Posts Tagged ‘1940’

Remembering Leonard Peachey London Zoo staff killed in RAF crash 18 December 1940

December 18, 2015

From Zoo Clerk to Air Gunner …

75 years ago today on 18 December 1940 one of London Zoo’s young clerks Leonard James Peachey was killed in an RAF air  crash during WW2.

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Leonard Peachey, ZSL Clerk is buried among these RAF graves at North Coates (St Nicholas) Churchyard, Lincs. Image: cwgc.org

 

The first of ZSL’s five WW2 casualties, ZSL London Zoo  Clerk Leonard Peachey  is buried among the RAF graves at North Coates (St Nicholas) Churchyard, Lincs.

ZSL Clerk Leonard Peachey,  RAF Volunteer Reserve,  died aged 32 as Sergeant Wireless Operator / Air Gunner in an air  crash, serving with 22 Squadron in Lincolnshire at RAF North Coates / Cotes (various spellings exist!).

He is buried in North Coates (St. Nicholas) Churchyard, Lincs alongside the rest of his crew from 22 Squadron, and buried alongside in adjoining graves in the same row:

  • Sergeant Pilot Dennis George How, RAFVR (aged 23)
  • Sergeant Observer Paul Victor Renai (aged 22, from Wellington, New Zealand) 
  • Sergeant Wireless Operator / W.E. Mechanic Ralph  Gerald Hart (22).
The roles involved – pilot, observer, wireless operator / mechanic and Peachey’s own role as Wireless Operator / Air Gunner suggest that this is an entire Beaufort crew of 4.
There is more about Bristol Beaufort  and the roles of its crew of four  at this site:
http://www.pilotfriend.com/photo_albums/timeline/ww2/Bristol%20Beaufort.htm
You can see inside the cramped cockpit of one of these Bristol Beauforts of Peachey’s 22 Squadron here: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212625
Peachey’s air gunner post can be seen here in this 22 Squadron Beaufort photo around December 1940 (sadly not his individual aircraft) http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208658. The caption reads:
Air gunners at their positions on board a Beaufort Mark I, L4461 ‘OA-J’, of No. 22 Squadron RAF at North Coates, Lincolnshire. One gunner occupies the Bristol Mark IV turret, mounting a single .303 Vickers K-type gas-operated machine gun. For added protection against beam attacks, 22 Squadron has installed another K gun, mounted in the port entry hatch. IWM photo CH 637

Peachey’s headstone can be seen at http://twgpp.org/information.php?id=4066060

Leonard Peachey in the London Zoo staff records

ZSL London Zoo has not only a fine library but an amazing archive including staff records cards dating back to Victorian times.

Leonard was born on 19 October 1909. He joined the zoo as a young Office Boy on July 17 1927 on 27 shillings and 6d a week, promoted to Messenger by 1928 and finally Clerk on 20th December 1935.

His Pay increases and records then tended to be in mid December eerily almost on the date or  day of his air crash. On the 17th December 1938, his Clerk’s pay went up a further 5 shillings to 95 shillings a week.

The following year, he would be dead in an air crash.

His record card mentions that he was a ‘Territorial called  RAF  16 September 1939′ two weeks into the war (presumably the RAF VR Volunteer Reserve). His record card simply recalls 18.12.40 Killed in Air Crash North Coates Lincs.

A married man, his family address like many London Zoo staff shifts around the North London area, in his case  finishing at Woodhouse Road Finchley (with a temporary address in 1936 curiously at Veyges, Bystock, Exmouth, Devon; a long journey to work!)

634px-Royal_Air_Force_Coastal_Command,_1939-1945._CH639

Royal Air Force Coastal Command, 1939-1945. Aircrew of No. 22 Squadron RAF walking away from their Bristol Beaufort Mark 1s after a mission, at North Coates, Lincolnshire. Wikipedia Public Domain source via Daventry B J (Mr), Royal Air Force official photographer – http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//51/media-51626/large.jpg Photograph CH 639 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

From zoo clerk to air gunner … Peachey’s life in the wartime RAF

Peachey’s 22 Squadron brought the Bristol Beaufort into operational service in 1939/ 1940: a preserved Beaufort can be seen at the RAF Museum Hendon  RAF Museum Bristol Beaufort In their illustration, Peachey’s exposed position as a dorsal (mid to back of plane) ‘rear gunner’ can again be seen.

There is an interesting Wikipedia Bristol Beaufort article describing and picturing  the Beaufort.

Several of the first production Beauforts were engaged in ‘working-up trials’ and final service entry began in late November 1939 / January 1940 (according to different sources) with 22 Squadron of RAF Coastal Command.

After this intense work up at RAF North Coates in Lincolnshire, the Squadron resumed operations in April 1940, beginning with mine-laying sorties.

The Squadron’s torpedo operations against enemy shipping used several bases during the war including RAF North Coates, RAF Thorney Island Sussex, RAF Abbotsinch and RAF Portreath and RAF St Eval in Cornwall, only a few miles from where our project base at Newquay Zoo for the World War Zoo Gardens allotment is based.

It was presumably during  these operations that ZSL London Zoo clerk and RAFVR Sergeant Leonard Peachey and his fellow Sergeants in the crew were killed on 18 December 1940.

