden, Summer Newquay Zoo, 2010

The Home Guard has long suffered from the Dad’s Army image of the 1960s and 1970s comedy programme, but an image that has helped to keep its memory alive.

The new Dad’s Army  film with Bill Nighy and other famous British actors is due out on 5 February 2016.

Zoos and botanic gardens sometimes had their own Home Guard companies ranging from Whipsnade Zoo to Kew Gardens, with big wide open spaces suitable for paratroop or glider landings.

Kew also possessed its very own Home Guard in the shape of a special Garden Platoon. Many of those involved were old soldiers or regular visitors. The manning of Kew Bridge was one of their tasks.

http://www.kew.org/discover/news/kews-wreath-remembrance

Kew Gardens staff were involved in the local 63rd Surrey (RICHMOND) Battalion V Zone Home Guard:
“Few units have such a beautiful and historic area to defend as the 63rd Surrey (Richmond) Battalion.

In the early days its members were called on to provide nightly guards on the Thames bridges in their territory and on such historic premises as Kew Observatory and Wick House, once the residence of Sir Joshua Reynolds, which stands on Richmond Terrace …

Major Bott, who had fought so hard for this, was offered the command of the new Battalion. He refused on the ground that his work did not allow him the time to do the job as he felt it should be done. So the command was given to Sir Geoffrey Evans, C.LE., eminent botanist and soldier, who held it until his appointment as Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Major Bott was made second-in-command.

http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/ww2/home_guard/hg006.shtml

Many zoo keepers over or under military age served in the Home Guard, along with other evening jobs at their zoo or in the local community in the National Fire Service, Firewatching, Air Raid wardens (ARP)  or other war work including Dig For Victory gardens.

Often these Home Guard staff from zoos  were veterans of the First World War.

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Home Guard lapel badge for your civilian clothes to indicate your branch of National Service. Author’s collection.

In the chaos and lack of weapons after the British Army’s evacuation from Dunkirk in May 1940 when German invasion by paratroops or landing craft seemed imminent, surprisingly zoos were often allowed to keep their rifles and rifle-trained staff on account of the fears over large dangerous animals being loosed by air raids. Angus MacDonald (‘Mac’) was one such sure shot and a fine pest controller as well at London Zoo, as remembered by  the zoo writer L.R. Brightwell.

Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester became a source of some rather ancient weapons from its theatrical spectacular firework displays including 1866-vintage Snyder rifles, which were issued to members of the local 49th Lancashire Battalion of the  Home Guard during the Second World War (mentioned in Norman Longmate’s The Real Dad’s Army published in 1974 / 2012).

In 1943 the Fireworks Island itself was used for a public display of Home Guard Training, the Home Guard capturing a ‘nazi Flag’ as part of the display: http://www.chethams.org.uk/bellevue/files/original/c5c53efac3b80d96d3ac3a866b207a3f.jpg

More information on Belle Vue as a venue for the Home Guard can be found on the Virtual Belle Vue digitised collection at Chethams archive: http://www.chethams.org.uk/bellevue/files/original/22e81e259938404e6a9a309f33d0640a.jpg

Belle Vue Zoo remained a popular brass band venue in wartime including local Home Guards Bands, http://www.chethams.org.uk/bellevue/files/original/42e062a73a956504bccb320614777833.jpg 

Whipsnade  Zoo in Bedfordshire had its local Home Guard unit under ex-Army Captain W.P. Beal, the Zoo Superintendent.  Areas were turned over for rifle ranges and Home Guard training as mentioned in Lucy Pendar’s Whipsnade My Africa and Paul Wilson’s ZSL website article:

Mrs Beal’s jovial husband Captain W P B Beal (the Zoo’s first Superintendent, made famous by his curries in the Gerald Durrell’s book, Beasts in my Belfry) became the leader of the local Home Guard and made use of the Zoo’s facilities as far as he could. The Estates office became the Headquarters, the Cloisters were transformed into an indoor firing range and an outside range was created at the bottom of the downs below Bison Hill. The Zoo witnessed groups of men marching around, initially with just broom handles and farm implements and later with proper weapons.

https://www.zsl.org/blogs/artefact-of-the-month/whipsnade-during-the-second-world-war

Bristol Zoo was also home to its local Home Guard Unit:

The Home Guard of the 11th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment was based in the zoo’s cafeteria during World War Two. One member based at the zoo recalled how they were not allowed to march and parade in front of Alfred’s cage lest he become aggressive. At the time the troops discussed the causes of this, musing that it might be that their uniforms reminded Alfred of other primates. On reflection, as the keepers also wore uniforms, the writer concluded that it was more likely the marching itself which upset the gorilla.

He also recalled how night watch at the zoo was his scariest experience during his time in the Home Guard. On the one hand, he was worried about Germans appearing out of the dark but he was equally concerned that if a bomb dropped near the zoo the animals might escape from their cages. ‘Often, 17 year olds like myself exchanged our fears about what one would do if, spare the thought, in such an event the monstrous form of Alfred were to lumber forward out of the darkness’, he recalled, ‘probably run towards the enemy!’ he concluded.

Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_the_Gorilla  quoting Bristol Museum, Alfred Archive L13, 23 July 1993.

home guard cert ww2

Home Guard certificate for Frederick Redvers Booth, Hailsham Sussex Battalion (Author’s Collection)

If you come across a Home Guard certificate, they only have the person’s name (as both men and women served) on the front but very usefully they are often stamped on the back with the Home Guard group and battalion they belong to.

home guard cert ww2 reverse

Certificate (back) for Frederick Booth, Hailsham Sussex Battalion

Training this new civilian or old soldier army in national defence brought forth a wide range of publications, some recently reprinted.

Home Guard cover

(Author’s collection)

The aims of the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) or Home Guard are set out in many of these rapidly written and published advice books, focussing on tone modern methods of war shown in the Invasion of Poland and Blitzkreig across Holland, Belgium and France of 1939/40. Parachutists, gliders and  tanks required training in roadblocks, street fighting and ambush techniques.

Home Gaurd Brophy book parachutists

Advice about parachutist and glider troops: Page 50 from the Home Guard Handbook (1940) by John Brophy

 

The Last word Home Guard

Page 125 from the Home Guard Handbook (1940) by John Brophy

 

LDV checklist Home Guard Brophy

Page 126 from the Home Guard Handbook (1940) by John Brophy

As we come across new stories of zoo or botanic garden Home Guard units or links, I will post them on this blogpost.

Posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo.

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Peggy Skinner’s Wartime Christmas 1940

December 10, 2015

December 1940  – a schoolgirl’s wartime Christmas in Scotland

If you are struggling to choose or afford Christmas presents this year, spare a thought for the fashion conscious 1940s wartime young woman like Peggy Skinner!

Peggy Skinner is a 15 to 16 year old schoolgirl in her final years of school, transplanted in wartime to Paisley in Renfrewshire, Scotland from her South London home.

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Peggy Jane Skinner’s 1943 diary and a photo believed to be her. Source: Mark Norris, WWZG collection.

Like many school girls she is worrying about exam results and making it into her  school leaving year in 1941. She makes it to wartime Glasgow University on a Carnegie Grant to study Astronomy, Maths, Radio and Science, but all this seems far away in Christmas 1940. [I’ve added additional notes in brackets].

Much of her social life revolves around school friends and a church youth group, attending a Bible Class en route to becoming a Sunday School teacher of a weekend throughout her wartime student years. 

Peggy is obviously a bright girl, daughter of an engineer and draughtsman. School is thankfully going well for her despite relocation and wartime disruption. Unusually at the time for a female student, she is doing well studying Science and Maths.

