Archive for the ‘Zoo, Gardens, Wartime’ 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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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.

“Zoo Do You Think You Are (Kidding Mr Hitler)?” Tracking down family history and wartime concrete at Chester Zoo

June 12, 2011

Tracking down wartime concrete in zoos … an intriguing bit of Chester Zoo’s history, a vanished zoo in Brighton and four wartime hippos inBudapest.

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

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 Gnome Guard-ener bit at the end. Decide for yourself! 

Tracking down wartime concrete in zoos …  an intriguing bit of Chester Zoo’s history, a vanished zoo in Brighton and four wartime hippos inBudapest.

Family history is big business now on the internet and on television. Looking back at baby photos past for a glimpse of a familiar adult expression today or looking at your children today for a fleeting recognition of family faces, it’s something we all do in 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?

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 recent 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). 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. http://www.shnh.org.uk/welcome/news-module-test-page/read-story/article/report-on-the-meeting-from-royal-gifts-to-biodiversity-conservation-the-history-and-development-of.html?tx_ttnews[backPid]=23&cHash=7d7c748eec

 Proceedings or copies of these talks are in preparation. Meanwhile, the list of talks and delegates can be seen for  while at http://www.shnh.org.uk/meetings/future-meetings/shnh-spring-meeting-and-agm.html

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 ofBudapest 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

 This comment by Miklos gave a little 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! Hoorah! 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. There were many fine presentations which will be available in due course in the Symposium Proceedings, and some ‘Eureka’ moments. (or “Mary Jane Hawkins!” moments as they are strangely called in the film of Robert Harris’ Enigma).  One of these slowly managed revelations was Dr. Graham Rowe’s talk on his research into the very short life in months of the failed Brighton Zoological Gardens in the 1830s. Did it ever happen except on paper? Graham led us through newspaper clues, paintings of early Cricket, faded scans and enlargements of ancient prints, to reveal at the end his starting point – a pair of ornamental gate pillars adorned with lions in a wall in a street in the Park Crescent back areas of  Brighton, near several cricket named pubs. Proof that the short-lived Brighton Zoo had really had existed for few months, rather than being a plan on paper. Excellent detective work and a story well told. Mary Jane Hawkins! Graham pointed out that if ‘Brighton Zoo’ had survived, it would likely have been flattened by Luftwaffe bombing that hit other listed buildings in the area.

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)

If being intrigued by one lump of stone was enough, Chester Zoo our host was home to another interesting 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!

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 the day, 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. Sdaly 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 quite sort of memorial to ‘gentle’ Peter Falwasser, as June describes him.

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 of Oakfield House. This listed red brick building was the big house or mansion of the estate that became Chester Zoo in the 1930s after serving for a short while 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.

A link to the Chester Zoo lions of the wartime past - within roar of the present. Chester Zoo Satbles 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, RomanGardensand glasshouses now lie where food was once grown in the kitchen gardens and conservatory area.

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. 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, June’s ‘Grandad’ Mottershead working well into old age and 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 badly wounded on theSomme. 

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, 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 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.

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, 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.Britain

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)

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 against invasion by the armies of Hitler’sGermany after softening up by Goering’s eagles of the Luftwaffe.

 The round shapes of these 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 Fred and June are still very much with us, still interested in the zoo they built and recently opened June’s new Pavilion. 

Stephen McKeown spoke about furtehr 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). They are thinking about the occasional guided or self-guided history tour – so watch the Chester Zoo website for details.

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

More pictures of our World War Zoo gardens at Newquay Zoo next week. 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

70th anniversary of the Belfast Blitz and a sad day at the zoo …

April 19, 2011

Working on a talk about wartime zoo experiences for the WAZA / SSNH/ Bartlett Society conference at Chester Zoo in May, I noticed the date on part of the 75th Belfast Zoo anniversary material  – 70 years ago today …

During World War II, the Ministry of Public Security said we must destroy 33 animals for public safety in case they escaped when the zoo was damaged by air raids.