22 Squadron was re-formed at RAF Thorney Island in 1955 as a Search and Rescue Helicopter Squadron and was finally stood down from Search and Rescue duties with the Bristow privatisation in October 2015. Further squadron information from http://www.22squadronassociation.org.uk/Hist1546.html

Peachey’s airfield is now home to the North Cotes Flying Club but the main concrete runways that Peachey’s 22 Squadron have now been removed for agriculture. Photos of the now discontinued airfield can be found on various sites including http://i388.photobucket.com/albums/oo322/Ossington_2008/NorthCoates39-94.jpg

These photos are amongst  others on the informative Airfield Information Exchange website: http://www.airfieldinformationexchange.org/community/archive/index.php/t-1068.html

I came across the Airfield Information Exchange website whilst researching a  forthcoming 2016 blogpost on British zoos that were once wartime airfields. Watch this (landing) space.

The circumstances around his air crash 18 December 1940

Researching the crash there appeared to be one most likely candidate (right type of plane, right squadron, right date) for Peachey’s fatal air crash.

Leonard Peachey and crew were the crew of 22 Squadron’s Bristol Beaufort L4516 OA-W which crashed on 18 December 1940 listed as “Marshchapel  – Engine Failure after take off for Wilhelmshaven, aircraft stalled and crashed.” (Source: http://www.bcar.org.uk/1940-incident-logs)

This plane L4516 OA-W is photographed around the same time in the Imperial War Museum archive by official RAF  war photographer  Flight Lieutenant Bertrand John Henry Daventry in 1940.

The caption for one IWM photo  (CH 1851) offers some interesting additional information:  http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210000 :

Mark XI aerial torpedoes being taken out on trolleys towards a Bristol Beaufort Mark I, L4516 ‘OA-W’, of No. 22 Squadron RAF at North Coates, Lincolnshire. Shortly after this photograph was taken, L4516 was destroyed when it stalled after a night take-off from North Coates and hit the ground near Marshfield, detonating the mine it was carrying.© IWM (CH 1851)

Is this Peachey’s crew and aircraft? A helpful aircraft historian at the RAF Museum sent me the following helpful infomation from the first volume of Coastal Command Losses by Ross McNeill confirming that the crew of L4516 is that resting in the churchyard at North Coates after taking off at North Coates at 20.10 for the target of  Wilhelmshaven

Stalled due to an engine failure shortly after take-off and crashed at Marshchapel, Lincolnshire. The Time Impact Mine exploded setting the aircraft on fire and killing all the crew. Sergeant Renai of Wellington, New Zealand and the other crew members (Hart, How and Peachey) rest locally in St. Nicholas Churchyard, North Cotes, Lincolnshire.

Wilhelmshaven was a German naval base and port, hence the mines and torpedoes that these 22 Squadron Coastal Command aircraft were pictured carrying.

Leonard Peachey and crew / colleagues are mentioned in this RAF North Coates related blogpost, showing the original preserved airfield gates that Leonard and crew would have known.

http://2ndww.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/raf-north-coates-lincolnshire.htmlhttp://2ndww.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/raf-north-coates-lincolnshire.html

ZSL War Memorial 010small

Names of the five fallen ZSL staff from the Second World War, ZSL war memorial, London Zoo, 2010 – these worn original plaques have now been replaced with new ones.

Peachey is also remembered on the ZSL London Zoo staff war memorial WW2 plaque.

ZSL War Memorial 003small

Autumn colours behind the ZSL war memorial, London Zoo, November 2010 (Photo: Kate Oliver, ZSL Education)

Leonard Peachey and his Crew L4516 OA-W remembered, each November by London Zoo staff and 75 years on by the World War Zoo Gardens project online.

Posted in remembrance by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo

 

 

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Peggy Skinner’s Wartime Christmas 1940

December 10, 2015

December 1940  – a schoolgirl’s wartime Christmas in Scotland

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

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

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

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

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

 

Glasgow schools in wartime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Peggy Skinner’s wartime diary, December 1940

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Grandma is back home with the family in London]

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Christmas in Wartime

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

 

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

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

image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

January 1941

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Christmas!

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

 

Paisley War Weapons Week December 1940

December 9, 2015

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

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

Paisley War Weapons Week, 9th to 14th December 1940.

15 year old Peggy Jane Skinner’s 1940 diary records how this national fundraising event happened 75 years ago in Paisley in Scotland,  where she and her SW London born family were based during the war.

Today we are used to charity appeals at Christmas but this was one appeal with a difference in 1940.

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

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

‘Our savings collection’ probably refers  to a local area or school collection.

I found an interesting reference to this 1940 War Weapons Week in Glasgow and Paisley in a poem by Lance Corporal Alexander Barr,  193 Field. Ambulance, R.A.S.C.  on the BBC People at War website,  www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/33/a5748933 contributed by elsabeattie on 14 September 2005 as Article ID: A5748933

WAR WEAPONS WEEK

Well done Glasgow, and all the rest

For Savings Week you’ve done your best

Now it’s Paisley’s turn to show

How keen we are to crush the foe.

 

We need more tanks, more ‘planes, more guns

We need them all to beat the Huns

The road to victory we can pave

If all will do their best to save.

 

We’ve got the men, they’ve proved their worth

In every corner of the earth

Our need today is £.S.D.

Each shilling helps to keep us free.

 

Great Britain always has been free

The ruler of the mighty sea

If everyone will do his bit

Britain can still be greater yet.

 

Our Provost asks a million pounds

Paisley with patriots abounds

If each will save that little more

Above that figure we can soar.

 

Go to it, Paisley, show your mettle

And Hitler’s heroes we’ll quickly settle

Soon then this dreadful war will cease

And we shall live once more in peace.