 

Glasgow schools in wartime

Many Glasgow schools were closed early on in the war or requisitioned for military and civil defence use. Peggy’s school seems to have a range of teachers on loan from other schools.

Amongst the range of teacher names and nicknames somebody in Paisley or Glasgow might recognise or identify Peggy’s school:

Jetta Yuill her French teacher from Renfrew High School, Bone her Latin teacher, ‘Fanny’, Miss Buchanan, Miss Reid and Miss Blair her Gym teachers, ‘Doc’ and Billy Robb her Science teachers, Stoney, Denham or Denman her Physics and Science teacher, Tommy Henderson, Alice Young, Miss McKim, Miss Walker, Hutchison or Hutchie, Stevenson her History teacher, Mr. Reid her music teacher and McCrossan who produces the school play.

Does anyone recognise any of these names from wartime school days?

Peggy Skinner’s summer in Scotland safe from the London Blitz and Battle Of Britain in July to September 1940 were covered in a previous blogpost: https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/battle-of-britain-day-remembered-15-september-1940/

More about Peggy’s life (1924-2011) and other wartime birthdays and Christmas entries can be found here on what would have been her 90th birthday tribute in December 2014: https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/happy-90th-birthday-peggy-jane-skinner/

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/1942-the-end-of-the-beginning-70-years-on-in-the-world-war-zoo-gardens-at-newquay-zoo/

 

Peggy Skinner’s wartime diary, December 1940

Sunday 1st                    As [the local vicar] Mr Laming is away, the Marines’ chaplain took the Eucharist. Mr [Bovey?] took Bible Class and some one from Trinity Paisley took evensong. His profile was like Tyrone Power’s but he spoke so slowly.

image

[Tyrone Power, the famous U.S. film actor of the time, was a bit of a Peggy Skinner favourite!]

 Monday 2nd                  Physics marks back, they were really out of 120 but they were counted out of 100 since we didn’t get all the time we were supposed to. I’ve got 50% for my Latin.

Tuesday 3rd                 I have found out that I am the highest in lower History in our class, so I’m quite bucked. I got 67% for my Chemistry which is far better than I’d expected.

Wednesday 4th            Dance practice with boys at Gym. Latin sentences in place of or in addition to the exam ones, of course I couldn’t do them. AYPA – went to Youth welfare meeting, pretty boring.

[Anglican Young People’s Association, a church youth and social group of the time]

Thursday 5th                Dance practice with boys. Latin marks back, the sentences we had yesterday were counted in place of the ones in the exam. They brought my marks up a bit. It is 55% which I think is good.

Friday 6th                     Half day. Went to Whist drive round church hall. I just filled in, had to help Mum get the hall ready first.

Saturday 7th                 Went to Paisley with Bunty to see My Two Husbands, it was very amusing.   Altogether, it was quite a good show. Paisley was crowded, it was War Weapons Week.

[See our separate blog post for Paisley War Weapons Week]

Sunday 8th                    Communion and Bible Class. It is very cold. I think it is freezing tonight. Trying to think of Xmas presents.

Monday 9th                   Higher History marks back. I am second equal and first equal when averaged British and European history is taken.

Tuesday 10th                Xmas is getting very near and I haven’t brought any presents. I don’t know what to get. Our parcel from Grandma arrived last Friday.

[Grandma is back home with the family in London]

Wednesday 11th          Literature back, I got 30 ½ out of 45. I’m third equal in our section. Didn’t do much at AYPA tonight.

 Thursday 12th              It is Paisley War Weapons Week this week, our savings collection last week towards it was £175, this week it is £333, making a total of over £500 which is five times as much as we aimed at.

Friday 13th                   English marks back. We got away at 1.30, because of yesterday’s collection. I went to Paisley in the afternoon, Xmas shopping, I wasn’t very successful, everything’s so expensive.

Saturday 14th               Very miserable day. Went to Paisley with Mum in afternoon, got nothing we went for. Stockings are 2 to 3 times the price they used to be.

 

Editor’s note: This shortage and price increase was pre-clothes rationing, which would arrive in six months time on Sunday June 1st 1941, partly to manage and organise scarcity, profiteering  and excessive prices.

The shortage of shoes and everyday clothes became a major irritation for Peggy throughout her diary including into the austerity and rationing period long after the war, especially being tall.

Thankfully her family were competent makers of clothes with whatever remnants became available.

 

Sunday 15th                  Poured with rain again, I had to borrow an umbrella to come home from church this morning. I went to Bible Class and evensong.

Monday 16th                 We had our report cards back. The Rector [the School Headmaster] sent for some people but luckily not me. Packed Xmas presents this evening.

 

[These presents are to be posted to her remaining family down south in London.]

 

Tuesday 17th                I hate Maths now (although the periods are often quite good, like the ones today) because we always seem to be so keyed up.

Wednesday 18th          Dancing in boy’s shed this morning because the Gym was being decorated. Only 7 at AYPA tonight, so as usual did nothing.

Thursday 19th              Half-day for 4th, 5th, 6th year dance – I did not go. I’ll hear all about it tomorrow I expect. It was just an afternoon affair.

Friday 20th                   [Peggy’s 16th birthday] Black velvet for frock, jumper, ring and money to buy books were my presents. Half-day for 3rd years dance. We have a big Hamlet crossword puzzle to do. Short air –raid warning this evening.

Saturday 21st               Another short warning, which I did not hear last night. Bessie and Jean came to tea, just talked. I at any rate quite enjoyed myself.

 Sunday 22nd                 Woke so late that I had a job to get to church in time but service was only beginning as I went in. I went to Bible Class. I tried to finish the [Hamlet school] crossword but couldn’t.

Monday 23rd                Two boys had managed to get the crossword done. We only had two periods this afternoon then got away early. I’ve still some Xmas shopping to do.

Tuesday 24th                Half day, broke up, we did X-word puzzles in Maths, nothing in History and Bible and worked in English and Chem. I went to midnight Eucharist, took communion. Church was crowded.

Wednesday 25th            Christmas Day  Went to [neighbours] Read’s for tea and evening, two other people there, we had a very good time but I’m so sleepy now Xmas is over. This year it’s come unexpectedly and passed quickly.

 

Christmas in Wartime

Not the first Christmas of the war, but this was the first Christmas in wartime where rationing was beginning to have an effect on food and gifts. Later entries by Peggy Skinner for 1943 and 1946-9 record the ongoing difficulties of finding suitable presents and making of things to sell for charity fundraising.

 

Thursday 26th              Didn’t wake till midday. Went round to Bunty’s but I got no reply So I just came home and read. I haven’t started my homework yet.

Friday 27th                           Saw Bunty this morning. We have a [barrage] balloon opposite us now, the site has been prepared for months but the balloon wasn’t brought till today.

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Peggy Skinner’s wartime home  is towards the top of the photograph,  (top right) a barrage balloon on the balloon site nearby protecting the Hillington Rolls Royce and other factories at the bottom left. Canmore.org.uk ID 211548

This barrage balloon site near her house is on the National Historic Monuments Record for Scotland in the Glendee Road area of Paisley, protecting factory areas at Hillingdon.

https://canmore.org.uk/site/211548/renfrew-loanhead

Saturday 28th             Got letters from Bessie and Jean this morning, they were very amusing, especially if they were compared. Went to see Pinocchio the full length cartoon alone this afternoon.

Sunday 29th                    Good crowd at Communion, had service in church at Bible Class. Good number of carols at evensong, choir alone sang them all, quite a few I didn’t know.