On 19th April 1941, Mr A McClean MRCVS, head of the Air Raid Protection section, enlisted the help of Constable Ward from the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Sergeant E U Murray of the Home Guard to shoot these animals. The animals included 9 lions (including cubs), 1 hyena, 6 wolves, 1 puma, 1 tiger, 1 ‘black’ bear, 2 brown bears, 2 polar bears, 1 lynx, 2 racoons, 1 vulture, and 1 ‘giant rat’ that is presumed to be a Coypu (a large rodent creature).

In the account in Juliet Gardner’s The Blitz, the  Head keeper is recorded as having been in tears as he watched.

Similarly, Japanese zoo staff were traumatised by carrying out official orders (from higher military or government authority) the ‘disposal’ of ‘dangerous animals’ in Japanese zoos, an event described in great detail in the newly published Japanese Wartime Zoo Policy: The Silent Victims of World War II by Mayumi Itoh (Palgrave, 2010).

Lest we forget the sacrifices of staff and animals of zoos in wartime …

Of flower shows in wartime and today …

April 10, 2011

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

“Money spent on flowers, in moderation, is never wasted”

C. H. Middleton, Your Garden in Wartime, 1941 (p. 26, reprinted Aurum Press, 2010) 

 “For the moment potatoes, onions, carrots and so on must receive our full attention: but we may look forward to the time when this nightmare will end, as end it must – and the morning will break with all our favourite flowers to greet us once more, and, who knows perhaps my next volume of talks will be of roses, mignonette, daffodils and lilies.” C.H.M, June 1941

C. H. Middleton, Your Garden in Wartime, 1941 (p. 5, reprinted Aurum Press, 2010) 

 Our local Spring village flower shows in our Village Hall in Cornwall is one of our last important surviving celebrations of community, now our village post office and shops have gone. It’s a riot of daffodils, carefully tended blooms, cakes, Lego models, vegetable animals, cups of tea, children’s art from the preschool, cubs, school and Sunday school … oh, and the entrance is guarded by scarecrows!

Some of the Mother's Day posies at Newquay Zoo's first flower show, April 3rd 2011

A similar riot of colour and festival of goodwill happened this weekend at  the first Newquay Zoo Mother’s Day flower show. This was only two weeks after a very busy £2 for Locals Weekend with thousands and thousands checking us out before the season starts. Not since the decorated Easter bonnet parades through our Zoo Dragon Maze of the mid 90s have we seen such a crafty variety of hand-made posies,  tissue and egg-box paper flowers. These were all made by both boys and girls keen to get themselves in free to Newquay Zoo alongside their half-price (but priceless) mums at this Mother’s Day 2011 event.

It helped the ‘feel good’ mood that it was a beautiful sunny Cornish spring day, so hopefully there weren’t too many disappointed children at judging time.  We had some difficulty choosing ‘winners’ amongst the 54 posies on the competition table. Apparently my limited experience of judging WI competitions was what qualified me for this role, reprised when I was the guest of the very friendly St Stephen in Brannel WI this week. It was equally as difficult as judging the WI posies or animal photos when I go out to talk about the World War Zoo project and the other varied work of Newquay Zoo. (I always fear that some of the militant wing of the WI will let my tires down if I get the wrong result. Tony Blair learned to his cost not to mess the WI around).

Four posies as a whole family effort at the Newquay Zoo Mother's Day flower show.

Many more than 54 posies were carried around the zoo and back home (to houses with the lingering smell of burnt breakfast toast) by proud mums. A few posies ended up (accidentally?) in the mouths and paws of our zoo animals. I’m sure it would have done them no harm. We already grow or harvest buckets of fallen cherry blossom, willow sticks with catkins and leaves, unsprayed flowers and sunflower heads, especially for our monkeys. This year, we’ve planted Borage in the World War Zoo gardens for its edible flowers (both blue and the white Alba variety), sourced along with some “Tiger Mint” for our lions (it’s really ‘Cat Thyme’) from Jekka McVicar’s amazing herb farm www.jekkasherbfarm.com  Richard our ‘proper’ zoo gardener was looking a bit concerned about Borage’s successful self-seeding habits.  