 

© L/Cpl. Alexander Barr. 193 Field. Amb. R.A.S.C.

Alexander Barr’s photo and poem can be found at Article ID: A5748933 BBC People at War website, www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/33/a5748933

Remarkably a short silent black and white 3 minute film exists of the Paisley War Weapons Week 1941 inaugural procession parades in the National Library of Scotland archive http://ssa.nls.uk/film.cfm?fid=3469 amongst several other Paisley clips.

The film shows according to their archivist a “pipe band leading a procession of navy, army, home guard(?), women’s army, police force and the fire brigade through the streets, past crowds and the Lord Provost of Glasgow and army officers standing on the rostrum taking the salute. Procession along the streets past the La Scala cinema and shops.”

Somewhere amongst the crowds on the film may have been a young Peggy Skinner! Amongst the parade may also have been her Home Guard father William Ernest Skinner, an engineer and draughtsman from London, working for the war effort in Paisley.

Part of the fundraising drive and parades through Paisley was a crashed German fighter plane, 4 (S) /LG 2 Bf109E White N flown by Ofw. Josef Harmeling which was shot down or force-landed at Langenhoe near Wick, Essex on 29th October 1940. According to Larry Hickey and Peter Cornwell, the plane was widely displayed   “across Northern England and Southern Scotland in support of several local War Weapons Weeks and visited many towns including Glasgow and Paisley during late November 1940…” Source: http://forum.12oclockhigh.net

Closer to our World War Zoo Gardens project base at Newquay Zoo, we have in our collection an interesting example of a competition to design a poster  for local and evacuee schoolchildren, in this case Benenden School. These girls were of similar age to Peggy Skinner.

 

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

Spitfires, Stukas, George and the Dragon on 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

We will post a little more of Peggy’s 1940 Christmas diary this week, so you can read it day by day 75 years on, a little of the everyday lives and anxieties of wartime folk.

Happy Christmas!

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

Chessington Zoo Blitzed 2 October 1940 – eyewitness accounts

October 2, 2015

peter pollard and derek witney

Two wartime friends reunited again after nearly 75 years, 2014 – evacuee Peter Pollard (left) and Derek Witney, Chessington Zoo staff child (right) Photograph: Derek Witney

A chance conversation with the Hart family about their ‘zoo evacuee father / grandfather’  whilst picking crops in  our wartime garden as part of our Junior Keeper experience back in 2008 led me to the story of Peter Pollard, Derek Witney – and the tragic story of Chessington Zoo on 2nd October 1940.

These are some of the previously unpublished memories I have been sent by Peter and his sister Wendy, along with the story of Derek Witney, wartime Chessington and Paignton Zoo staff child.

Ladies first …

Peter and Wendy Pollard, Chessington Zoo 1940 (Pollard family album)

Peter and Wendy Pollard, Chessington Zoo 1940 (Pollard family album)

Wendy Gothard (nee Pollard): 1940 Chessington memory

“As I was only four when we lived at Chessington Zoo in the Summer of 1940, my memories could best be described as snapshots, but they are very clear. I was allowed complete freedom to play around the zoo all day long, without any adult supervision, and apart from scraped knees I came to no harm.

I loved the rehearsals for the circus. I would sit on the bench closest to the ring, all on my own – magic. Sometimes there would be cubs born to the big cats, and I shall never forget sitting on the ground and having a cub carefully settled on my lap for a cuddle.

The slides in the playground both thrilled me and scared me to bits. They were very high, and of course even taller for a small person. The older children would go down head first, but I never managed that.

Our caravan in the corner of the field was amazingly quite small. With gas mantle lighting the temperature ranged from ninety odd degrees near the ceiling to freezing at floor level. My mother would stand ironing in her bra and sheepskin boots. In the floor there was a small trapdoor which my parents would open for ventilation until an air raid warden came knocking saying he could see the light from a long way off. With several windows it was difficult not to have a single chink of light showing.

I remember well the night of the bombing when the big air raid shelter was hit.

The small brick shelter is clear in my mind, but I have no picture of the big shelter. The next day I was forbidden to go the zoo, and I knew something terrible had happened there, so perhaps my mind blotted it out.

Later my mother told me that the bomb rolled down the steps, but they did not tell me that my playmate [Derek Witney],* the son of the zoo manager, was among those killed.

We did not know whether the Germans had just unloaded a few bombs on something suspicious or were actually aiming for a munitions factory just up the road, but my father was in a great hurry to move us away from the zoo in case they returned.

However, one of the bombs had made a crater in the lane from the zoo to the main road, and he had a big problem getting the caravan out. The animals were evacuated to [Whipsnade].* They were taken away two by two , an unusual sight as the elephants plodded along the main road.

My time at the zoo is among my most cherished memories. It was my garden, my playground ,and even when the visitors were there, it was still my zoo. Fortunately, they went home.”

Wendy Gothard (nee Pollard), Chichester, December 2008.

