Archive for the ‘Zoo, gardens, wartime, sustainability’ Category

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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Not just zoo animals get adopted, even wartime allotments get Christmas presents …

December 14, 2013

oxfam unwrapped ecardChristmas is often a challenge to find the right gift, which is why we do lots of Christmas experience gifts and animal adoptions at Newquay Zoo and Paignton Zoo. Many zoos do this gift scheme – you can find your local BIAZA zoo in Britian and Ireland on the BIAZA website.

Animal adoptions were one innovative wartime solution to shortage of funding to feed the animals especially when zoos closed at the outbreak of war for weeks or sometimes months in 1939. Both Chester Zoo and London Zoo claim to have first set this up in 1939/40, a scheme which was picked up by other zoos and has never stopped.

Our wartime allotment has just received another Christmas card this year again in 2013 – by email! It was a lively Oxfam Unwrapped allotment gift e-card with a little Christmas message: “This Xmas gift of an allotment is one way of linking the allotment and project work of the World War Zoo Gardens project at Newquay Zoo with what is happening in troubled parts of the world today.” Maybe a new Oxfam  allotment in Afghanistan is our first informal twin.

It is very appropriate twinning as Oxfam itself was born out of a humanitarian response to wartime famine in Greece in the 1940s. You can find out more about the allotment gifts at Oxfam’s  website http://www.oxfam.org.uk/shop/oxfam-unwrapped/gardeners/plant-an-allotment-ou7026ag

As the Oxfam e-card went on to say – “More budding UK gardeners are discovering the joys of growing their own. But for many poor women and men an allotment isn’t just a way of saving on the weekly shop, it’s how they feed their families and earn a bit extra to buy other essentials. And this gift will supply the tools, seeds and training to create working allotments that will produce a lot more.”

I was really pleased to hear that “As part of this project in Badakhshan, Afghanistan, Oxfam is helping women to establish kitchen gardens on their land to supplement their income and their family’s diet. Oxfam provides the training and distributes the seeds for the women to grow a variety of vegetables and crops. The extra produce that the family cannot eat is sold at local markets.”

Shirin Gul is one gardener who has been reaping the benefits after Oxfam distributed seeds in her village: “It’s very expensive to buy vegetables here in the mountains. I am lucky as I have a plot of land. Our family has always grown vegetables on this plot – but the Oxfam seeds mean the amount and variety of vegetables that I grow has increased. It used to just be potatoes, onions and egg-plants but now I have tomatoes, beans, squash, lettuce, cucumber – oh, everything.”

Zeinab, from the nearby village of Sah Dasht, is also a lady with green fingers. Her garden is full of produce. There are beans, potatoes, okra and tomatoes all ready to be picked. “I had never really done much farming before though I did grow potatoes but Oxfam gave me some training to help me grow the maximum amount of vegetables.”

I’m very pleased that one  Oxfam project area is Afghanistan. Each year at Newquay Zoo’s Christmas carol service (which ran for almost 20 years until this year),  the retiring collection was usually for our conservation projects at the zoo and overseas, some of them in former war-afflicted areas like Vietnam. Ten years or more ago in the aftermath of 9/11 in 2001/2, I can remember asking visitors for contributions to the global zoo effort to support the recovery of  Kabul Zoo in Afghanistan which had suffered under the Taliban. There also can’t be many of us who don’t know a service family with relatives who have served there in the last ten years or are spending a wartime christmas away from home on active service.

In the next few days I will be posting about the 70th anniversary of the Mucks Mauler Liberator US aircraft crash on he Newquay coast on 28 December 1943. Relics of the plane were exhibited at Newquay Zoo’s wartime displays in the past.

It will soon be time to plan the spring planting to provide a small amount of fresh food for our zoo animals as they did in wartime. It’s time to flick through plant catalogues and plan planting schemes. You can also read through previous Wartime Christmas blog posts on this website.

2014 will be a busy year with the start of the commemoration of the Great or First World War http://www.1914.org We will continue posting about zoos, botanic gardens and allotment gardening in the First World War throughout the year.

I wish all a peaceful, happy and healthy Christmas and New Year 2014  to our blog readers, zoo visitors, zoo staff, their animals and gardeners everywhere.

Not just zoo animals get adopted, even wartime allotments get Christmas presents …

December 18, 2012

oxfam unwrapped ecardChristmas is often a struggle to find the right gift, which is why we do lots of Christmas animal adoptions at Newquay Zoo and Paignton Zoo. Many zoos do this gift scheme – you can find your local BIAZA zoo in Britian and Ireland on the BIAZA website.

Animal adoptions were one innovative wartime solution to shortage of funding to feed the animals especially when zoos closed at the outbreak of war for weeks or sometimes months in 1939. Both Chester Zoo and London Zoo claim to have first set this up in 1939/40, a scheme which was picked up by other zoos and has never stopped.