My own lovely mum is going to be appearing soon as an exhibit at Newquay Zoo. Admittedly, she will be seated on top of her wartime Anderson shelter in my Grandad’s back garden in 1939. It is a treasured family photo, scanned for inclusion on the new interpretation sign being designed by Michelle Turton of Studio71  alongside the newly fenced, sandbagged, paved and spruced up wartime zoo keeper’s garden. The photo will do one important job for now, as I haven’t yet found a suitable Anderson shelter to erect alongside the wartime garden, much to Stewart Muir the Zoo Director’s relief. 

We hope that the sign will be in place for  our wartime garden event from May 28 to June 5th  2011 , running alongside our BIAZA Love Your Zoo! week of events http://www.biaza.org.uk. You can come along and follow our wartime garden trail, visit our “dig for victory garden” and display cases, and take home your very own wildlife garden sunflower in a recycled paper pot.  

Hopefully our roaming Gnome Guard-ener (mentioned on recent blog posts) will be back on duty from his travels to London, Spain, Devon … who g-nows where!

Wartime Mother's Days would have been familiar with the hand-crafted posy. These two recycled blooms (straws and scraps of tissue paper) were made by children for our first zoo flower show at Newquay Zoo April 3rd 2011.

And not forgetting dads – we’re aiming to beat our “1000 bears picnicking in the zoo” record of last year. This year’s Father’s Day Teddy Bear’s Picnic is on Sunday 19th June 2011 at Newquay Zoo. Dads get in half price, bears can get their under-14 owners in to the Zoo for free that Sunday. So bring your picnic rug, tasty treats and of course, favourite  bear along to the zoo.

Our wartime evacuee “Blitz Bear” will be lurking on duty in the World War

Wartime recycled handmade toys and Blitz, our re-enactor bear have got the squander bug surrounded - surrender! Objects from the Newquay Zoo wartime garden archive collection.

Zoo garden that weekend …

New Home Front ‘design or reimagine a poster’ campaign 2011

March 29, 2011

New Home Front Design Competition – Closing date: 6 May 2011

Wartime recycled handmade toys and Blitz, our re-enactor bear have got the squander bug surrounded - surrender! Objects from the Newquay Zoo wartime garden archive collection.

New Home Front 

(“How we can learn from Britain’s war time past in the age of dangerous climate change and energy insecurity”) are launching a competition to find the best ways in which the wartime poster and public education campaigns can be re-imagined to help today’s society understand the dangers of climate change, and what they can do to help. Wartime slogans such as “Is your journey really necessary?” remain relevant today when so much business travel could be replaced by video conferencing, for example. New Home Front is supported by UK Green MP Carolyn Lucas and a pdf report and audio press coverage can be found on their website.  

For more information see http://www.newhomefront.org/

Wartime posters can be seen on  http://www.iwm.org.uk website

So what is The New Home Front?

Lessons from the wartime generation for the modern world’s changes.

wartime posters and a forgotten skill - seed saving practice for next year's crops at World War Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo

Over the past two years at Newquay Zoo in our World War Zoo wartime garden project, I have been researching how we can learn from the wartime experience of zoos in surviving shortages and uncertainty as a way of preparing for the future. Editing personal diaries of wartime life or talking directly to older zoo visitors and WI groups of roughly my wartime evacuee parents’ generation about their experiences of rationing and allotments, “making do and mend”, has been as fascinating as chatting over the ‘garden fence’ to the smallest primary children who have ‘done the war’ at school and are proudly growing things to eat at home or in their schools gardens.  

Occasionally zoo staff and visitors are puzzled why I’m working on a wartime dig for victory allotment, surely a ‘history and heritage’ project looking back in a forward-looking, modern zoo / ‘environmental park’.    