Wendy Pollard and Derek Witney, Chessington Zoo 1940 (Pollard family archive)

Wendy Pollard and Derek Witney, Chessington Zoo 1940 (Pollard family archive)

Researching this story,  I struggled to reconcile this memory with any WW2 casualty lists, but as it later proved it was not Derek Witney who was killed on the night but another of her zoo playmates. Derek Witney thinks the elephants were headed somewhere else- Devon!

chessington aerial 1950s

Aerial detail of Chessington Zoo from Alan Ashby’s We Went to the Zoo Today: The Golden Age of Zoo Postcards (2009)

Chessington Memory  – Peter Pollard (born 1930)

By the end of August 1939 I was approaching my ninth birthday, my sister Wendy was five years younger and we lived with our parents in a three year old detached house by the River Thames at Richmond. However when war was declared I was not actually there, having been sent for safety to The Linns, a 1000 acre dairy farm outside Dumfries, owned by my Uncle Alex and Aunt Kathleen. It was in a window seat at The Linns on 3rd September 1939 that I listened to the historic broadcast by Neville Chamberlain which ended “and I have to tell you now that no such undertaking (to withdraw from Poland) has been received and that consequently this country is at war with Germany” …

The rest of the family were not cowering from the bombs in the bolt hole under the stairs. My father let the house for the duration of the war to a Czech diplomat called Pospisil, bought a small caravan and sited it in the car park at Chessington Zoo which I think was still open but very quiet. Later on a bomb did land on Richmond Palace across the river and the blast damaged our house, but fortunately it was empty at the time.

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My rough sketch notes from my conversation with Derek Witney on 1940s locations, identified with Derek on a more recent 1960s 1970s map of Chessington  Zoo from the online Chessington Zoo.info website

Chessington Zoo – 1939/40 memory by Peter Pollard 

In 1939 the zoo proper occupied the same area as it does now, although the animals and attractions were very different. There was one small field for parking on the North Boundary, whereas now there is parking for thousands of cars at both North and South ends. At the heart of the Zoo was “The Burnt Stub”, a beautiful old manor house occupied by the owner Reginald Goddard.

The Southeast quadrant of the site was mainly a vast playground of high slides, oscillating roundabouts and swing boats.

In the centre of the site, and immediately in front (i.e. South) of “The Burnt Stub” was a  small permanent circus with stabling and props rooms, and also the terminus and workshops for the miniature railway. This was no land train but a genuine miniature locomotive, all steam and polished brass, which took visitors around the site on narrow gauge tracks.

Just to the west of the Burnt Stub was an odd construction, a cafeteria room with large cage attached to the left and right hand sides for lions and tigers respectively, while beyond that was a small lake for water birds like flamingos.

I returned from [school at Dumfries Academy in] Scotland in the Spring of 1940, and had free access to all parts of the zoo, even the private areas. This was quite perfect for a boy of nine. I helped to feed all the wild animals, and the ponies in the circus. I helped backstage in the circus during the performances, hosed down the elephants, helped to polish and maintain the rolling stock and rode the rails whenever I wanted., and spent hours in the huge playground.

But it didn’t last.

chessington bombsight graphic

Satellite mapping of Chessington Zoo Bombsight.org 1940/41 bomb mapping

The Chessington Raid – memory by Peter Pollard 

There were two air raid shelters in the zoo.

The first was a small brick surface shelter like a tool store, with room for four camp beds, which was used by Mr. Goddard and his family. It was not blast resistant.

The second was a proper shelter, excavated four feet into the ground and covered over with arched corrugated sheeting and the excavated earth to five feet above ground. There was  enough room for about twenty people, sleeping on wooden shelves. This was where my family and I spent our nights, sharing with the zoo keepers and their families. It was by uncomfortable, with no privacy and little sanitation.

One day in the summer of 1940 Mr Goddard who owned a second zoo in Paignton  [* Goddard had entered a wartime business arrangement with Herbert Whitley at Paignton Zoo]  to which he had transferred some animals, told my father that he would be making a short inspection visit to Devon, and invited my family to use his shelter while he was away.

That same night a German Bomber flew over and mistaking the zoo buildings for a nearby army camp in the moonlight, dropped four bombs.

The first breached the railings of the water bird enclosure, releasing dazed birds to wander round the Zoo.

The second blew out the cafeteria, leaving the big cats on either side uninjured and angry but fortunately still secure.

The third landed on the driveway and did little damage but the fourth penetrated straight through the roof of the big shelter, exploded and killed every body inside, including our friend ‘Derek Witney’.* [Here Peter has made a fortunate memory slip after 70 years]

Our family in the flimsy brick shelter was unscathed, and I didn’t even wake up.

Chessington wartime memory by Peter Pollard.

Bombsight.org 1940 /41 bomb map of Chessington Zoo with one bomb clearly on the zoo site. Image : bombsight.org

Bombsight.org 1940 /41 bomb map of Chessington Zoo with one bomb clearly on the zoo site. Image : bombsight.org

The aftermath – a memory by Peter Pollard 

My father decided that we were still too close to the Luftwaffe bombing campaign on London and hastily removed us to a farm at Christmas Common in Oxfordshire where we had only well water and a two mile walk each way back to the shops in Watlington.

This was a bit too primitive, and we came back as far as a farm at Hedgerley, between Beaconsfield and Slough. The farm was owned by the Halse family and it was Brenda Halse who taught me how to trap and skin rabbits. It was still a two mile walk each way to the good shops in Beaconsfield but at least it was sometimes (depending on the weather) possible to get a bus into Farnham Common where I attended a small primary school for the Autumn term of 1940.

In January 1941 I was sent off to Board at Derby Grammar School, which was settled in a holiday camp in the wilds of Derbyshire near Matlock. But that is another story …

Previously unpublished Chessington wartime memory by Peter and Wendy Pollard, written up for the World War Zoo Gardens project November 2008 (with thanks to the Hart family).