Monday 30th                   Went round to Bunty’s this afternoon, we both tried to do some history. She and I went down to library this evening . Miserable cold wet day.

Tuesday 31st                   Reads came over this evening, had a little party, quite a good time. I’m full and tired. Mr Read saw the ‘New Year’ in,  so this should actually be here.

 

Editor’s note: This list entry about ‘first footing’ by neighbours gives you a clue when her diary was sometimes written, often at the end of day before sleep.

 

January 1941

Wednesday 1st               I did not get up till dinner-time today, all the family was late up. Did some English this afternoon. Snow.

Thursday 2nd                  While I was down the town this afternoon the siren went but I just finished my shopping and then wandered home. Nothing happened, the [barrage] balloon opposite didn’t even go up.

We have no diaries from Peggy for 1941 and 1942. These two January entries give us a few clues as to what was to happen in coming months.

Like her entries for January 1940, the winter of 1941 is recorded by other diarists in our collection and other published diaries as a harsh one of frozen pipes and snow.

The lack of reaction to the air raid siren and ‘nothing happened, the balloon opposite didn’t even go up’ would change on 13 and 14th March 1941 when Clydebank and the Glasgow area were heavily bombed. Sadly we don’t have Peggy’s diaries for this eventful year.

Happy Christmas!

Posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo.

 

A wartime guide to Edinburgh 1943

April 1, 2015

This little wartime guide to Edinburgh is something I didn’t get time to post during the 2014 Scottish referendum or during the RZSS Edinburgh Zoo centenary in 2013. It is from the 5th Edition, November 1943.

Edinburgh wartime guide c/o the World War Zoo Gardens collection, Newquay Zoo.

Edinburgh wartime guide c/o the World War Zoo Gardens collection, Newquay Zoo.

It gives a little flavour of wartime life in Edinburgh and Scotland during WW2. Clicking on a picture below should allow you to enlarge it and read more.

wartime guide 2wartime guide 3

More about Edinburgh wartime life, such as where to sleep for visiting servicemen and women:wartime guide 4

And of course, regimental clubs and less glamorous canteens and rest rooms for H.M. Forces:

wartime guide 5Alongside “leading churches in the city”, there is mention of Edinburgh Zoo and an image of its polar bears. There is also suggestions for Sunday evening entertainments other than churches.

wartime guide 6wartime guide 7 mapAmongst many recreation and entertainments including cinemas, theatres, public baths and zoos, golf seems to feature quite heavily in this little wartime tourism guide in the era of “holidays at home” in Scotland.

“>wartime guide 8

“Some addresses which may be useful” in wartime from ARP and NAAFI to the NFS and the YWCA.

wartime guide  10

wartime guide 12

wartime guide 11

So that’s a glimpse of wartime life in Edinburgh, a little bit of time travel.

There is a final page written in French which I will scan and add later, probably for Free French and Canadian French troops visiting the city.

Later in the year I will add more about the history of Edinburgh Zoo, its remarkable founder ‘Tom’ T.H. Gillespie and a few stories from its WW1 and WW2 history.

wratime guide 1

Mr. Middleton’s February and March Gardening Advice 1943

February 6, 2015

middleton calender cover

February and March gardening advice from Mr Middleton from the “Sow and Reap” 1943 calendar in our World War Zoo Gardens collection at Newquay Zoo. Happy Gardening!

middleton january week 3

All calendar words Mr Middleton’s own. Source Credit: Sow and Reap 1943 Calendar by Mr Middleton, from the World War Zoo Gardens collection, Newquay Zoo.

 

feb2

All calendar words Mr Middleton’s own. Source Credit: Sow and Reap 1943 Calendar by Mr Middleton, from the World War Zoo Gardens collection, Newquay Zoo.

Some bird-friendly advice about pest control.

Time to order your seeds now! Soon time to get sowing.

feb3

All calendar words Mr Middleton’s own. Source Credit: Sow and Reap 1943 Calendar by Mr Middleton, from the World War Zoo Gardens collection, Newquay Zoo.

Spinach, lettuce, broccoli, carrots – sow!

march1

All calendar words Mr Middleton’s own. Source Credit: Sow and Reap 1943 Calendar by Mr Middleton, from the World War Zoo Gardens collection, Newquay Zoo.

 

march2

All calendar words Mr Middleton’s own. Source Credit: Sow and Reap 1943 Calendar by Mr Middleton, from the World War Zoo Gardens collection, Newquay Zoo.

We’ll finish March with Mr Middleton’s late March advice, as he was a man who knew his onions …
You can read more about Mr. Middleton and his January 1943 advice in our previous post.
All calendar words Mr Middleton’s own. Source Credit: Sow and Reap 1943 Calendar by Mr Middleton, from the World War Zoo Gardens collection, Newquay Zoo.

Mr. Middleton’s January Gardening Advice 1943

January 16, 2015

Mr Middleton’s gardening calender “Sow and Reap” 1943 (images from my collection).

middleton calender cover
Middleton Jan week 1

middleton jan week 2
The pencil marks on the dates I think refer  to the original owner’s chicken breeding or egg production, judging by other strange pencil notes inside this calender.
middleton january week 3

This calender is put together from a mix of Mr. Middleton’s gardening advice from other sources and publications, recycled by an obviously busy Mr. Middleton. We will post the relevant section month by month throughout 2015, another useful guide for our wartime allotment project.

Wartime rationing 75 years on and Mr Middleton’s wartime gardening advice

2015 marks the 75th anniversary of rationing being introduced on 8th January 1940 and the 70th anniversary of Mr Middleton’s death on 19th September 1945.

How time flies! We marked this rationing date on the 70th anniversary in 2010, several years into the World War Zoo Gardens project, alongside the Imperial War Museum – see the legacy site for http://food.iwm.org.uk  2010 Ministry of Food Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, marking  70 years since rationing was introduced.

A Titchmarsh before his time ... C.H. Middleton, the radio gardener. This original wartime paperback has recently been reissued.

A Titchmarsh before his time … C.H. Middleton, the radio gardener. This original wartime paperback has recently been reissued.

2015 is also sadly the 70th anniversary of the death of Cecil Henry Middleton (b. 22 February 1886) on 18 September 1945.

On the Ministry of Food IWM site, there is also some great December 1945 gardening advice pages from this wartime celebrity gardener Mr. Middleton. The whole 1945 leaflet set has been reprinted recently as a book edited by Twigs Way (Sabrestorm Press, 2009). We will feature more about Mr. Middleton throughout 2015. As well as Pathe Newsreel footage of Mr. Middleton, there is an interesting Mr Middleton blog.

It’s a quiet time in the World War Zoo Garden allotment at Newquay Zoo, a time to plan rather than to plant and sow. “Hasten slowly”,  my favourite gardening advice from Mr. Middleton.
Happy gardening! Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo.

A gardener named Banks, Britain’s first air raid casualty 24 December 1914

December 24, 2014

Did you know that the first bomb from an aeroplane ever to fall on England in 1914 fell in a garden?

“Shortly before 11 o’clock on December 24th [1914] an aeroplane was seen flying down the valley and it dropped a bomb which burst in the kitchen garden of Mr T.A.Terson at the end of Leyburne Road [Dover]. The bomb was probably meant for the Castle and where it burst it did no damage beyond breaking adjoining windows  and throwing a gardener named Banks, who was working at St. James’ Rectory, out of a tree to the ground, slightly injuring him.

The Journalist, 1914

This intriguing story of a “gardener named Banks” makes him Britain’s first air raid casualty, but thankfully one who survived.

It  was featured as the opening panel of the Garden Museum London exhibition on Gardens and War (which ended 19 December 2014).