So I was really interested to read the short New Home Front report by Andrew Simms (commissioned by Caroline Lucas UK Green MP) which is available to download free on pdf on http://www.newhomefront.org/

I’d be very interested to hear what you think of their ideas (and so would they). This is not the first time I’ve read ‘like minds’ on the subject. Several other recent books you might enjoy (all available on Amazon): 

 “Suppose such shortages arose again, maybe as a result of climate change, would the experiments of the past help ordinary people to survive? Better still, could we adapt some war-time methods of saving and sharing food and fuel with a generous spirit of neighbourliness?”

Introduction to Katherine Knight, Spuds, Spam and Eating for Victory: Rationing in the Second World War (Tempus, 2007)

 “In wartime the can-do community spiritedness of the propagandists instructions to ‘Make Do and Mend’ and ‘Dig for Victory’ fired the public’s imagination. Post-war, however, bald bossy exhortations seemed an insult to a people who had endured six years of wartime working and wanting, only to experience, with peace, an apparent decline in living standards … who, at times of national crises, could swing together. Britain did so in 1940 and I believe would do so again should a future global crisis threaten the essentials of our national life and culture. Should that need arise, our leaders today could do far worse than look back to 1940, to our nation’s darkest hour, to learn form our grandparents – and how they fought their way back towards peace and prosperity.” 

Patricia Nicol,  Sucking Eggs: What your Wartime Granny could teach you about Diet, Thrift and Going Green (Chatto, 2009)

 Covering everything from recycling to recipes, from fuel saving, food miles to fashion as well as gardening and holidaying at home, these books are as fascinating as the Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm TV series (Lion TV, when are you going to make Wartime Farm?) or the original BBC Wartime Kitchen and Garden (Please, please Acorn Media / BBC, please release this 90s classic on DVD) .

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

It’s also worth tracking down the recent ‘exhibition book’ for the Imperial War Museum’s exhibition Ministry of Food by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, 2010.

 Despite recently reading the beautifully presented and written Digging for Victory by Mike Brown and Twigs Way (Sabrestorm, 2011), I have yet to find a better gardening book on the urge to live and garden in extreme circumstances than Kenneth Helphand’s Defiant Gardens. http://defiantgardens.com/

In a world of nuclear accident, natural disaster, recession and political upheaval, I keep coming back to these ‘old and new’ books for facts, recipes, inspiration and challenge when I occasionally tire of reading the jovial and down to earth C.H. Middleton’s radio gardening talks (reprinted recently by Aurum Press as Digging For Victory, Dig on For Victory and Your Garden in Wartime), a Titchmarsh before his time.  

 You can find out more about our World War Zoo wartime garden project online on our website www.newquayzoo.org.uk and our events section, or by looking at past entries on the blog archive here.

Of zoos and fire-fighting, today and in wartime …

March 22, 2011

Newquay Zoo Keeper Nicole Howarth doing fire training, Action Fire Protection training, Newquay Zoo, March 2011

Newquay Zoo Keeper Nicole Howarth doing fire training, Action Fire Protection training, Newquay Zoo, March 2011

Listening to the excellent coverage on BBC Radio Cornwall of the Plymouth / Cornwall Blitz material over the last few days, I was interested to hear that a Saltash or local SE Cornish fire crew had been killed attending the Plymouth Blitz, as this also happened to the Newquay AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) crew despatched to help Plymouth crews on 23 April 1941.

An up-country fire crew was despatched to replace them in Newquay afterwards. It is briefly mentioned in the late Bettye Grey’s book Oh Get On! http://www.narehotel.co.uk/about/book  all about Newquay tourism / life in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. I’m told by veteran BBC journalist (reired), Newquay Voice columnist and local boy Chris Blount that Bettye died only a couple of weeks ago but her memories live on in this lively little paperback.

I believe there is a memorial fire bell to the lost crew at Newquay Fire station.

I came across this Newquay fire crew story researching more for the World War Zoo project gardens here at Newquay Zoo. We’re busy preparing for our wartime garden display week in May half term (beginning 28th May for the half term week 2011) which will feature  amongst other areas this aspect of zoos, botanic gardens in wartime and their fire watch / fire training.