The dustjacket cover to Frank Foster’s circus autobiography Pink Coats, Spangles and Sawdust (Stanley Paul, late 1940s) Image: Mark Norris, private collection

Frank Foster’s account

Frank Foster, “Pink Coat, Spangles and Sawdust”, published by Stanley Paul 1949?

Frank Foster was a circus performer, ringmaster and equestrian director who wrote one of the few accounts of wartime Chessington Zoo. R.S. Goddard (or ‘RSG ‘ as Derek Witney still calls him) died very suddenly at Christmas 1946 and few archive records have survived throughout the changing ownership of Chessington Zoo.

P.158. “After we had arrived back at Chessington twenty-one bombs fell in the grounds. One was a direct hit on a shelter and killed three attendants.

Two high explosive bombs dropped within a hundred yards of the elephants quarters. With lions, tigers, polar bears and many other animals to look after, this was an anxious time.

Apart from the possibility of their being killed there was the danger that cages might be blasted open and occupants escape into the surrounding countryside.

Fortunately this has only happened to the penguins’ cage: their quarters were completely demolished.

Searching in the debris for their remains, we were astonished to see them walking towards us, like Charlie Chaplins, along the miniature railway track.

They’d been blown clear and without hurt. Later came the buzz bombs …”

These blitzed penguins are possibly some of the ‘dazed water birds’ that Peter Pollard mentioned. (Derek Witney  chatting in October 2015 also thinks this might be a bit of characteristic circus story embroidery by Goddard or Foster).

Frank Foster’s 1949 book is out of print and hard to obtain, so I have scanned the 4 relevant pages about wartime:

chessington foster 1

chessington foster 2chessington foster 3

chessington foster 4

Tracing the Chessington Zoo Casualties of 2 October 1940

For a while I could find no trace of a Derek Whitney being killed at Chessington Zoo or a bombing date. Now thanks to the CWGC records being online, I have found the identity of the child and other zoo staff sadly killed that day.

cwgc chessington casualties

The three casualties recorded CWGC as “Died at Chessington Zoo Shelter” on 2nd October 1940 by the Municipal Borough of Surbiton are:

  1. Annie Page, aged 37, the Cottage, Zoo, Chessington. Daughter of Mrs Todd, 128 Woodside Road, Westborough, Guildford, wife of Reginald Page.

cwgc ronald page

 

2. Ronald Page, aged 10, son of Reginald and Annie Page. 

 

3. Elizabeth Arnold, aged 54, of the Lodge, Chessington Zoo, wife of George Arnold.

Several family photos of the Page family, Ronald, Reginald and Annie can be found on the Ancestry website.

A BBC audio clip of Peter Pollard 2010

There is a short sound clip of Peter from 2010 online talking about the bombing on  a BBC Radio Cornwall report as well as a brief paragraph:

“For a while Peter Pollard found himself living in a caravan in the car park of Chessington Zoo at the age of nine in the summer of 1940. He shared his memories with the Zoo for the exhibition.

Reflecting on the time Peter said: “It was wonderful for a small boy of nine. I had a complete run of the zoo, I helped in the circus, maintained a miniature railway, they had an enormous playground there, it was perfect, it was heaven.”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/cornwall/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8539000/8539314.stm

Chessington Zoo advert 1937, Zoo and Animal Magazine (Image source: Mark Norris private collection)

Chessington Zoo advert 1937, Zoo and Animal Magazine (Image source: Mark Norris private collection)

Researching and confirming this wartime story

Curiously the Pollard’s  9 & 5 year old memories seem to suggest that they quickly left Chessington for safety somewhere else and were told their playmate ‘Derek Whitney‘ [sp] was killed in the bombing.

What they did not know until 70 years later was that Derek had left that day with his father, the park’s engineer, to take some animals and the miniature railway down to Paignton Zoo, a story Derek confirmed when he visited me at Newquay Zoo last year. Leopards, lions and tigers were mentioned as travelling down. Mr. Witney was there on behalf of Chessington Zoo’s  Mr. Goddard  to help Mr. Herbert  Whitley open his  zoo up again (see late August 1940 press cuttings) from its early wartime closed state.

The Miniature Railway by the way is still going strong at Paignton Zoo. Mr Witney, Derek’s father, was the Chessington Zoo Engineer and organised taking one train and the track down to Paignton Zoo. According to Derek, this train  returned at the end of the war when the animals returned. It was obviously popular as the miniature railway was reconstructed postwar. Life in wartime Paignton Zoo sounded a little makeshift, the family lived in a caravan for about a year.

I first had a feeling that the Pollard’s account was slightly wrong after 70 years when I couldn’t find a CWGC or death record for a ‘Derek Whitney’.

Having been reading the two Chessington history books by the late  C.H. Keeling of the Bartlett Society and some further research on this little reported 1940 incident (compared to the buzz bombs of 1944), it suggests that a “Derek Whitney of Burgh Heath Surrey, who literally grew up around Chessington’s Circus” (p. 29 , The Chessington Story, CH Keeling) had met Clinton Keeling  the author to talk about the 1935 Chessington Circus blaze where some circus horses were killed. So unless Clinton Keeling had met a ghost …

This set me thinking that something in the Pollard stories did not tie up with what happened and led to reuniting Peter and Derek 70 plus years later!

The ‘forgotten name’ of their playmate casualty was young Ronald Page.