Our wartime allotment has just received another Christmas card this year again in 2013 – by email! It was a lively Oxfam Unwrapped allotment gift e-card with a little Christmas message: “This Xmas gift of an allotment is one way of linking the allotment and project work of the World War Zoo Gardens project at Newquay Zoo with what is happening in troubled parts of the world today.” Maybe this new allotment in Afghanistan or Africa is our first informal twin …

It is very appropriate twinning as Oxfam itself was born out of a humanitarian response to wartime famine in Greece in the 1940s. You can find out more about the allotment gifts at Oxfam’s  website http://www.oxfam.org.uk/shop/oxfam-unwrapped/gardeners/plant-an-allotment-ou7026ag

As the Oxfam e-card went on to say – “More budding UK gardeners are discovering the joys of growing their own. But for many poor women and men an allotment isn’t just a way of saving on the weekly shop, it’s how they feed their families and earn a bit extra to buy other essentials. And this gift will supply the tools, seeds and training to create working allotments that will produce a lot more.”

I was really pleased to hear that “As part of this project in Badakhshan, Afghanistan, Oxfam is helping women to establish kitchen gardens on their land to supplement their income and their family’s diet. Oxfam provides the training and distributes the seeds for the women to grow a variety of vegetables and crops. The extra produce that the family cannot eat is sold at local markets.”

Shirin Gul is one gardener who has been reaping the benefits after Oxfam distributed seeds in her village: “It’s very expensive to buy vegetables here in the mountains. I am lucky as I have a plot of land. Our family has always grown vegetables on this plot – but the Oxfam seeds mean the amount and variety of vegetables that I grow has increased. It used to just be potatoes, onions and egg-plants but now I have tomatoes, beans, squash, lettuce, cucumber – oh, everything.”

Zeinab, from the nearby village of Sah Dasht, is also a lady with green fingers. Her garden is full of produce. There are beans, potatoes, okra and tomatoes all ready to be picked. “I had never really done much farming before though I did grow potatoes but Oxfam gave me some training to help me grow the maximum amount of vegetables.”

I’m very pleased that one  Oxfam project area is Afghanistan. Each year at Newquay Zoo’s Christmas carol service (which ran for almost 20 years until this year),  the retiring collection was usually for our conservation projects at the zoo and overseas, some of them in former war-afflicted areas like Vietnam. Ten years or more ago in the aftermath of 9/11 in 2001/2, I can remember asking visitors for contributions to the global zoo effort to support the recovery of  Kabul Zoo in Afghanistan which had suffered under the Taliban. There also can’t be many of us who don’t know a service family with relatives who have served there in the last ten years or are spending a wartime christmas away from home on active service.

In the next few days I will be posting about the 70th anniversary of the Mucks Mauler Liberator US aircraft crash on he Newquay coast on 28 December 1943. Relics of the plane were exhibited at Newquay Zoo’s wartime displays in the past.

It will soon be time to plan the spring planting to provide a small amount of fresh food for our zoo animals as they did in wartime. It’s time to flick through plant catalogues and plan planting schemes. You can also read through previous blog posts on this website.

I wish all a peaceful, happy and healthy Christmas and New Year 2014  to our blog readers, zoo visitors, zoo staff, their animals and gardeners everywhere.

War Horse, War Elephant, War Ferret? The wartime role of zoo and other animals from Tommy’s Ark and the World War Zoo gardens?

January 15, 2012

 With all the publicity surrounding the film of War Horse this week, I was interested over Christmas to be given and read Richard Van Emden’s book on soldiers and their animals in the Great war, called Tommy’s Ark (Paperback, Bloomsbury), the animal equivalent of Kenneth Helphand’s Defiant Gardens book.


 Last week at Cornwall College Newquay, I delivered one of their varied programme of  research seminars by outside speakers, talking  about my research  into the role of zoos, zoologists, (botanic) gardens and nature in wartime.


Throughout the talk and questions, the value of nature and the natural world in extreme times kept cropping up. Peter McGregor the Professor who organises the seminars mentioned he had been surprised when he traced the famous research into Blue tits pecking cream through  tops milk bottles was published in and dates back to 1940, when he thought minds would be more  focussed on the Battle of Britain and threat of invasion.


The respect for and value (or lack of value) of wildlife in the midst of the strange life and death world of the trenches and wartime came up in conversation after the seminar too.  I was busy answering questions and  chatting whilst students looked through a small display afterwards of wartime memorabilia, wartime gardening and wildlife books and magazines from our collection. During this and other sessions, I’m often asked by students what they ‘could or should be reading and so I mentioned this new book by Richard van Emden to several students, alongside the older, more wide ranging books Jilly Cooper’s Animals in War (recently reprinted in paperback) and Juliet Gardiner’s The Animal’s War (IWM). Jilly’s book helped fundraise for a memorail to these animals in London.





Whipsnade elephants ploughing for victory (Animal and Zoo magazine Sept.1940) . In WW1, German zoo elephants did similar farming and forestry work. 

We had talked in the seminar about the known cases of keepers killed from London and Belle Vue Zoo (Manchester), many of them serving in the artillery either as hardy physical labour or more probably for their large animal handling skills of the horses and mules with the guns.


Alongside the War Horse type material of the suffering of horses and mules, Tommy’s Ark is full of unusual details about the mascots, pets and wildlife spotting, even the occasional spot of hunting and angling that officers and soldiers in the trenches recorded in diaries, letters home and in the oral history archive that Richard Van Emden and the Imperial War Museum have collected. Lieutenant Philip Gosse, RAMC, the son of a famous naturalist family, toured the trenches on the lookout for local small mammal specimens to be sent (stuffed) to the Natural History Museum in London. There is a roll of honour / war memorial of their staff killed in action near the NHM entrance.  Newquay’s doctor / director of health (or his relative?) Major AGP Hardwick RAMC crops up in the book, from an account in the IWM archives, of his smuggling ferrets back to the trenches for ratting duties. 