Training manual for AFS wartime fire staff, featuring the Coventry made pumps from another blitzed city and the much feared incendiary bomb. (Images: World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo)

 

Fire is still something to be planned for in today’s zoo, with stores of hay and straw. Natural and man-made disasters affecting  zoos and aquariums are not unknown, and many zoo keepers thoughts are with their collegues in Japan at the moment:  http://http://www.waza.org/en/site/pressnews-events/press-releases/zoos-and-aquariums-affected-by-earthquake-and-tsunami-in-japan  gives more details. The response to wartime difficulties in Japanese zoos  is described   in the recently published book by Ms. Mayumi Itoh, Japanese Wartime Zoo Policy: The Silent Victims of World War II, 2010, Palgrave MacMillan, New York (available via Amazon).

No stirrup pump here! Newquay Zoo bird keeper Gary Ward doing modern fire training with Action Fire Protection, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, March 2011

Ironically, the entire Newquay Zoo staff have just done our fire extinguisher and fire awareness training, so it is still something we  think about.

We have for the future ‘wartime zoo’ schools workshops and illustrations for the wartime zoo book and events displays an old stirrup pump (used post war by gardeners for watering and pest control), incendiary bomb and shrapnel, fireman’s tunic, helmet, axe, canvas bucket and other material. All this kit zoo staff would have used in their wartime role or part time work as firemen.  Much of the material will be displayed at our May half term wartime garden week (May 28th to June 5th 2011) – see the Newquay Zoo website for details (blog roll / links opposite) .

The details of the 5 casualties are  from the Commonwealth War Graves site http://www.cwgc.org/search

GUY IVOR CAMERON FEATHERSTONE, Age: 40 Date of Death: 23/04/1941 Additional information: Fireman, Newquay A.F.S. Son of Mrs. Featherstone, of Green Gables, Pentire, Newquay, Cornwall. Injured at Plymouth; died same day at Swilly Hospital.

ERNEST STANLEY  OLD, Age: 37 Date of Death: 23/04/1941 Additional information: Fireman, Newquay A.F.S. Son of Mrs. Old, of 9 Trenance Road, Newquay, Cornwall, and of the late J. Old; husband of V. Old, of Endberry House, Berry Road, Newquay. Injured at Plymouth; died same day at Swilly Hospital.

BENJAMIN ARTHUR  PHILLIPS, Age: 32 Date of Death: 24/04/1941 Additional information: Fireman, Newquay A.F.S. Son of Mrs. C. Phillips husband of Amy Phillips, of 63 Ulalia Road Newquay, Cornwall. Injured 23 April 1941, at Plymouth; died at Prince of Wales Hospital, Greenbank.

 STANLEY VINEER, Age: 38 Date of Death: 23/04/1941 Additional information: Fireman, Newquay A.F.S. Husband of Gladys I. Vineer, of 9 Robartes Road, Newquay, Cornwall. Died at Market Street.

FREDERICK ROBERT ELFORD WHITING, (‘Bob’ Whiting)  Age: 28 Date of Death: 23/04/1941 Additional information: Fireman, Newquay A.F.S. Son of Mrs. R. M. Whiting, of Chumley, Porth Way, Newquay, Cornwall. Injured at Plymouth; died same day at Swilly Hospital.

Pathe Newsreel 27 June 1940 ID No. 1290.27 features film  of  a ‘Robert Whiting’ of Newquay making puppet caricatures of topical personalities: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/puppets-2/query/smith

Lest we forget …

POSTSCRIPT

Two weeks ago the Newquay Voice newspaper and columnist Chris Blount produced a whole page feature on the lost 1941 Newquay Fire Crew. I also turned up more information  from Cornwall At War 1939-1945, Peter Hancock, Halsgrove,  2002:

Page 93

“From December 1940 Plymouth became one of the targets for so called Baedeker Raids, cathedral cities listed in the German’s pre-war Baedeker Tourist Guides. These reached their most devastating in March and April 1941. In towns as far away as St. Austell and Newquay people looked to the east to the glow of the blazing city lighting up the night sky. To help deal with the infernos, fire crews were dispatched to Plymouth from stations throughout Cornwall, as well as from the South of England. After a cold journey riding on the sides of the fire tenders, exposed to the elements, the men stayed as long as a week before they were stood down. The crews ate and slept when they could. They were assisted by the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), though they might not have been considered equals. These volunteers, men and women, worked either full time or part time. In Mid 1941 the AFS was combined with the regular fire service to form the National Fire Service under the Fire Services (Emergency Provision) Bill. The problem of incompatible hoses and standpipes was also addressed, as Cornish brigades had found themselves impotent when their hoses would not connect to some Plymouth water mains.”

 “Tragically on 21 April 1941 five volunteer firemen from Newquay were killed, while two others lost limbs. One of the survivors is recorded as saying, ‘It was strange, because nine of us were there and the explosion killed every other one in the line. Each alternate person was all right.” [Quote from the late Albert Trembath, quoted in The Cornish Guardian, 26 April 2001, p.28.]

“On the same night, an underground shelter in Portland Square, Plymouth received a direct hit from a high explosive bomb. 72 people were killed, with only two survivors. Six Saltash AFS men were killed whilst fighting a fire in King Street, Devonport … Between 21-25 April, during what became known as the ‘Five-Night blitz’ on Plymouth, 590 people including 17 firemen were killed. On 23 April 1941 Mount Edgcumbe House was gutted when it was struck by incendiary bombs.  The fire brigades were hampered through a lack of water, as well as by a UXB [Unexploded Bomb] that was reported at the Torpoint Ferry Entrance, causing all traffic to be stopped, proving to be a “serious handicap for Fire Brigades from Cornwall many of whom were stopped at Liskeard and diverted to Saltash”

[Quote from History of Incidents, S.E. Cornwall (Incident No. 61), Cornwall Record Office, Truro.]

An up country fire crew was despatched to replace the AFS crew  in Newquay afterwards. It is briefly mentioned in the late Bettye Grey’s book Oh Get On!  http://www.narehotel.co.uk/about/book  all about Newquay tourism / life in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

Bettye Grey’s book excerpt, from pages 91 -92; this is taken from the first hardback edition known as Oh My Dear Life!, 2000, privately published, now available in paperback as: Oh Get On!

“In April 1941 with the blitz at its height the Newquay detachment of the AFS was sent for. By the time they arrived the city was ablaze and they had not even reached the pumps before their fire tender received a direct hit and five Newquay members of the crew were killed … The whole of Newquay grieved for those five brave local chaps. That night 1000 bombs incendiary bombs rained on Plymouth. The whole city burned. In all 17 firemen were killed and the centre of Plymouth had finally been completely destroyed.”

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

March 15, 2011

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

LATEST POSTCARD RECEIVED 23 March 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AWOL Wartime Gnome Guard-ener’s tour of duty makes it from Newquay Zoo to London Zoo’s war memorial … “lest we forget”

March 3, 2011

Our wartime Gnome Guard-ener pays his respects at London Zoo's staff war memorial, March 2011

Our missing gnome from the World War Zoo wartime gardens project at Newquay Zoo has turned up somewhere else  … and sent a postcard home from London Zoo.

A postcard has arrived at Newquay Zoo, picturing our gnome visiting London Zoo with a message from him on his travels. It reads: “It’s really good to see this after hearing so much about the London Zoo staff who died during the war. Lest We Forget …”

We covered some of the poignant stories of ZSL London Zoo staff lost on active service in both world wars in our November and December 201o blog posts. 12 staff were lost in WW1, 5 more in WW2.

We’ve no idea where he will turn up next … but his photo is in the Cornish Guardian this week detailing his last trip, to our collegues at VertiCrop in Paignton Zoo. Meanwhile we are building a new fence around our wartime allotment – supposedly to keep out straying feet and our animals out from nibbling the food before its grown. But it might keep gnomes in place on duty. Maybe he’s avoiding hard Dig for Victory work, as there’s new sandbags to fill.