Herbert Whitley as Derek Witney would have known him. Source: Paignton Zoo

Herbert Whitley as Derek Witney would have known him. Source: Paignton Zoo

Meeting up with Derek Witney and family to hear their stories

In 2014 I was lucky enough to meet up several times with Derek Witney at Newquay Zoo and  also when he came in the company of wife and grandson to my wartime zoo and botanic gardens Kew Guild talk at Kew Gardens. It was odd to be able to put his picture of being reunited with Peter Pollard on screen, tell his story and then point to Derek in the audience!

image

The Witney family visiting me at Newquay Zoo, full of a lifetime of stories of working with animals, 2014. (Derek Witney and his wife on the right) Image: Mark Norris

Derek told me more about his meeting with Peter, who is now suffering from health problems. Derek also remembers meeting Herbert Whitley wearing a battered pair of old white plimsolls at Paignton Zoo (Whitley was famous for his scruffy or eccentric dress sense). Derek’s other  family memories of this period include:

Eight or nine people in the shelter that night it was hit included my grandmother who was keeping house while we were on our way down to Paignton with a convoy of animals having left that morning.

The alarm was raised by two of the zoo staff who were in another part of the shelter.

I was not aware of any animals going to Whipsnade for the duration of the war but this could well be true.

What I am absolutely certain is that the Elephants remained at the park and worked in the circus during the whole of the war. I know this to be true as I looked after them as part of my duties in my school holidays.

Frank Foster came to  Chessington at the start of the war from Bertram Mills Circus along with some of the animal trainers and remained there until the end of hostilities when he and some of the artists returned to the Bertram Mills circus while at Chessington  Frank was responsible for the circus smooth running only.”

Derek Witney, personal comments, 2014

As we pored over past maps of Chessington Zoo in the past (http://www.chessingtonzoo.info/zoo-maps.html) to locate where the shelters were, Derek mentioned that the surviving brick built shelters remained for many years in various roles such as tool sheds, something Peter said they looked much like.

“I hope that this will further inform you of life at Chessington”: I am currently chatting to Derek Witney about more of his wartime memories of Paignton Zoo.

This temporary wartime expedient business  merger between Goddard’s Chessington Zoo and Whitley’s Primley / Paignton Zoo is not a well-studied area and I will post more on this blog as I uncover more.

primley pic WW2

“You Will Enjoy Yourselves Here!” These documents remain in the Archive at Paignton Zoo and we will post further research about them in time.

primley zoo pic 2 ww2

Derek Witney, one of the remaining Chessington / Paignton Zoo wartime staff children,  mentioned to people after my Kew Guild talk  about the GIs at Paignton Zoo and their big Anti Aircraft AA guns, being there at Paignton Zoo protecting the Clennon Gorge GI camp in the run up to D-Day.

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2014/08/28/war-and-the-whitleys-para-medics-peacocks-and-paignton-zoo/

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2010/06/23/d-day-1944-and-the-disappearing-peacocks-and-ducks-of-wartime-paignton-zoo/

This was further supported by Dave Ellacott, Reserves Warden, Primley park and Clennon Gorge, who mentioned

“As for GI leftovers I have not found anything which would have hinted at their presence.  Google earth makes a claim that there was a gun emplacement in Primley Park which makes sense as this is on an elevated position with good 360 views of Torbay.”

Lots more stories to follow …

Remembering Ronald and Annie Page and Elizabeth Arnold, “Died at Chessington Zoo Shelter”, 2 October 1940. 

Research posted by Mark Norris at Newquay Zoo, World War Zoo Gardens Project.

Remembering the British Chancellor and the bombing of Falmouth Docks 10 July 1940

July 9, 2015

Charles Pears (1873 -1958),  painting “The Bombing of The British Chancellor 10 July 1940”, signed, oil on canvas, a large painting at 80 x 125 cms and presented by the Falmouth Harbour Commission, 1993. Copyright: Falmouth Art Gallery www.falmouthartgallery.com

Charles Pears (1873 -1958), painting “The Bombing of The British Chancellor 10 July 1940”, signed, oil on canvas, a large painting at 80 x 125 cms and presented by the Falmouth Harbour Commission, 1993. Copyright: Falmouth Art Gallery http://www.falmouthartgallery.com

It is 5 years since we last posted on our blog about the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the British Chancellor and Falmouth Docks on 10 July 1940.

Now on the 75th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Britain and the Blitz on Britain’s towns, cities and ports, it is interesting to reread the ‘last post’ and postscript from 2010:

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/postscript-to-our-price-of-oil-paint-big-ships-of-all-nations-bombing-of-the-british-chancellor-10-july-1940/

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2010/06/28/the-price-of-oil-paint-and-big-ships-of-all-nations-from-the-ark-to-the-supertanker-german-invasions-budgets-the-world-cup-and-the-wartime-zoo-keeper’s-vegetable-garden-at-newquay-zoo/

I remember hearing David Barnicoat speak in 2010 on BBC Radio Cornwall about the 10 sailors and dock staff killed, the dramatic events at 2.30 /3.30 p.m. on an otherwise “lovely sunny day” and the marking of this anniversary on Falmouth Docks on Saturday 10th July 2010 with the sounding of the Docks siren to mark the 2010 anniversary and commemorate the loss of life and heroic rescue effort.

Read also an account of the rescue here http://www.falmouthpacket.co.uk/news/fpboating/8258392.Deadly_raid_remembered/?ref=rss

Remembering the ten sailors and men  killed during this bombing, Falmouth, 10 July 1940.