Tommy’s Ark  is a rich, rewarding, sometimes unsettling and well organised book by Richard Van Emden, http://www.richardvanemden.co.uk/ one to match his oral history The Last Fighting Tommy about Harry Patch  whose medals can be seen on display not far from our base in Newquay Zoo at Bodmin’s DCLI Museum   http://cornwalls-regimentalmuseum.org/specialfeatures.html


Why do the troops on both sides  notice animals, befriend them, make mascots of them? Several of these more unlikely or unruly mascots ended up in zoos, including the role model for Winnipeg the bear at London Zoo, better known as Winnie the Pooh in AA Milne’s books. The answer is probably the same as why the students I was talking to had staked their time and money (especially when tuition fees increase next year) in a course and career that will likely not make them rich. Probably not famous  either, except for some  budding wildlife film makers, photographers, potential presenters and journalists on the Wildlife Education and Media course.


It’s perhaps something in the blood, a vocation, a passion, a different view or value of the world that makes a professional or  amateur naturalist,  zookeeper, or aquarist  of one person, but seem a strange career choice to another. E.O. Wilson calls it biophilia, a love of living things. Richard Mabey has written very movingly about this, especially in his darkest days battling depression. Kenneth Helphand’s recent book Defiant Gardens, much mentioned in our wartime zoo gardens blog, covers much the same from a planting and gardening angle.  


The wartime pages of Animal and Zoo Magazine (1936-41) are full of articles that would not be out-of-place in today’s peacetime BBC Wildlife magazine – nature notes, photographs, zoo news – with the occasional snippet about how the war was affecting wildlife. There was an obvious  tension in the magazine letters page between those who would like to see no mention of the war at all (Dublin Zoo’s description as ‘a place of peaceful resort’ in war and peace comes into mind from Catherine De Courcy’s excellent recent history of that zoo) alongside those readers and naturalists who observed how the role, value  and lives of wild and domestic animals are changed by war.


The same generation that observed wildlife in the trenches went on to run zoos and observe wildlife in the Second World War where a whole new generation of naturalists were called up.  In this later war, the death of Chester Zoo’s aquarist Peter Fallwasser from wounds from the 1942 North Africa fighting (below) is made more poignant through his excitement about wildlife spotting in letters home from Egypt and the Nile, reproduced (below) in Chester Zoo News newsletters at the time. Copies of these newsletters 1930s – 1980s are available scanned on a CD Rom from Chester Zoo Archive.

 

Looking around the room at Cornwall College Newquay, many of the young men and women there were of an age where two or three generations before, they would have been called up on active service and war work and extraordinary things required of them. In an age where looming environmental problems and challenges are the modern equivalent of Churchill’s ‘gathering storm‘ in the 1930s, extraordinary things may well be required of this generation coming through.  

 

More from The World War Zoo Gardens project blog next month … until then, enjoy a peaceful few moments in the garden.

 




Chester Zoo Archive Zoo News, 1942/3

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

January 1, 2012

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 …

It all Depends on Me – or You? Betty Driver RIP, Potato Pete, Mr. Chad and propaganda of the 1940s

October 16, 2011

 

'It All Depends on Me' playing card sized propaganda for your pocket diary, from the Brewers Society, 1941/42 (image from the World War Zoo gardens collection, Newquay Zoo)

In David Lowe’s wonderful Sunday evening programme Swingers and Singers (BBC Radio Devon / Cornwall, 8 pm – 10 pm Sundays, catch it on Listen Again  for a week afterwards http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00kpf74) about two weeks ago there was a cheery Charlestonesque late 1920s / Early 30s dance band number, called something like “It All Depends on You” which reminded me of this little trade card (above) and bit of morale boosting “It all depends on me” .

A big A4 copy sits above my desk at Newquay Zoo  above the scurf of plant pots, string,  seed packets and books as a little reminder for modern times and busy days at work.

I wonder how people would have responded then to the bossy or cheerful tone of this little card?

Music was  big morale booster, as was the funny little bits of propaganda from Potato Pete to the famous Mr. Chad (Wot No bananas?) still going strong chalked on walls when I was a child. Up near Shepherds Market in London a few months ago I saw the simple little chalk message Cheer Up! written on the wall, which made everyone smile who saw it. Better than the endless cynical  ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ variations everywhere.

Sadly yesterday the death of actress and singer 91 year old Betty Driver was announced, the news clips mentioning as well as her famous spell as Betty Turpin, barmaid of the Rover’s Return from my childhood onwards, there were also soundbites  of her lesser known dance band singing days including Potato Pete’s song. I hope they sing this cheery number at her funeral and have the wake in the Rover’s afterwards …

Maybe this is is a bit different  from the selfish ‘ME’ culture we’re told makes us all so different now from the 1940s generation, although the excellent Foyle’s War on television and various other dark histories of the Home Front pick up on the thriving, skiving and occasionally murderous underworld of the Home Front in difficult wartime. Stealing vegetables from wartime allotments was punishable with a fine (don’t tell this to the visitors who tuck into the odd ripe strawberry from our ‘dig for victory’ plot at Newquay Zoo).