Let’s hope he’s gn-home by May in time for our BIAZA Love Your Zoo and wartime week in half term and our  trip to Chester Zoo in May 2011 to talk about wartime zoos.

More about the World War Zoo project on www.newquayzoo.org.uk news sections.

Wartime Christmas past and presents from the World War Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo

December 12, 2010

1940s toy Ark and toy train, handmade in wartime from any materails to hand, treasured Christmas presents in wartime (Image: World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo)

1940s toy Ark and toy train, handmade in wartime from any materails to hand, treasured Christmas presents in wartime (Image: World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo)

It’s almost Christmas in the wartime zoo garden at Newquay Zoo. The snow and ice has for the moment gone from our ‘Dig For Victory’ allotment veg patch, leaving some plants looking the worse for wear. The spring crops of lettuce, cabbage, spinach and carrots look as if they might pull through as they did earlier this year, surviving the snow and ice in February. Frost is still an ongoing problem and garden fleece hadn’t been invented in the 1940s, whilst growing under glass ‘Cloches versus Hitler’ (to name a topical book of the time) was too expensive or impractical for many.

 The gardener always has a long list of desirable Christmas presents in this quiet time of the garden year, poring over seed catalogues, tool and equipment lists for desirable things. I’ve been looking dreamily at tough old fashioned tools  such as the FSC oak planter tools set from Mit Hus www.mithus.co.uk . (Is Father Christmas in his tin hat listening?). Our Zoo director Stewart Muir, a keen gardener at home and in the zoo, has been openly envious of a very tough Dig For Victory 1944 spade acquired for the World War Zoo gardens project on E-Bay as better than any of the several modern ones he’s broken in the last couple of years. All I want for Christmas this year is decent growing weather for next year. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Newquay Zoo’s keeper carol service www.newquayzoo.org.uk and Christmas fair takes place this weekend, and we’ve been busy putting up a Christmas Past and Presents Trail about the Victorian customs that now make up much of our modern Christmas. The carols, the tree, food, drinks, games and toys – we owe many of these to the Victorians including the German Christmas tree tradition brought to us by Prince Albert. A later custom dictates that the national Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square each year is a gift from the peoples of Norway to Britain for their wartime assistance. It’s been fascinating seeing where our peacetime and wartime Christmas traditions came from and the feast of Thornton’s chocolate indulgence we are lucky enough to have now (possibly my favourite trade stall at the Zoo’s Chritmas fayre).

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 first Christmas of the war would have been of all the Christmas in wartime much like others before and since, apart from the blackout, the many evacuated children and serviceman overseas. There would still have been chocs, toys and presents in the shops. Food would not become rationed until 8th January 1940. Resources by Christmas 1940 would become increasingly set aside for wartime production. Toy shops would be increasingly empty (many toys pre-war were made in Germany anyway).  The church bells would not be rung at Christmas for several more years as church bells were one form of invasion warning.

 The enduring morale boosting customs despite the changing nature of this wartime Christmas experience between 1939 – 1945 is well documented and illustrated in Mike Brown’s recent book Christmas on The Home Front (Sutton Publishing, 2007). There is more in A Wartime Christmas by Maria and Andrew Hubert  (Sutton, 1995) and excellent Age Exchange publications on Christmas past and wartime reminiscence. There are some great wartime Christmas recipes in the Mike Brown book, along with Jennifer Davies’ The Wartime Kitchen and Garden (book of the 1990s BBC series, available second hand). 

 If Christmas treats and toys were to be had, they often had to be handmade or obtained second-hand (so Present Sense style gift recycling or Yankee Gift Swaps are nothing new). Wartime magazines were full of ‘eco-tips’ for improving or improvising clothes, toys and Christmas food.