Local civilians on board SS British Chancellor  or at Falmouth docks:

George Eric Bastian, aged 40

Walter Samuel Knott, 48

Charles Palin

Henry Arthur Pellow, 40

Samuel Prouse, aged 64

Leonard John Tallack

Merchant Navy crew of SS British Chancellor, mostly buried in Falmouth Cemetery:

3rd Engineering Officer John Carr, 26 (buried in Sunderland)

2nd Engineering Officer William Joseph Crocker, 36 (of Portsmouth)

Chief Engineering Officer Charles Halley Lennox, 56 (of Glasgow)

3rd Engineering Officer Philip George Lucas Samuels, 26

Further family information on CWGC.org records can be found for most of these men.

Remembered.

 

 

 

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 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.”

1941 the grimmest year of the war? Sowing saved seed, solving shorthand clues and editing wartime diaries for the World War Zoo gardens project at Newquay Zoo

January 9, 2011

1941 – the grimmest year of the war

 “1941 was the grimmest year of the war for Britain. On land, Allied forces were defeated in every theatre of war in which they were fighting.”

quoted from Juliet Gardiner, the Blitz, (Harper, London, 2010, p. 267)

Seed saving: Saved Broad bean seed from our wartime allotment 2010 and wartime gardening magazines. "Food Production is Vital ...as Vital as the Guns!"

I have spent the quiet winter moments in the wartime zoo garden at Newquay Zoo editing several wartime pocket diaries, as there is not much to do in the winter garden in late December, except  planning next year’s crops and early planting.

I’ve sowed saved seeds from last year’s crops such as the Sutton broad bean noted (a pre-war 1923 Sutton’s seed variety of ‘Exhibition Longpod’ , according to Christopher Stocks in Forgotten Fruits, Windmill press, 2009, one of my Christmas presents). We saved some pods but used the others – as animal food. Last year, spare salad in glut months went to everything from rare tortoises to the zoo cafe and barbecue!

Newquay Zoo’s  animals, especially our rare ‘Yaki’ Sulawesi Macaque monkeys, enjoyed shelling these broad bean pods and eating the entire plants. We will be celebrating a new birth amongst these rare monkeys and our Selamatkan Yaki conservation programme at Newquay Zoo this year (see our Yaki monkey events and webcam on our page on the Newquay Zoo website. Newquay Zoo closes only on Christmas day so no zoo visitors that day, but I was otherwise too busy with family to plant on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. This was probably a traditional escape route of allotment gardeners to avoid relatives and get some peace. 

These beans have been sown undercover in ‘recycled’ cardboard tube planters to get a head start, the date of planting noted in a small pocket diary for garden notes for 2011.

Not all our wartime garden allotment produce was saved for seed last year: rare Yaki Sulawesi macaque monkeys at Newquay Zoo tucking into fresh Broad bean pods (photo: Jackie Noble, Newquay Zoo)

Hopefully keeping such a diary with its tiny daily entry space will give me an insight  into the often anonymous lives of the diary keepers. Sometimes there are clues, inscriptions and addresses mentioned to give in these brief Twitter length entries to give some clue to the writer’s age, gender, work and family life.  

The war was entering its 17th month when Eileen’s pocket diary starts in January 1941. It was to be a grim year for Britain. Eileen worked in the Civil Service in London, possibly for London Transport or the GPO General Post Office but  late in 1942 transferred to the Post Office Savings Bank. Engaged in September 1941, it seems likely that she married young, aged around 20 / 21  – however her diary finishes in December 1942.

January 1941

1 Wed       Was in bed when New Year came.

2 Thur       Went to Commodore with Freddie. Air Raid but very quiet. Beautiful clear night.

5 Sun         2nd Great Fire of London. Blazes all round. Cornwall Hse hit. Hilda will not have to go to work.

6 Mon        Hilda sent home, sending for her when needed.

9 Thur      Hilda starts work again.

10 Fri         Hilda goes to Wren House for the day. More incendiaries & HEs. Dad driving and dodging oil bombs.

Many histories of the Blitz note that mercifully after a short Christmas truce, the weather was bad or cold enough for thirteen nights in January to see no Luftwaffe bombing.

30 Thurs    Work as usual. Told we are to do night duty at office for fire duty. Air Raid Imminents all day.

31 Fri         On duty all night. No raid alerts during evening. Played darts & table tennis till 12pm …

The air raids got worse again throughout March 1941.  This raid (mentioned below) is known in London Blitz terms simply as ‘The Wednesday’ with over 1,180 people killed, especially in the ARP services, and 2230 injured – part of a terrible week including ‘The Saturday’.

March 1941

16 Weds   Worst Blitz of the War. Land Mine at Cranmer Court. 3 bombs in Sydney St. & Womens Hospital. Hit Chelsea Old Church down to ground. Pensioners hit again …

1941 – a year of Blitz, defeat and new allies

Not much is said about the war overseas in Eileen’s diary, which focuses mostly on the Home Front, bombing and life in wartime London. Occasionally friends are reported ‘missing’ on active service.

1941 was a difficult year for Britain and the Allied troops. Overseas in late 1940, Britain and Allied forces had fought successfully against the Italians on land and sea in Greece, Egypt, East and North Africa.  Early in 1941 as the diary begins, Germany begins to reinforce its unsuccessful ally Italy with German troops in Greece, Yugoslavia and North Africa, leading to a series of victories over British and Allied troops which continued into late 1942.

 It was not until Germany invaded Russia in June 1941 that Russia became an ‘ally’, followed late in December 1941 by America, when the USA was bombed by Japanese planes at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7th. Britain and USA declared war on Japan the next day. The USA declared war against Italy & Germany (and vice versa) on the 11th December 1941.  Japan successfully began its invasion of many British, US and Allied colonies and islands in South-east Asia throughout December 1941.     