Carolyn Lucas  the Green Party MP has been exploring the difference and similarities between the 1940s and today in her New Home Front report and poster competition, www.newhomefront.org  – worth downloading this report and keeping alook out for the poster competition winners.   

I’ll be talking about this ‘secret’ sustainability side of our wartime garden at the BIAZA Twycross ACE zoo meeting in November – if you want to look at more posters, they have a fantastic collection online at the Imperial War Museum website (see blog roll)and many reproducations in their fabulous online shop.

This week we have a teachers’ open afternoon on Thursday 20th October 2011 for teachers in Cornish schools to come in and meet our education team and find out more about what we offer schools – our Dig for Victory plot and some of the World War Zoo Gardens collection of material used in our schools talks on wartime zoos and wartime life will be on display. See our website for details and  http://www.newquayzoo.org.uk/news/world-war-zoo.htm 

We won’t forget Betty Driver / Betty Turpin RIP, and don’t forget – David Lowe’s Swingers and Singers http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00kpf74 each Sunday night (I keep wanting to call it ‘Swingers and Sinners’ but that’s probably another very different programme!)

Remember – “It All Depends On Me!” (So I’m off to ‘Dig For Victory!’ in our little allotment plot)

Zoos in war zones – an ongoing problem, and how to support the Tripoli Zoo appeal

October 13, 2011

Berlin Zoo's surviving elephant and the elephant house after bombing raids 1943/44

One persistent problem for war zones is the problem of civilians and “useless mouths” (as non-combatants in the Dunkirk area) in blitzed and bombed areas – pet, farm and zoo animals are often amongst these overlooked ‘civilians’. In my zoo career over the last fifteen to twenty years I have seen appeals for help for zoos in Cote D’Ivoire and  Kabul Zoo in Afghanistan, the famous rescue of the animals at Baghdad Zoo by South African Conservationist Lawrence Antony  (Author of Babylon’s Ark) and his team, as well as the early 90s rescue plans for Kuwait Zoo and Kosovo Zoo. 

Having been working on the history of zoos in wartime I am well aware of the scale of effects of wartime on  zoos ranging from severe shortages of food, staff and building materials at one end of the wartime survival scale to near destruction at Budapest, Berlin, Warsaw and many others. Some zoos improvised their way through in a ‘make do and mend’ way during the war and in the difficult years afterwards (using surplus tank traps as concrete blocks for building enclosures at Chester Zoo, still visible today) to feeding animals through ‘dig for victory’ allotment efforts, or  evacuating animals from Chessington Zoo near to our safer area of our  sister zoo at Paignton  or from London Zoo to Whipsnade.  Adoption schemes are one long-lived response to wartime shortages of money and food, when animals had no ration books.

Zoos are fragile and easily lost.  When zoos are struck by natural disasters from floods to earthquakes, there is usually a concerted response by one of the larger zoos supported by many others and countless individuals to see that, alongside the vital humanitarian rescue efforts, that the zoos and wildlife are given some support and protection in chaotic times. Zoo keeping is an international profession (in the past, one could have said brotherhood) and the tragedy of war has seen zoos isolated from their international cousins often for decades or even keepers called up in the past and fighting and dying on opposing sides.

The latest zoo to need this assistance is Tripoli Zoo, and I was delighted to read on the BIAZA website of the efforts being led  by the North Carolina Zoo, which BIAZA and many of its zoo members in theUK are supporting.

From the BIAZA website www.biaza.org.uk  

Give to Save the Animals at the Tripoli Zoo.

 In response to a request from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the North Carolina Zoo has agreed to lead the American zoo community’s response to the emergency welfare needs of animals living in the Tripoli Zoo. The AZA asked Zoo Director David Jones to oversee these welfare operations because of his strong contacts with Middle Eastern zoo professionals and because of his historic leadership in getting food, water, shelter, veterinary care and other necessities to zoo animals trapped by the wars inAfghanistanandIraq. The NC Zoological Society, the 501(c)3, non-profit organization that manages charitable donations made to the North Carolina Zoo, will accept and distribute donations made to assist the Tripoli Zoo Animal Welfare effort. Donations to this fund will be restricted to projects that provide exclusively for the medical, nutritional, health, safety and welfare needs of animals living in the Tripoli Zoo.

http://store.nczoo.com/p-5-save-the-animals-at-the-tripoli-zoo.aspx

If you have a few spare dollars or pounds, however small, I’m sure the keepers and animals supported by the  Tripoli Zoo Animal Welfare effort would welcome them.

Of zoo gardens and zombies: why Brad Pitt will (not) be appearing in our World War Z – oo garden at Newquay Zoo

August 21, 2011

Of zoo gardens and zombies: why Brad Pitt will (gnot) be appearing in our World War Z-oo  garden  at Newquay Zoo (but only as a gnome, gnot as a zombie slayer)

Don’t be confused. World War Zoo has  a big budget rival and star cast who have been filming in Cornwall and elsewhere in the last few weeks.

World War Z is a blockbuster zombie movie  with Brad Pitt set in an apocalypic future.

World War Zoo gardens is a small budget recreation of a typical wartime Dig For Victory zoo keepers allotment set in the 1940s with a well travelled star cast of … gnomes and vegetables.  

You could argue that both look at dealing with the threats of an uncertain future …. and the garden looks at sustainable options such as local food.