 

A ceiling field of pressed wild flowers and flower press picture frames,  Gardens and War exhibition, Garden Museum London 2014

A ceiling field of pressed wild flowers and flower press picture frames, Gardens and War exhibition, Garden Museum London 2014

Whilst the famous Christmas Truce and football matches of No Man’s Land were unofficially happening in the front line trenches on land, in the air several wartime firsts were about to happen.

The spot (according to the Britain at War history magazine First World War) is now marked by a Blue Plaque from the Dover Society: “Near this spot on Christmas Eve fell the first aerial bomb ever to be dropped on the United Kingdom.”

The plaque is pictured on Ian Castle’s excellent website on WW1 air raids.

Ian is the author of two Osprey books London 1914-17: The Zeppelin Menace and London 1917-1918: The Bomber Blitz amongst other airship related that I have recently read, researching a 2015 blogpost about how zoos responded to the Zeppelin and aerial threat and featuring air raid related mentions from Edith Spencer’s 1917 civilian diary in our collection.

I am curious to see how people prepared for this new threat. London Zoo and Regent’s Park were in the flight path of several raids but thankfully spared air raid damage in WW1. The London Zoo was spattered with spent shrapnel from the “Archies” (Anti-aircraft guns) on Primrose Hill  and prepared against possible animal escape with firearms trained staff of “a special emergency staff of picked men was always on call. Heavy shutters were fitted to the glass fronts of the poisonous snakes’ cages” (Source: The Zoo Story, L.R.Brightwell, 1952). A long-term outcome of the WW1 air raid preparation was the provision of a First Aid post for visitors continuing after the war (Source: The Zoo, J. Barrington-Johnson, 2005).

Other wartime firsts
Three days earlier on 21st December 1914 a German seaplane dropped bombs in the sea near Dover Beach. However towns on the East Coast of Britain had been bombarded from the sea by German ships  on 16th December 1914 with a number of civilian casualties.

Within weeks on 19 January 1915, the first Zeppelin raid on Britain had taken place, aimed for London but diverted by bad weather to Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. The raids would eventually reach London on 31 May 1915.

The gardener in St James Rectory garden  reportedly pruning a tree for Christmas greenery was called variously James Banks or in some sources John Banks.

I have seen three different pilots named as the pilot responsible for the 24 December 1914 attack. Various sources ranging from Ian Castle, Neil Hanson’s First Blitz book to Dover history sites give a range of often conflicting details about the incident, no doubt down to wartime reporting restrictions and propaganda. The bomb appears to have been a single hand-held 22lb bomb, dropped by hand from 5000 feet  and probably aimed at Dover Castle from a FF29 Friedrichshafen  floatplane of the German Naval Air Service. It fell 400 yards from the Castle and created a crater ten feet wide in the gardens.

Tommy Terson was a local auctioneer and there are a few, no doubt, jokey Christmas references to him picking Brussel sprouts from the patch which was bombed!

The cook at the Rectory was reportedly showered with glass. The garden and window damage is pictured in the http://doverwarmemorialproject website.co.uk

Christmas Truce in the trenches, but in the air?

The next day the 25th December 1914  the same German Navy air force unit attacked again, aiming for London but dropping its bombs on  Cliffe Railway Station. The raid  was seen off over the skies above Erith  by a British Royal Flying Corps Vickers Gunbus from Joyce Green Airfield near Dartford.

This was the first aerial interception of an enemy aircraft over the United Kingdom of the First World War.

On this same day, there was an attack on German Zeppelin sheds at Cuxhaven on Christmas Day 1914, beyond the range of British air stations. This was known as “The Christmas Raid” with British Royal Navy Air Service RNAS seaplanes from a converted passenger ship HMS Engadine and HMS Empress. Whilst the raid was not that effective, all the pilots and 3 of the 7 seaplanes survived. It was to foreshadow aircraft carrier operations in the next war.

With these two days of bombing, the long road to the Battle of Britain and Blitz in 1940 had begun, with all the chaos that World War 2 caused to the people, animals and plants of British zoos and botanic gardens and in turn to European counterparts.

Aircraft of the period can be seen at air museums like the Imperial War Museum Duxford, RAF Museum Hendon and the Shuttleworth collection.

There is also an interesting and ongoing airfield restoration of a recently listed and most complete surviving WW1 air station at Stow Maries in Essex http://www.stowmaries.org.uk. It’s also home to some very interesting wildlife, the area being used for filming part of the BBC’s The Great British Year in 2013.

Have a peaceful Christmas!

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo.

Happy 90th birthday Peggy Jane Skinner!

December 20, 2014

Back in 2012 I published a few excerpts from wartime diaries from my collection; amongst them my favourite is a selection belonging to Peggy Jane Skinner, born 90 years ago on 20 December 1924 in Kingston-upon-Thames, Richmond, Surrey.

Several years of research eventually tracked down a death certificate stating that Peggy died in 2011, aged 86.

Peggy Jane Skinner's 1943 diary and a photo believed to be her. Source: Mark Norris, WWZG collection.

Peggy Jane Skinner’s 1943 diary and a photo believed to be her. Source: Mark Norris, WWZG collection.

In 1940 Peggy was a 15 year old Kingston / Richmond schoolgirl living in Glendee Road, Renfrew on the edge of Glasgow and Clydeside, Scotland. She spends her summer with relatives back in Kingston-upon-Thames and Richmond, London. Her father William Ernest Skinner appears to have been working as an “co-ordinating engineer” in wartime Glasgow factories and became a sergeant in the local Home Guard battery (probably anti aircraft guns or rocket batteries protecting Glasgow factories and shipyards).  Originally from a Hartlepool maritime family, her father is described on Peggy’s birth certificate as a cycle agent, a year earlier as a draughtsman. These were skilled jobs and maybe where Peggy got her scientific side from.

By 1941/2 she had made it on a Carnegie Trust Grant and Renfrew Education Authority grant to the University of Glasgow as a wartime science student in botany, radio, astronomy and ‘Natural Philosophy’ (science), again working though her summer in wartime London as a council clerk.

Over the next year or two, we’ll feature a little more about Peggy Skinner’s diaries for 1940, 1943 and 46-49 in later blogposts; eventually part of the 1943 diary section will be added to the Glasgow University Story website and  blog  http://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/ww2-background/

The 1943 diary is full of interesting detail about being a female student at a wartime university, of her friends attending Daft Friday dances, complaints about catering and problems with wartime transport (by tram or trolleybus) making it to lectures on time.

Together with the 1940 diary, we get many glimpses of the highs and lows, stresses and strains of her school and student life as a civilian on the Home Front in Scotland and London. There is much about clothes rationing, Paisley War Weapons Week 1940, balloon barrages behind her house at Glendee Road in Renfrew,  fundraising for wartime charities, firewatch, canteen work for the war effort as a university  student  after completing her chaotic wartime schooling with schools requisitioned by the military and school windows meshed against bomb blasts, for example:

Friday 6th September 1940: Air Raid Practice yesterday, fire drill today …

Thursday 12th … half day from school as net was being put on windows …

Thursday 24th October … Air raid last night lasted for two hours. It’s the first time that anything’s happened when the siren’s gone. Several bombs dropped in Joyhnstone and round about. An awful lot of noise last night. 

We don’t have a diary for 1941 and the period of the Clydeside Blitz, but she survived and passed her matriculation exams to attend university.

In our 2012 blog post we quoted from her 1943 diaries. Like Churchill with his view that the end of 1942 was the ‘end of the beginning’, Peggy’s  1943 wartime student  diary entries start on a more optimistic 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 in Tunisia 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.