One of our wartime life collection toys is a hand-made sliding puzzle made from an Australian  butter box and old calendar by a serviceman for his child back home. It was the sort of wartime Christmas toy many children would have received. We featured this toy and a hand-made wooden Spitfire in our choices for the digital museum on BBC Radio 4 / British Museum’s  A History of the World in 100 Objects series  this year, which you can still see and hear online (see our links page) or buy the BBC book by Neil McGregor. I’m sure many will unwrap and enjoy a copy this Christmas.

Recently we have been loaned or acquired a fantastic wooden toy train with cocoa tin boiler and cotton reel funnel, a paper Indian Headdress from a wartime Christmas stocking and a beautiful wooden ark and animals hand-made in wartime by teacher Mr Ernest Lukey of Poole for his daughter Wendy Norman. She thought the zoo’s wartime life collection would be a suitable place for this to be looked after.

 Amongst the treasured wartime presents handed down in my own family are 1940s children’s books – often the like the above toys, the main present from service fathers far away. Many were and remain the distracting companions for children on rainy days since.  Inscribed with love, a far away place  and Christmas date, these Enid Blyton annuals, countryside  or nativity books from 1944 through to 1947 show that toys and books were still scarce after 1945. Food rationing carried on until 1954. BBC History Magazine’s Christmas 2010 edition features an article on symbolic Christmas activities amongst DPs (Displaced people and refugees of many nationalities) around Europe in 1946. Some of these DP camps took over empty zoo areas such as Hamburg for a while, these strange photographs being in the Imperial War Museum collection (IWM collections are visible online).

The IWM London’s rationing exhibition Ministry of Food ends on the 3rd January 2011, http://www.iwm.org.uk so still time to catch this! For those who can’t make it, there is the IWM blog, the tempting online shop and a well illustrated book of the exhibition by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall. If you have green-fingered friends, cooks or those interested in history, the RHS have produced a great little DVD called Dig For Victory  and there are plenty of recent reprints of C.H. Middleton’s wartime gardening talks on the radio, wartime cook books or garden writer Twigs Way’s well-edited reprint of Ministry of Food and Farming’s 1945 advice leaflets, all very relevant today. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Twigs-Way/e/B0034PAXNW/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Seed saving practice for next year's crops at World War Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo

Garden writers of the time recommended seeds, tools, livestock or subscriptions as presents, making wartime Britain look a little like a modern Oxfam Unwrapped catalogue. BBC History, Wildlife and Gardeners World magazines aside, there are now plenty of excellent Your Kitchen Garden, Grow Your Own, Amateur Gardening or Smallholder type magazines around for those subscription gifts, not to mention membership of the 1940s Society. Wartime editors of such magazines particularly pleaded with readers to place a subscription as it helped them prevent producing unwanted issues in a time of acute paper shortage. Sadly many magazines never survived the war.

Wartime shortages brought about the animal adoption scheme, to fund the upkeep and feed of zoo animals, started they claim at Chester Zoo but rapidly adopted at others places like London Regent’s Park Zoo and Edinburgh Zoos. Many Christmases in the past at Newquay Zoo have seen our mad scramble to get that last-minute ordered animal adoption or Junior Keeper experience scheme pack out in the last Christmas post. Deatils can be found on many zoo websites or for Newquay Zoo http://www.newquayzoo.org.uk

 Hopefully you will be able to add a World War Zoo gardens book from Newquay Zoo to your present list for Christmas 2011 if all goes well. I have been working for the past few months on editing the wartime pocket diaries of the London Blitz and Home Front life elsewhere in Britain, with fascinating almost Twitter length entries allowed by the space in a pocket diary. Hopefully these should be published later during the year in both schools and adult reader versions so watch this space for details.

Whatever you give or receive for Christmas, we at Newquay Zoo hope you enjoy this family time, sparing a thought for ‘absent friends’ and the many ghosts of Christmas past.

And, although we’d love to see you this Christmas or during 2011, please don’t send your relatives down to see us on Christmas Day – it’s the only day we close to the public each year … 

Enjoy reading this year’s blog entries, we look forward to your company in the next year!


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