Eileen’s diary is not all doom and gloom – it is full of an eighteen year old’s social life, family events and everyday jobs. What makes this diary more interesting is the sense of the routine, mundane everyday tasksbirthdays, cinema trips, holidays as an important and familiar “investment in normality became crucial …unlike soldiers in battle, for civilians ordinary life in familiar surroundings went on in the intervals between raids”  according to Juliet Gardiner, the Blitz, (p. 183)

July 1941

7 Mon        Another lovely day. Sin to be at work. Went over the allotment in the evening.

There are many other references throughout Eileen’s diary to food. 1941 was the year when the famous “Dig For Victory” poster appeared with the hobnail booted foot of Mr W.H. McKie of Acton, London (in the area where Eileen lives or  works).

“Dig For Victory” allotments have been  recreated in various forms here at Newquay Zoo, at Trengwainton (National Trust, Penzance, Cornwall) and in preparation at Occombe Farm, near our sister zoo at Paignton in Devon. You can read more about this national campaign in Twigs Way and Mike Brown’s new Dig For Victory book on wartime gardening (2011) or in Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Ministry of Food book to accompany the rationing exhibition that has just closed  at the Imperial War Museum. 1941 saw further restrictions including clothes rationing introduced in June, important enough to be noted in a teenage girl’s diary.

“Food rations were lower in the first months of 1941 than at any other time during the war … meat rationing fell from 2s. 2d in autumn 1940 to 1s, 2d in January 1941 and hardly rose again for the rest of the war, while the cheese allowance plummeted to one ounce per person and jam went ‘on the coupon’ …” quoted from Juliet Gardiner, the Blitz, (Harper, London, 2010, p. 268)

The last weeks in Belfast and Northern Ireland have seen frozen water supply problems. This was common in wartime Britain alongside   low gas pressure from damaged gas mains and a shortage of coal and wood for domestic use and cooking. All this made  everyday  wartime life difficult for many British families.  Juliet Gardiner notes that freezing conditions made life difficult for bombed-out families and firemen in Britain with hoses freezing, most famously pictured on 3rd January 1941 in Bristol. Mercifully after a short Christmas truce, the weather was bad or cold enough for thirteen nights in January to see no Luftwaffe bombing.  Bombing was also shifting to ports like Bristol (3rd January) and Cardiff (2nd January).

So this puts into perspective the recent cold snaps of 2010 that once again destroyed or damaged lots of our early crops in the World War Zoo gardens. Cloche gardening was a relative novelty in the 1940s, leading to one company producing the strangely titled wartime booklet Cloches versus Hitler. We were  thankfully spared the obvious ‘Cloches versus Boches alternative title. It might not have seemed so in 1941, but the cloches were to win. Glass itself was in short supply (as many repairing bombed botanic gardens and zoo enclosures found) with the urgent need to repair wartime damage, although I’m sure wrecked windows were reused to make cold frames by enterprising wartime gardeners.

What next for 2011 and the World War Zoo gardens project at Newquay Zoo?

Patrol diary summary page of the Blitz activities of a London scout group based in Rotherhithe at St. Katherine's church (destroyed in the London Blitz) Copyright: World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo

We have a London woman’s 1944 diary of The Little Blitz and life on her allotment, already typed up and being edited to match Eileen’s diary. There are also passages from a young scout patrol leader’s diary of London 1939 – 40, including the Blitz. We’ll then start work on a Merseyside girl’s diary for 1939 – 1943 (which has sections in shorthand to decipher first), to match a Mersey River Pilot’s diary of his pilot-boat work in the Liverpool docks and stormy love affair with a WREN throughout 1943.

Newquay Zoo being built on former wartime farming land, it’s also appropriate that we’re also working on a wartime Farmer’s diary from the Sunderland area from 1944 to 1946 and excerpts from many civilian wartime letters.

We hope to produce a version of each of the diaries for use in the classroom with teaching notes and suggestions, as well as an adult / general reader version.

We look forward to announcing a publication date in future when sections of Eileen’s Blitz diary and also the Little Blitz 1944 diary will be available to buy from the zoo by post, all profits going towards the ongoing wartime garden and schools workshops, amongst our other conservation and education work such as the Gems of The Jungle Aviary and Selamatkan Yaki .

For further details of the wartime garden, publications, schools workshops or  comments, contact us via the Newquay Zoo website.

You can subscribe for further blog posts on this blog page, and also find on Twitter.  

Wishing you all a Happy and Peaceful New Year!

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!

Wartime garden ‘Dig for victory’ in snow and sunshine – pictures from Newquay Zoo

November 28, 2010

Snow on sandbags, spring crops and steel helmets. 'Dig for Victory' in the snow and sunshine, World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo 28 November 2010

The World War Zoo garden's Gnome Guard on snow clearing duties! Newquay Zoo, November 2012 Ground gnomes or Erdmannchen in German, meerkats in English - call them what you like, The WorldWar Zoo garden's neigbours at Newquay Zoo still have to do sentry duty in snow. Nov 2010

Ground gnomes or Erdmannchen in German, meerkats in English - call them what you like, The WorldWar Zoo garden's neigbours at Newquay Zoo still have to do sentry duty in snow. Nov 2010

Wartime dig for victory garden, poppies, plants and everything under snow in morning sun, Newquay Zoo, Nov. 2010

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