You could argue that getting the ‘look’ right is important in period gardens and zombie  movies – right old posters, right old tools etc.

As for zombies … this is probably my fellow keepers and zoo staff who have led very early morning zoo tours at 5 am and 7am for ‘wild breakfasts’ . We feel quite half dead if not undead by the end of the day … great fun but thankfully that was the last one this year. Until we do halloween tours (see our Newquay Zoo events page). But for now – Zzzzzz….

As for catching a glimpse of ‘Brad’ at the zoo, one of our jolly bearded gnomes now has  g-name! You can see Brad’s jolly beard on the BBC Radio Cornwall footage below. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-14375711

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-14595801

For lots of jolly garden tips, check out the August job lists: http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/todo_now/index.php and http://www.rhs.org.uk/Gardening/calendar/August 

http://www.growyourownclub.co.uk

After writing our wartime zoo gardens book, we could write ‘Zombie Gardening’ … you heard it here first. I can see it now on the bookshelves. it makes creepy scarecrows look almost tame.

No time to be bored? Wartime childhoods, the long summer holidays, gnomes, wartime children’s books and gardens: Boy’s Own Paper stuff! from the wartime garden update August 2011

August 8, 2011

Bumper August holiday edition of the blog: The World War Zoo garden at Newquay Zoo celebrates its second  anniversary  on August 31st 2011. Packed with extra reading and some fun things to do!

 

Wartime holiday reading – the dramatic front cover (The Altmark story) of Boy’s Own Paper August 1940 Price 6d (Image from the World War Zoo collection, Newquay Zoo)

I’ve been reading again for the first time since childhood Robert Westall’s The Machine Gunners, set in the same area where he grew up. This has been really useful background for help in editing a 1941 diary of a teenage girl from Tynemouth which I’m working on in evenings at the moment (deciphering the spidery handwriting etc.) and typing this up for schools publications / general readership.  There is more on the Tyneside area at war in www.ne-diary.bpears.org.uk set up by Brian Peers and Roy Ripley and more on Robert Westall at www.robertwestall.com Robert Westall’s work is featured in the excellent new exhibition on wartime children’s stories at Imperial War Museum London http://wartime.iwm.org.uk/ with lots of events in the August holidays. Once Upon A Wartime: Classic War Stories for Children runs from 11 February to 30 October 2011 at Imperial War Museum London.

We’ve updated last August’s bumper post as we’ve had lots of comments and contacts about it. So here goes …

August, our second garden anniversary amid school holidays with Newquay Zoo www.newquayzoo.org.uk and busy local Cornish beaches, full of children and their families enjoying sunshine, picnics, animal feeding talks and each other’s company (along with the odd temper tantrum and family row). Many stop to look at the fresh veg, flowers and busy bees of the World War Zoo garden, soon to be celebrating its second anniversary at the end of August 2011. Sadly the cares of the office and family back home are never far away, judged by awkward mobile phone conversations by fraught vistors back home to the office. Was life simpler and easier in the days before mobile phones? 

 Holidays in wartime were increasingly more of a ‘staycation’ variety, with ‘Is Your Journey Really Necessary?’ posters and petrol rationing, wired off and mined beaches with troops tensely awaiting invasion and Home Guards watching the shoreline from pillboxes, rather than today’s RNLI lifeguards. 

Spot the pillbox on your Cornish summer holiday. Without camouflage now but still blends in well! Protecting the harbour at Porthleven in Cornwall still, 2010, 70 years on from construction at the height of invasion fears. (Image: World war Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo)

Many of the older generation still loyally return to Cornwall where they were brought as children on family holidays or as evacuees. Newquay has recently seen another anniversary trip by staff and boys of Gresham’s School, 70 years on from the school, like Benenden Girls School, moving from the battlefields of the South Coast to Newquay and Cornwall. The holiday period of this time is vividly captured in the late Bettye Grey’s reprinted memoir of Newquay life, “Oh Get On!”

Fabulous adverts for childhood toys and boys’ careers, August 1940 Boy’s Own Paper (Image: World War Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo)

Already in early August there must be children moaning “I’m bored!” to parents. What would a wartime school child do in their extended holidays, either in their evacuation centres or  increasingly at home returned from  evacuation billets when not much was happening in the ‘Phoney war’ and often with  no schools to go to?

 In a battered and yellowing copy of the Boy’s Own Paper for August 1940 in the Newquay Zoo World War Zoo gardens wartime life archive can be found the following rousing instructions from the Editor for young men (and their sisters):

 “Be British [quoted as the last words of Captain Smith of the Titanic] and summon up your nerve and heart and sinew to carry on with your job – your harvesting, your waste-paper-collecting, the repairing of the school air raid shelters, black out blinds, fire service, first aid.”

“Write home often, and tell those anxious people how jolly all right you are; and let your whole being throb with the almighty unconquerable challenge –“Let them come!” Brace your muscles every time you think of it, let it resound from your spade when you give an extra hefty jab into the earth of the school garden plot. Let your nostrils dilate, your eyes kindle with a fierce gleam as, with fists clenched, you surge out that mighty challenge between set teeth. Go to it, lads!”  (Editorial, Boy’s Own Paper, August 1940)

 Never has gardening been so breathlessly described in such “ripping” terms. Another article begins:

 “All of you who have a garden have, I know, been digging for victory, and now your crops are up you can see what can be done by hard work, and penny packets of seed. Every potato, parsnip, carrot, beetroot, every row of peas or beans, every lettuce or tomato on your plot of ground is going to help us win through, and what is more, it is your very own contribution to victory. Having dug for victory, I am now going to talk t you about feeding for victory. I don’t mean by this that you should sit down and eat up all your crops. I mean feeding livestock.”