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.

Postwar life

9 November 1943 – Joint Recruiting Board … Had interview this morning, after first two girls had asked for the forces, we were all called in and told that the only option we have is Research or Industry. I did not know for sure which to sy, so said Research. Air Force bloke spent so much time talking to each person that I did not get away till 10.30 and so missed Geography again.”

Graduating in 1944, the  next diary in my collection  picks up Peggy’s story in 1946 working at RAE Farnborough aircraft development factory on Radio and Mica Condensers. As RAE Farnborough was scaled down after the war, she moved to TCC Condensers in Acton (which later became part of Plessey). The TCC  building and firm closed mid 1960s, becoming later a BBC building used for Doctor Who 1970s filming.

Peggy kept regular diaries but we only have a few, covering the next 3 years to 1949. She worked on electronics, condensers and batteries, radio and early television, including visits to Alexandra Palace in its early BBC TV days.

Her diaries are full of technical information on condensers, capacitors, Schering Bridges and Q-Meters. FAST, the RAE Farnborough collection have expressed their interest in the early 1946 sections about life at the Ambarrow hostel and RAE Farnborough as it was changing over into peacetime. Her job at RAE from 1944 onwards on Radio was obviously of support for the war effort; there are wartime TCC Condensers for radio equipment in the Imperial War Museum.

Her late 1940s diaries evoke a London of post-war Austerity, power cuts, strikes, heatwaves, wet Victory Parades and continued rationing shortages, including of clothing. Peggy spends a lot of time ‘mending stockings’ and buying  ‘remnants’ of cloth to make clothes.

Peggy Skinner's patent on batteries, Yardney Corps 1956/60 USA

Peggy Skinner’s patent on batteries, Yardney Corps 1956/60 USA

And after that no more diaries, just a few traces that I’ve found through family history websites. She took out a co-patent on battery developments for Yardney Corp USA /UK in the 1950s /60s. No doubt that Peggy who had a wartime Astronomy and Science BSc Degree from Glasgow would have been delighted to learn 60 years later that modern Yardney Lithion batteries were in use with the Mars Rovers in her lifetime and are still going strong on Mars in 2014.

Peggy Skinner's patent on Lithion batteries, Yardney Corps 1956/60 USA

Peggy Skinner’s patent on Lithion batteries, Yardney Corps 1956/60 USA

Peggy Skinner comes across in her diaries as an inquisitive, spirited but  quite a shy young woman with many friends and  large London family of aunts, uncles and cousins. She never married for some reason; maybe the missing diaries cover lost romances.

Throughout life she was involved with the church, teaching Sunday school (quite reluctantly at times) and as part of the postwar Christian revival crusades of the late 1940s such as the Norbiton Fellowship. She seems to have worshipped at local Anglican churches including St. Peter’s Norbiton for many years. She also appears to have spent much of her later adult life living with or caring for her mother Minnie Letitia Skinner who died in the mid 1970s, sharing a house in Woodfield Gardens, New Malden.

The diaries came into my collection via an online auction  from a house clearance in that area.

So far we have found no surviving relatives either from the Field or Skinner families, including her younger brother Mick / Michael (who died late 1990s?) or cousins Peter and Madge.

In the early raids of 1940, her father considers having her and Mick evacuated overseas (before the SS City of Benares disaster). As the Battle of Britain raged over her home London skies and merged into the Blitz, her family consider asking her cousins Peter and Young Madge up to the apparent safety of Glasgow, only to have bombing raids visit thir area too in 1940 and 1941. By the end of her 1948/9 diaries her brother Mick is doing his National Service.

If Peggy Jane Skinner were still alive, she would be celebrating her 90th Birthday on 20 December 2014. We would love to hear from anyone who knew Peggy Skinner via our comments page.

Wartime Christmas and Birthdays
On her 16th birthday 1940 she records: “Black velvet for frock, jumper, ring and money to buy books were my presents. Half Day for 3rd Years Dance [at School] … Short Air-Raid warning this evening.”

There is little recorded in the way of gifts for Christmas 1940, although being in Scotland there is first footing by neighbours: “Saw New Year in. Mr Buchanan was first foot” (Glasgow, 1 January 1940) and “Mr Read (neighbour) saw the New Year In so this should actually be here” (Glasgow, 1st January 1941).

A rare survival of a cardboard Christmas stocking toy in our World War Zoo gardens collection alongside the excellent Christmas on the Home Front book by Mike Brown

A rare survival of a cardboard Christmas stocking toy in our World War Zoo gardens collection alongside the excellent Christmas on the Home Front book by Mike Brown

 

The book Christmas on the Home Front by Mike Brown gives a good idea of how tight things were trying to obtain Christmas presents as the war went on. Peggy was hand making bead doll brooch presents for a ‘sale of works’ by the AYPA (Anglican Young People’s Association) at Christmas in 1940. Peggy’s  1946-49 diaries show that things didn’t ease rapidly as she tries to track down suitable gifts for family.

On her 19th birthday like many wartime celebrations gifts were sparse: “a pot of cream from Mrs. Baine … a pixie hood and very cute bookmark from Aunt Madge” and for Christmas equally sparse: “Auntie Madge’s parcel arrived. I got cold-cream and powder from her and a collar from Grandad [Field]. Also received a diary from Eileen Swatton.” Sadly we don’t have this diary for 1944 or 1945.

Close up of a portrait possibly of Peggy Jane Skinner, enclosed in her 1940s diaries. Source: Mark Norris, WWZG collection.

Close up of a portrait possibly of Peggy Jane Skinner, enclosed in her 1940s diaries. Source: Mark Norris, WWZG collection.

If Peggy Jane Skinner were still alive, she would be celebrating her 90th Birthday on 20 December 2014.

We would love to hear from anyone who knew Peggy Jane Skinner via our comments page.

Happy 90th birthday Peggy Jane Skinner, not forgotten!

 

 

War and Peace Christmas Pudding Rationing Recipe WW1 / WW2

December 19, 2014

This “War and Peace Christmas Pudding” was made in Canada during the First World War. The recipe was published in the Second World War by the Ministry of Food Government “Food Facts” in newspapers and radio programmes as part of the “Kitchen Front” campaign in Britain. According to some, it makes a good wartime Christmas pudding. We decided at Newquay Zoo to put it to the staff taste test as part of our World War Zoo Gardens project.

Our trial War and Peace Christmas Pudding - before pretasting by keepers - at Newquay Zoo.

Our trial War and Peace Christmas Pudding – before pretasting by keepers – at Newquay Zoo. Trial quarter ingredients sized version on a side plate.

War and Peace Christmas Pudding Recipe WW1 / WW2

Ingredients:

225 grams  (8 ounces / oz) flour

225 g (8 oz) breadcrumbs

100 g (4 oz) suet

100 g (4 oz) dried fruit

5 ml (1 teaspoon / tsp) mixed spice

225g (8 oz) grated raw potato

225g (8 oz) grated raw carrot

5 ml (1 tsp) bicarbonate of soda

 

Method:

Mix all the ingredients together and turn into a well-greased pudding bowl.

The bowl should not be more than two thirds full.

Boil or steam for at least 2 hours.

Imperial ounce measurements have been updated to equivalent grams.

Source: “Food Facts” Ministry of Food, Britain 1939-45

Setting it alight, as is traditional with a Christmas pudding, would require some alcohol or spirits, increasingly scarce in wartime.  Custard would have been rare too, though Bird’s Custard Powder (replacing eggs in the recipe since 1837, very useful in wartime) and other companies continued to advertise throughout the war.