“Why not keep one or two rabbits, a few chickens or half a dozen bantams? … and some have a large enough garden, perhaps to keep a pig, or there may be adjacent to the garden a rough piece of meadow or waste land to poor to grow crops but where a goat could pick up a living and provide you with milk … How ripping, too, if there was also honey for tea from your own bees … doubly welcomed now we are rationed with sugar …” (“Feeding For Victory”, Boy’s Own Paper, August 1940).

Gardening for Boys – Boy’s Own Paper, August 1940 (Image: World War Zoo collection, Newquay Zoo)

Followed by W. E. Shewell-Cooper’s Garden and Allotment What You Can Do series, August’s article  being ‘How To Get Good Garden Crops’: 

“August is a harvesting month. It isn’t as big a harvesting month as September, of course, but there is lots of harvesting work to do. Take the French beans and runner beans, for instance …” 

Not many years ago, there was a brief nostalgia  flourish of the “Dangerous Book for Boys” genre and not-so-dangerous companion book for girls. Many journalists and childhood experts  lamented the modern safety-obsessed, neglectful or over parenting of the ‘play safe, play at home, computer and text obsessed, short attention spanned, foul-mouthed, under-parented, disrespectful, drunk, promiscuous, overweight and more miserable generation’ of 21st century children and teenagers in Britain than anywhere else in the developed world.  Many in Newquay have  been fighting back recently against  adverse publicity  regarding this generation on holiday without parents for the first time.   

My friend Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, Detoxing Childhood, and 21st Century Boys (all by Orion, see www.suepalmer.co.uk ) would no doubt approve of the vigorous and earnest pursuits suggested or sold to Boy’s Own Paper readers in the August 1940 edition. Recently in July 2011 Diarylea have published a report on rethinking childhood by Tim Gill http://rethinkingchildhood.com/2011/07/21/dairylea/

There are plenty of activity ideas “for the growing boy” in the Boy’s Own Paper August 1940 (B.O.P Motto: Quicquid Agunt pueri nostri farrago libelli, or “Whatever boys do makes up the mixture of our little book”)  for boy craft of days gone by. Amongst the rousing tales of daring-do and technical articles on “Submarines: what they are like and how they are operated” (at a time of rationing and increased Merchant shipping loss to Nazi U-boats) are some fascinating adverts.

More activity ideas and “knowledge for the growing boy”, adverts page, Boy’s Own Paper, August 1940 (Image: World War Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo)

What boy could be bored, tempted by naval careers or radio officer training colleges (“A career of national importance in wartime with an assured future in peace-time”), Skywaymen of the BOP Flying League and their aircraft recognition card games, Cold Ovaltine “the best summer drink”, Brylcreem and discreet booklets on “Sex Problems … if you are puzzled about the secrets of birth” in “Knowledge for the Growing Boy” (6d, post free.)

What does the holiday weather matter as wartime boy when there is always the latest model anti-tank gun or make-it-yourself ship or plane models, photographic chemicals, stamp collecting advice care of Stanley Gibbons (in the centenary year of the Penny Black and Penny Post 6th May 1840), cricketing tips, pen pals seeking fellow “aviation enthusiast” or “cricket enthusiast”, explosive chemistry experiments, canoeing or cycling adventures (with blackout shielded headlamps, naturally). There were of course for some, visits to the local zoo, if it had reopened as a morale booster and a touch of normal pre-war life. 

Battle of Britain in your hands for the growing wartime boy! Frog kits were the forerunner of postwar Airfix kits, and taught valuable craft skills and aircraft recognition – friend or foe – for young and old alike! (Image: World War Zoo collection, Newquay Zoo.)
Cold Ovaltine! The ultimate summer drink, showing lots of busy boy and tomboy sporting activities to fill the holidays, as advertised in August 1940, Boy’s Own Paper (Image: World War Zoo collection, Newquay Zoo)

 There was also the salvage of aluminium kitchen goods to collect and sort out, as part of COGS (Children on Government Salvage), during the July and August 1940 appeal by Lord Beaverbrook for saucepans for Spitfires! This campaign features comically in William at War, one of the Just William books reprinted in the 2009 “Still Naughty at Ninety” anniversary of Richmal Crompton’s boy wonder. Find more in the  www.panmacmillan.com  the A- Z author list.  

Rainy summer’s day inside ? You could design or update a wartime poster for the New Home Front campaign www.newhomefront.orgclosing date September 2011 (see previous posts).