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Newquay Zoo’s brave Austerity Christmas Pudding tester Nick in suitably protective wartime headgear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taste testing the War and Peace Christmas Pudding

In pursuit of our World War Zoo Gardens project activities,  Newquay Zoo’s fabulous café team, headed up by ex-military chef Jeremy, have cooked up a trial one of these puddings to test out on Newquay Zoo staff. Apparently the test one that we served up to zoo staff was only a quarter of the recipe ingredients.

Zoo staff reaction was mixed. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so honest about the ingredients. Some of the cafe team politely said that they’d eat it again. Many reckoned it needed custard or a good soaking in spirits (we couldn’t set it alight), whilst others thought it ‘not very sweet’ and it made them appreciate a luxurious modern Christmas pudding.

Some keepers wondered whether any of the animals would eat it? Since the famous zoo ‘banana ban’ for monkeys of 2014 at Paignton, Newquay and other zoos, we have become increasingly used in our zoo animal diet sheets to replacing  rich sugary exotic fruit (selectively bred and grown for human palates) with more ‘sweet’ vegetables, albeit mixing the wartime standby sweeteners of carrot, parsnip with other more modern imports like sweet potato. I’m sure this substitution was also how wartime zoos scraped by feeding their animals without imports of exotic fruits.

I was surprised how close the War and Peace Christmas Pudding  was to one of the few wartime dishes that was popularly reckoned to have survived wartime into the postwar British menu  – carrot cake.

Thanks to all the Newquay Zoo cafe team and brave zoo volunteers for this interesting taste lesson about rationing!

Feed the Birds: The Final Taste Test – or Food Waste?

Being rich in suet and a bit crumbly, I tested the final scraps of wartime Christmas pudding on the bird table. Bullfinches, robins, blackbirds, sparrows, crows and pigeons all quickly came down for a crumb or morsel as it turns colder; they weren’t fussy about the strange ingredients in the recipe.

Wasting food like this on the bird table or on pet animals was of course illegal in wartime and liable to prosecution as pointed out in the Imperial War Museum Dig For Victory pdf and the excellent Cooksinfo.com website points out about British Wartime Food.

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Wartime rationing and gardening

2015 marks the 75th anniversary of rationing being introduced on 8th January 1940 and the 70th anniversary of Mr Middleton’s death on 19th September 1945.

How time flies – we marked this on the 70th anniversary in 2010, several years into the World War Zoo Gardens project, alongside the Imperial War Museum.

At the legacy site for http://food.iwm.org.uk  2010 Ministry of Food Exhibition at the Imperial War Musuem, marking  70 years since rationing was introduced, there is an interesting recipe for ‘plum and russet apple mincemeat‘ at   http://food.iwm.org.uk/?p=1045

There is also some great December 1945 gardening advice pages from wartime celebrity gardener Mr. Middleton http://food.iwm.org.uk/?p=1057&album=18&gallery=18  The whole 1945 leaflet set has been reprinted recently as a book edited by Twigs Way (Sabrestorm Press. 2009). We will feature more about him in 2015. There is an interesting Mr Middleton blog to look at meanwhile.

An alternative Christmas pud recipe can be found on the interesting  Eat For Victory website and blog 

More simple wartime rationing recipes (pdfs) can be found at www.bbc.co.uk/schools/teachers/heroes

You can find another wartime recipe that we use with visiting schools doing our wartime zoo workshops ; if its quiet enough in the café we knock up a  batch of savoury potato biscuits – see recipe below.

A Fruitful Happy Christmas and a Prosperous Gardening New Year from all involved in the World War Zoo Gardens Project at Newquay Zoo!

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo

 

That Wartime Savoury Potato Biscuit recipe 

cooked up if time for World War Zoo Gardens workshop days 

Adapted from original Recipe  Potatoes: Ministry of Food wartime leaflet No. 17 

Makes about 24 approx 3 inch biscuits

Ingredients

2  ounces margarine

3  ounces plain flour

3 ounces cooked mashed potato

6 tablespoons grated cheese*

1.5 teaspoons table salt

Pinch of cayenne or black pepper

Cooking instructions

1. Rub margarine into flour

2. Add potato, salt, pepper (and cheese, if using this*)

3. Work to a stiff dough

4. Roll out thinly and cut into shapes  – festive shapes for Christmas if wanted!

5. Bake in a moderate oven, 15 to 20 minutes.

* N.B. Leave out cheese if you have dairy allergy, the pepper is enough to make the taste ‘interesting’.

Enjoy!

A.G.L. Hellyer and beating the U boats: his childhood gardening apprenticeship in WW1

November 21, 2014

 

In the preface to his 1948 Gardening Encyclopedia, (my second-hand copy inscribed by the bookseller “Still the best?”), Arthur Hellyer (1902-1993) mentions an interesting anecdote about the start of his gardening career and the desire to write practical gardening books for ordinary people:

“I still vividly recollect my introduction to gardening. It was in 1915 or 1916 when I was no more than a small boy. My family in common with tens of thousands of others, started to dig up the lawn and grow vegetables on our own small answer to the U-boat menace.
We were endowed with enthusiasm and a complete lack of knowledge and I do not think our efforts were crowned with much success. But I do remember in the intervals of struggling with London Clay spending happy hours poring over the pages of Cousins’ Chemistry of the Garden and H.H. Thomas’ Complete Gardener and finding a new world of delight which has remained with me ever since.”

A 1917 Punch cartoon from our World War Zoo Gardens archive collection

A 1917 Punch cartoon from our World War Zoo Gardens archive collection

“Looking back now these seem very distant days. This is not merely due to the normal passage of time but rather to the immense changes that have taken place in almost every aspect of gardening during the intervening years.
Two wars and the necessity to fight for our national existence in a world of growing scarcities and bitter competition have given an immense impetus to agricultural and horticultural research with the result that our knowledge of plant behaviour and our control over much that occurs in the garden is far greater than it was in the early part of the century…” (1948)

Hellyer wrote a final gardening encyclopedia, in the year of his death in 1993, a remarkably long writing career. Hellyer worked for Amateur Gardening magazine from 1929 to 1966, throughout the Second World War and edited that magazine for 21 years; he also contributed gardening columns to the Financial Times, Country Life magazine, and Homes and Gardens magazine.

As well as his gardening articles Hellyer wrote several important gardening manuals during WW2 to help the “Dig For Victory” campaign in WW2. We have based some of our World War Zoo Gardens allotment garden work here at Newquay Zoo on these and other such 1940s manuals.

Arthur’s life story and that of his wife Grace Charlotte ‘Gay’ Hellyer who also wrote wartime gardening books, is well told in a recent memoir by their daughter Penelope S. Hellyer, The Haphazard Gardener (available to buy online).

The U boat blockade had a devastating effect on the lives of many in Britain including Merchant Navy Seamen, witnessed in the long list of names of sailors and fisherman lost at sea with no known grave: http://devoranwarmemorial.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/lost-devoran-sailors-on-the-merchant-navy-memorial-tower-hill

To read more about gardening in WW1 and how it foreshadowed the “Dig For Victory” campaign in WW2, read our blog post about Herbert Cowley, another  gardening writer, now mostly forgotten:

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/dig-for-victory-1917-world-war-1-style-the-lost-gardeners-of-kew-and-the-fortunate-herbert-cowley-1885-1967/

For more about gardeners (and zookeepers) in WW1, look at our summary of our WW1 blogposts:

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/remembering-ww1-in-zoos-and-gardens/ 

 

 

Our Zoo: Chester Zoo and the drama of zoo history

September 5, 2014

I have been looking forward to watching this autumn BBC’s “Our Zoo” about the  early days of Chester Zoo, with some excellent links to past and future on the Chester Zoo website –
http://www.chesterzoo.org/global/about-us/our-zoo-bbc-drama

Researching zoo history is often a “Cinderella” subject, many people wondering why it’s worth it (outside of the zoo history enthusiasts of the Bartlett Society – see blogroll links) and rarely makes it to mainstream television!