Spitfires, Stukas, George and the Dragon: Newquay War Weapons Week poster design from Carmen Blacker and Joan D Pring at Benenden Girls School, evacuated to Newquay in the 1940s. Copyright: World War Zoo project, Newquay Zoo

The life of a 1940s boy (or tomboy girl) seems exhausting and busy by modern standards! Amongst many memoirs and histories of wartime children, Mike Brown has written a fabulous short Shire Library Book on Wartime Childhood www.shirebooks.co.uk which illustrates the varied activities, challenges and opportunities of my parent’s childhood. Two of our handmade wartime toys – a Spitfire and a wooden sliding puzzle – from the Newquay Zoo wartime life collection can be found on the BBC www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld

 If you want to recapture some of this indoor childhood activity, Airfix are very proudly advertising their kits again through http://www.airfix.com/  in the pages of BBC History Magazine http://www.bbchistorymagazine.com/  including an anniversary  Battle of Britain range and RAF airfield (just like the one my granddad served on) with proceeds to veterans’ charities. The Airfix Club flies again for a whole new generation of paint-splattered boys and girls!

Setting up our World War Zoo display in the Grow Your Own allotment section of Trelawney Garden Centre, August 2010
Wartime garden display on right, minibeasts being unpacked on the left.The lavender and Buddleia were alive with bees throughout! (Image: World War Zoo collection, Newquay Zoo)

So “Go To IT!” down your local garden centre! Gardening was also part of this manly (boyish or tomboyish) existence, amongst the columns of nature notes such as “The Wonders of Crab Life” by H. Chapman Pincher BSc, (surely not the controversial Spycatcher writer of later years?) – and “Through the Hedge and over the Downs” by ‘Hedgerow’. We saw lots of native wildlife such as bees, birds and dragonflies flitting and buzzing around Trelawney Garden Centre and its lakes (with rumours of kingfishers) last August, amid many chats about our live insects, sloughed spider moults, wasp nest sections or dried specimens of Death’s Head Hawk moth.  ‘Hedgerow’ notes topically for August 1940 “What to look out for this month: Hawk moth larvae; Privet Hawk on Privet: Eyed Hawk on willow, Lime Hawk on lime or elm, Elephant Hawk on Willow Herb.  Dunlin or Ox birds by the seashore.  Corn Buntings and yellowhammers by the Cornfields. Butcher Birds’ larders in the hedges. Teazles in Bloom. Wasps’ nests.” A refreshing sight for the sore limbs of many a Land Girl or Victory harvest schoolchild working in the August fields, but also sign of how Britain’s wildlife has changed in 70 years, If you haven’t signed it yet, sign up via www.signtheletter.org.uk   to the RSPB’s Letter to The Future campaign www.rspb.org.uk

L.R. Brightwell’s cheerful nature notes illustrations to Hedgerow’s gnomes and gardens August 1940 column for the Boy’s Own Paper. (Image: Newquay Zoo, World War Zoo collection)

This last Boy’s Own Paper article is quirkily illustrated by L.R. Brightwell, cartoonist and illustrator of many zoo and nature books (see our archive blog entries on his Story of London Zoo, August 2009). Our partner college Cornwall College Newquay www.cornwall.ac.uk/newquay , quiet without hundreds of degree students for a few weeks, has some original Brightwell paintings. There are several more in the care of  the retired College manager and author Dr. Mike Kent, no doubt vigorously rambling  around the Cornish countryside and coast path collecting materials for his modern hedgerow notes books about Cornwall http://www.alisonhodge.co.uk/ShowDetails.asp?id=125 We were interested to note and already tracking down in detective mode the mention of ‘Next Month! Look out for … Wartime and The Zoos by Sydney Moorhouse FRGS, illustrated by L.R. Brightwell, FZS” promised for Boy’s Own Paper, September 1940. When we track a copy  down, we’ll share it with you on this blog.

“Children’s Gardens” by Edwin L. Howard (the Studio Publications, 2s. 6d.) is favourably reviewed by ‘Hedgerow’ in Boy’s Own Paper, August 1940,  who notes amongst bird and water garden designs that “I expect you boys will like the Zoo Garden best, but your sisters will prefer the Enchanted Flower Garden.” A second hand book to look out for, predating many recent books and seed company’s ranges (such as www.mr-fothergills.co.uk or  http://www.suttons.co.uk/grow_your_own.htm for children’s gardening. Suttons have agreat gardening blog too:  http://www.growyourownclub.co.uk 

Many of these colourful cartoon packets, much like the Doctor Carrot, Squander Bug  and Potato Pete (see below picture) wartime cartoon figures of “eat more veg”, were excitedly bought by children and parents at Trelawney Garden Centre to help pass the holiday time, many proudly telling me about what they were growing at home or at school. Grow It! Magazine had a good article on children’s gardens by Angela Youngman in the July 2010 issue http://www.growitmag.com , whilst the Eden Project books for inspiring child gardeners by Jo Readman are also full of ideas www.edenproject.com

For lots of jolly garden tips, check out the August job lists: http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/todo_now/index.php and http://www.rhs.org.uk/Gardening/calendar/August 

http://www.growyourownclub.co.uk

Garden Organic’s website http://mastergardeners.org.uk/2011/08/03/august-holiday-sowing-tips/

Gnome Guard on parade from The World War Zoo gardens collection at Trelawney Garden Centre, July / August 2010

Our khaki clad Gnome Guard didn’t holiday at home this year. He  travelled in 2010 /11 out to many displays such as Trelawney Garden Centre, but then vanished by unknown hand off to Paignton Zoo, London Zoo, Bioparc Valencia in Spain sending postcards gn-home back to the zoo. He was back in time for a conference on zoo history  at Chester Zoo in May 2011 (see May blog post 2011).  He’s stayed put (so far!) since as part of our wartime garden display.  “So far our Gnome Guard member of the LDV, introduced to the World War Zoo gardens to mark the July 1940 renaming of the Home Guard, has not been stolen by gnome liberators. Yet.” we wrote last August … we spoke too soon!