Back in May 2011 I spent an interesting couple of days tracking down wartime concrete at Chester Zoo, during a zoo history conference. Here is an edited blog post I wrote at the time tracing an intriguing bit of Chester Zoo’s history and on the way discovered four wartime hippos in Budapest.

Mr. Mottershead, founder of Chester Zoo – memorial plaque near Oakfield House, Chester Zoo (Image: World War Zoo gardens project)

May 2011, Chester Zoo: We weren’t sure whether to called this post Zoo Do You Think You Are? (after the BBC TV Family history series), thanks to a quick quip from Richard Gibson at Chester Zoo or maybe  Zoo Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Hitler? (to the theme tune of Dad’s Army) in view of the wartime concrete, Home Guard and Zoo family history connections I was tracking down.

Family history is big business now on the internet and on television, genealogy being the social or leisure side of genetics. Genetics is now the everyday business of zoo breeding programmes. Looking back at baby photos past for a glimpse of a familiar adult expression or looking at your children for a fleeting recognition of family faces, it’s something we all do over time. Like gardening, it’s probably age-related, primal and territorial. My family, my birth place, my tribe. So why should it be any different for zoos to look back at where they came from? Can we catch a glimpse of the future from a look at their past? This is partly what I’ve been researching through the World War Zoo Gardens project.

Chester Zoo history symposium 20 May 2011 from the SHNH website

What are zoos for? How should zoos work together? Why should zoos keep an archive of past events and what should they do with this material? These were some of the many questions raised by the May 2011 Symposium on Zoo history / Zoo future hosted at Chester Zoo “From Royal Menageries to Biodiversity Conservation”http://www.chesterzoo.org/ and  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chester_Zoo and  a joint celebration of the work of several societies together. The Bartlett Society (www.zoohistory.co.uk), World Association of Zoos and Aquariums   (WAZA) www.waza.org , Linnaean Society and celebrating its 75th birthday, the Society for the History of Natural History (SHNH) www.shnh.org The proceedings or symposium was recently published in 2014. It reflected the World of Zoos and Aquariums as it was attended by delegates from Britain, Ireland, Europe, North America and South East Asia / Australasia.

Only 91 animals remained amongst the ruins of wartime Berlin Zoo by 1945 from an old German / US archive press photo (World War Zoo gardens collection at Newquay Zoo)

Dr. Miklos Persenyi, Director General at Budapest Zoo in Hungary showed some beautiful slides of how the once war ravaged zoo in Hungary has been restored, even the 1960s buildings are being ‘restored’ to match the striking Hungarian Art Nouveau architecture of the early 20th Century. Miklos joked that he is employed by the Budapest Tourist Bureau, as the zoo, botanic garden and ‘cultural centre’ that it has become looks well worth a visit. After my short presentation on wartime zoos which mentioned Berlin Zoo being left with 91 animals after air raids and street fighting, Miklos quietly capped this with his story of the 15 animals left alive at Budapest zoo after the freezing winter months of 1944 when the Zoo and city of Budapest became a besieged town and battlefield between the Germans and the Russians. Amazingly, whilst the local people eat anything they could to survive, four or five of these surviving animals were Hippopotami (or Hippopotamuses). These plant eaters survived in the warm waters of the thermal springs there, alongside a handful of ‘singing birds’. The people of Budapest rebuilt their zoo after the war, whilst bombsites of local buildings and churches near the zoo were unofficially commandeered to grow crops for people and animals  http://www.zoobudapest.com/english Miklos has been involved in the writing of an interesting and beautifully illustrated history of Budapest Zoo, with a version in English well worth tracking down.

This comment by Miklos about the last fifteen animals left in Budapest Zoo and the efforts to rebuild it by gave some important human detail to the broad sweep of zoo history, of different groups and associations which eventually became the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) in a reunified Europe after the Berlin Wall and collapse of Communism / end of the Cold War c. 1989  Equally moving was the long slow progression to today’s World Association of Zoos and Aquariums from its late Victorian beginning in Germany, through wartime disruptions, revolutions  to today’s worldwide organisation “United for Conservation” at last! It was long time coming.

One of the Symposium concerns was the lack of original zoo history research being done into the past life of zoos, as often what we read is simply a regurgitation of the same old sources. The published proceedings (available through Chester Zoo’s marketing department) are a good example of this new research.

Newquay Zoo’s wartime roaming ‘gnome gaurd-ener’ in front of some original wartime concrete pillars with a historic past, Chester Zoo May 2011 (Image: World War Zoo gardens project)

Chester Zoo the conference host is home itself to an interesting wartime story. As part of my World War Zoo gardens project at Newquay Zoo, I have been researching what happened in wartime zoos, with an eye to what lessons we can learn from surviving our wartime past for the management of zoos through future challenges. This work is often hamstrung by the lack of (accessible) archives in many zoos. Not so Chester Zoo which has an excellent and accessible archive, partly scanned and the Chester Zoo News (1930s-1980s) available to buy on CD-Rom from their library!

These magazines must have refreshed memories and dates with lots of detail in June Mottershead’s vividly remembered account Reared in Chester Zoo (written with Janice Madden, Ark Books, 2009) of growing up at Chester Zoo, helping out as it was built by her father and as it struggled to survived through the slump and wartime shortages of the 1930s and 1940s to her marriage to Keeper Fred Williams.

Chester Zoo history timeline banners, Chester Zoo, 2011

This story of George Mottershead and family is well told in banner panels for each decade of the zoo’s 80 years, over near the ‘new’ 1950s Aquarium and the modern Cedar House which houses the library and archive.

My guide for that day in 2011, the then Head of Discovery and Learning archivist Stephen McKeown told me that the concrete pillars of the aquarium were hand-cast by June and Fred, often working into the night by lamplight. So like George Mottershead, they literally did build their zoo by hand. Sadly the original Chester Zoo Aquarist, Yorkshireman Peter Falwasser died of wounds on active service in North Africa, 1942. Before his death, Peter wrote excitedly to Chester Zoo colleagues of all the wildlife and especially fish he was seeing in the Middle East and wondered how to get them back to Chester Zoo. So this new aquarium  in the 1950s was maybe a quiet sort of memorial to ‘gentle’ Peter Falwasser, as June describes him.

In 2013 I received scans from the Chester Zoo archive of letters from and to Peter Falwassser, which I turned into the following blog post, Last Wartime Letters:

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/last-wartime-letters-of-peter-falwasser-chester-zoo-aquarist-1916-1942/

Sometimes research does a little back-flip of name recognition in an unexpected place, a little cross-over between themes. Strangely following another wartime gardening lead into 1940s and 50s garden  books linked to Theo Stephens’ little garden magazine, My Garden, I havecome across  a late 1940s garden article that may well have been written by Peter’s older sister Christine Rosetta ( b. 1905, Cawthorne, Yorkshire). She may have been the  C.R. Falwasser, a gardener and writer,  who wrote the article in My Garden’s Bedside Book (1951?)  called “I Swept the Leaves” mentioning “But when you hire yourself during wartime and become part of a staff …” by the 1950s she pops up in the phone book in horticulture at Alltnacree, Connell, Argyll.  Strange coincidence.  I wonder if she would have got on with the Mottershead family of Market Gardeners, including Grandad Albert, Chester Zoo’s first Head Gardener, who fed the animals and people of Chester Zoo in wartime.

Inside June’s Pavilion, Chester Zoo May 2011

A quick trip downstairs to the public toilets in Oakfield House today takes you to the site of the ‘old’ or first wartime Aquarium and air raid shelters for staff,  based in the cellars and former kitchens of Oakfield House. This listed red brick building was the big house or mansion of the estate that became Chester Zoo in the 1930s. It was in poor condition after serving as a VAD convalescent home for officers in the First World War as many such houses did around Europe. This must have had strong associations for Private George Mottershead, who  apparently spent several years recovering after the war in a wheelchair.

Looking at the 1930s map by George Williams inside June’s book, it is still possible to glimpse a little of the original zoo, especially starting from the red brick house and stables block, used extensively for temporary animal houses in the first decade or so. Lion scratches and a small plaque by the stables archway give a clue to what once happened here, the nucleus of what has today grown to become Chester Zoo.

The roar of big cats can still be heard across the path from the old temporary ‘pen’, the site of George Mottershead’s lion enclosure that he started to hand-build in 1937 but was delayed by wartime, only finished in 1947. Scratch marks in the brickwork of the stable block, reputedly made by lions, are marked by a simple plaque.

A link to the Chester Zoo lions of the wartime past – within roar of the present. Chester Zoo Stables and Courtyard gateway, May 2011

The stables and courtyard of the big house of another era are closed to the public but very visible from public walkways, the stables now house the works depot and offices.

History in the Chester area is never far away – usually just inches under your feet. The Romans had a garrison town (Deva) here, into whose near-complete buried amphitheatre in town were dug the air-raid shelters for June’s school. Behind Oakfield House, recreated Roman Gardens and new glasshouses now lie where food was once grown in the kitchen gardens and conservatory area by June’s  ‘ Grandfather’ Albert, George Mottershead’s father.

This glasshouse like those in many zoos was a victim of wartime shrapnel, in this case probably anti-aircraft or ack-ack ‘flak’ from nearby AA guns firing at enemy raiders heading for the towns and ports of the Northwest. Friendly fire like this also killed a Coypu, one of the only direct wartime casualties amongst the animals from enemy action (many other zoo animals like penguins slowly declined from wartime substitute feeding). Here in these vanished glasshouses and kitchen gardens, food was once grown for the mansion and for the early zoo. The Mottersheads were nurserymen and market gardeners, originally in the Sale area. ‘Grandad’ Mottershead working well into old age and through wartime to provide food for his son’s zoo animals.

Three of June’s Mottershead uncles and step-uncles from this gardening family were killed in the First World War, two others on her mother’s side, whilst her father George was so badly wounded on the Somme that it took him years to teach himself to walk again. Albert and Stanley Mottershead’s  names are on the Sale War Memorial, recently researched by George Cogswell and pictured here. This could so easily have been George Mottershead. no George, no Chester Zoo.

George Mottershead in uniform with wife Elizabeth, World War One, one of mnay family photos in the new June’s Pavilion, Chester Zoo

Family photographs of these friendly ghosts can be found in June’s book but also mounted on the walls of the newly opened June’s Pavilion catering area near Oakfield House, next to the Growzone conservatories for today’s Chester Zoo gardeners. Zoos, like armies, march on their stomachs and good food is very important to the human and other animals at the zoo. It is often the make or break of a zoo visit and probably one of the harder things to get right for everyone. I learnt this lesson on day one of zoo management at Newquay Zoo, the afternoon spent with sleeves rolled up and rubber gloves in the sink partly alongside Pete the Ops Manager washing up and KP-ing in the Newquay Zoo café during an afternoon rush and shortage of café staff. So I understand how important June, her sister Muriel, her mother Elizabeth and Grandmother Lucy like all the women in her family were in feeding zoo staff, evacuees and zoo visitors as well as zoo animals before and during the war. [Note: 2014, This is something that comes across strongly in the BBC series Our Zoo broadcast in Autumn 2014 and I interviews with June Williams.]

It is very fitting to have ‘June’s Pavilion’ as not a museum or a memorial but something practical, and fun – a family eating place with family photographs on the wall. George Mottershead in First World war uniform with Elizabeth and baby Muriel, Grandad Mottershead, June and Fred, all look down, alongside many other of the army of Chester Zoo staff of the past, over another generation of zoo visitors tucking in to food before heading off to look and learn about more animals.

Having read June’s account in hindsight and the detailed newsletters month by month during uncertain times gives you chance to relive the early years, month by month, almost to glimpse through the windows of Oakfield House and spot familiar ghosts on the lawn.

Next to Oakfield House beside the lawn in its own small garden stands a small simple memorial plaque to George Mottershead, erected by the zoo members and staff after he died in 1978. George looks out of the photo back towards the stables and the windows of Oakfield House which must have seen so many stories, from the gentry and hunting at the big house to wounded soldiers of his own war, wartime evacuees in the next war, refugee elephants and their mahouts, a place of family weddings and still a venue for an excellent quiet lunch in the panelled dining room.

After the war, things did not become easier straight away. There was still food rationing and materials for building were in short supply.

Round the back of the Europe on the Edge aviary, once the 1940s polar bear enclosure can be seen wartime surplus concrete tank traps built into pillars, a clever bit of wartime / austerity salvage, Chester Zoo, May 2011 (Image: World War Zoo gardens project)

Britain had to feed itself, the displaced millions of Europeand repair huge numbers of bombed factories, schools and houses around the country. A short walk away from Oakfield House, you can still glimpse one of George’s practical bits of post-war salvage. Fred Williams, June’s husband, as Clerk of Works carried on this salvage tradition.

At the rear of what was once built as the Polar Bear enclosure can be seen some at first rather plain and ugly concrete pillars. Ironically now part of the Europe on the Edge Aviary, these pillars started life for a very different purpose – heavy concrete road blocks and tank traps from the desperate days of improvisation by the Army and Home Guard against invasion by the armies of Hitler’s Germany after softening up by Goering’s eagles of the Luftwaffe.

The round shapes of these concrete blocks can be seen clearly in Frith picture postcards featured in a recent zoo postcards book by  Alan Ashby (www.izes.co.uk). These pillars  are an unlikely memorial to a past generation, though thankfully June is still (2011/2014very much with us, still interested in the zoo they built and the recently opened June’s new Pavilion.

Stephen McKeown spoke in 2011 about further ideas for developing family history on the way to our Chester Zoo members talk at the Russell Allen lecture theatre at Chester zoo (named after Maud Russell Allen, an early council member or benefactor in the 1930s and 1940s). Chester are thinking about developing the guided or self-guided history tour – so watch the Chester Zoo website for details [including on the Our Zoo BBC related events].

BBC clip about June at wartime Chester Zoo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/nol/newsid_6700000/newsid_6706300/6706315.stm?bw=nb&mp=wm&news=1&bbcws=1

Since 2011, I have been sent by Chester Zoo Archive  the scans of many letters to and from George Mottershead to (the late) ex Cheter Zoo staff member Peter Lowe, who became the first curator and designer of my home zoo, Newquay Zoo, something worth a blog post in future. So George Mottershead surviving the Somme to open his own zoo helped indirectly in the early history of my own zoo at Newquay Zoo.  You can read more about our wartime garden project at Newquay Zoo on our blog, contact me via the comments page or check out our zoo website pages about World War Zoo on www.newquayzoo.org.uk

The new World War Zoo gardens sign at Newquay Zoo, 2011


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