Gnome guard on parade. Gnome Guard on parade from The World War Zoo gardens collection at Trelawney Garden Centre, July / August 2010

But before anyone questions his willingness to serve or wartime authenticity, gnomes bizarrely feature in the Boy’s Own Paper August 1940 nature notes by ‘Hedgerow’ on fungi, at the height of the Battle of Britain when the Editor worries not only about increasing  paper rationing but about the threatened invasion “By the time you read this that foul fiend Apollyon may have struck at Britain, our land”). The columnist ‘Hedgerow’ whimsically notes: “One of the most handsome and decorative is the Scarlet Fly Agaric. This is copied by those who make garden ornaments and sold with gnomes to furnish a miniature wood or rockery. In my wood they grow freely. As I have a real wood I have no need for china gnomes, for they say there real gnomes in the woods and that they hold their meetings around the little red tables of the Scarlet Fly Agarics. I have never seen them, but as I write my nature notes under the light of an oil lamp in my little house in the wood  I often wonder whether they are playing around outside or spying to see if I am properly blacked out.”   (Boy’s Own Paper August 1940 nature notes)

So hopefully, during the summer holidays, you might like to paint your own china gnome, if you don’t have your own real wood and fungi. Wherever you are you could grow one thing, even if it’s in a tiny pot, as part of Garden Organic’s www.onepotpledge.org 2010. (Apparently if I encourage several others to sign up, I earn my very own Gardening Guru membership card or badge. How Boy’s Own Paper is that!) More growing advice can be found on the http://www.rhs.org.uk/ and www.bbc.co.uk/digin  BBC Dig In campaign pages.

Hopefully there were  lots of bumper holiday ideas on our blog to keep the whole family busy this August (or winter!) Off to try some Cold Ovaltine! 

“Hooray We passed our 6000th page view today on 8th August 2010!” We are now up to 20,000 plus readers in the last two years, and many hundreds of thousnads who have visited the zoo and seen the garden for real since 2009. They also pinch the strawberries, and then tell me later how nice they tasted … 

For all enquiries or comments re. World War Zoo gardens project, contact us via the comments page below.

If stuck inside, 21st century child style, you might like to check out our past blog entries, look at the macaque monkey webcam on www.newquayzoo.org.uk

Hope you enjoyed appy National Allotments Week in August http://www.nsalg.org.uk

September we’re off to talk to local Garden Societies, starting with Goonhavern Garden Society on the 21st September, then to Twycross Zoo in November 2011 for the big BIAZA ACE meeting … Have (wartime) gnome and garden, will travel!

Absent fathers day – a wartime perspective from the World War Gardens project, Newquay Zoo

June 19, 2011

Father’s day in the World War Zoo wartime garden at Newquay Zoo – Blitz Bear, our project mascot
Father’s Day in Britain June 2011 – the nation awoke groggily to the headlines of the Prime Minister’s  offer of pursuing absent fathers and making them pay, making those who ‘abandon’ their children  feel the same  social stigma as drunk drivers.

Father’s day 19 June 2011 at Newquay Zoo –  an event to celebrate with half price entry for dads, free entry for children under 14 with a bear and a field hospital style surgical tent for injured bears.  Nurse “Penny Sillen”, otherwise known as Zoo Events organiser Lorraine Reid, nursed calloused hands from a few evenings cutting up and rolling hundreds of tiny bandages in scenes reminiscent of ladies of the First World War. Busy day! 

In the World War Zoo garden at Newquay Zoo, our peaceful and productive memorial to wartime zoo staff, during the brief periods between much-neeeded rain showers you could glimpse our project mascot, Blitz Bear, formerly of the Lost Property Department of Newquay Zoo some years ago.

Blitz Bear is usually found in the children’s section of our wartime displays alongside handmade toys, some of which are on show in our wartime display cabinet, others on the BBC / British Museum History of The World in 100 Objects digital online museum (see our blogroll for address). The handmade toys, some by wartime absent fathers for their far off children, are especially poignant. Blitz Bear symbolises all those special toys taken away from home by evacuees or much-loved presents who symbolised home, parents and loved ones.

My mum was evacuated to distant relatives for much of the war and barely saw her dad for the duration of the war, especially during his naval service in the Pacific. Fortunately, unlike many others awarded the Burma Star for their travels, he returned.  There must be many others on Father’s Day who remember ‘absent fathers’, some of whom never came home because of wartime. Many of the zoo keepers who died on active service and who are remembered on the staff war memorials at London Zoo and Belle Vue left young children without a father.

Next weekend is Armed Forces Weekend, and our dig for victory gardening friends at National Trust Trengwainton Gardens, Penzance will be holding a 1940s day on Sunday 26 June 2011 with a later one planned for Open Heritage Saturday 10th September 2011. A chance to glimpse their wartime allotment project  – and of course to remember our many veterans and the current serving forces, many mums and dads who will be way from home this weekend on Father’s Day …  

Keep reading for more about our World War Zoo wartime gardens project on this blog or browse the archive posts since 2009. You can contact us on the comments page here or via the Newquay Zoo website. Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo.


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