Posts Tagged ‘1940s Society’

On wartime diaries and Our Land at War by Duff Hart-Davis

August 31, 2015

Duff Hart-Davis has recently released Our Land At War: A Portrait of Rural Britain (William Collins, 2015) an interesting new history book, focussed on the countryside during World War 2.

duff hart davis

The hardback so far has received good reviews:

The paperback is due for release in February 2016.

Researching  the World War Zoo Gardens project since 2008, I have read many chunky wartime history books by the likes of Juliet Gardiner and others in order to understand more widely what was going on in Britain on the Home Front in WW2. This has helped put the struggles of zoos and botanic gardens into context but also resolved many questions arising from the ongoing work of transcribing and editing a small collection of WW2 civilian home front diaries.

Some of these diary transcripts were used by Duff Hart-Davis in his research for Our Land At War and  I was delighted to see these diary sections appear in print for the first time.

A few of our family anecdotes crept in too, such as my mum being lookout to her evacuee gang in Sussex “scrumping in Vera Lynn’s orchard” (this is not a euphemism!) It was good to take a copy of Duff’s book up recently to show her these memories in print for the first time as well.

There are further snippets from my diary collection such as Home Guard diary entries by Charles G. Bond, apprentice wartime forester in the Forest of Dean. VE day diary entries record a day  of normal farm work from busy farmer and War Ag contractor John Alsop, farming at Longfield House Farm, High Marley Hill on the edge of the Gateshead and Newcastle collieries  (near Beamish Open Air Museum).

VE Day May 1945 carried on as normal for farmer John Alsop at his Marley Hill farm. (Source: Mark Norris private collection)

VE Day May 1945 carried on as normal for farmer John Alsop at his Marley Hill farm. (Source: Mark Norris private collection)

D-Day got scarcely more of a mention in this busy farmer’s diary:

D-Day 1944 entry in John Alsop's farmer's diary. Image source: Mark Norris, private collection.

D-Day 1944 entry in John Alsop’s farmer’s diary. Image source: Mark Norris, private collection.

The most extensive entries used by Duff Hart Davis are from the 1941 diary of Doreen Kippen, buried away in the Worcestershire countryside as a 20 year adult evacuee in the Tenbury Wells area, covering several pages of his book.

Duff was quite taken with Doreen as being “Lively minded, brave, stoical and slightly irreverent, with a strong sense of humour” in his words.

Doreen Kippen's diary entry April 20 1941 (image copyright: Mark Norris, private collection)

Doreen Kippen’s diary entry April 20 1941 (image copyright: Mark Norris, private collection)

It is a shame that I only have one year of Doreen’s  diaries, one of the stray volumes acquired online, compared to four years of farming diaries for John Alsop and six for schoolgirl, student and scientist Peggy Jane Skinner, all down to the vagaries of surviving house-clearances  and online auctions. Other volumes may be scattered in other people’s collections or have simply been lost or destroyed.

Occasionally a second volume of a diary I have already transcribed turns up, such as a 1944 wartime diary of a Wimbledon lady involved in ARP in 1944 throughout the V1 doodle bug raids the first diary I collected in 2008. A single 1939 volume turned up this year, one I recognised as by the same author from long hours transcribing the handwriting and its cryptic and routine entries. This has given me missing details such as the previously anonymous author’s name and address, setting off a new line of research and editing for future publication. More of this another time …

As well as diary spotting, it was interesting to see how Duff  Hart-Davis  had written about how zoos in rural and city areas  had survived wartime, including how Chessington Zoo during the 1940 Blitz evacuated staff, livestock and miniature railway down to the safer rural seaside Devon site of Primley or Paignton Zoo, our sister zoo. I will feature more about this with some unpublished first hand accounts in our autumn 75th anniversary blogposts. The Slapton area clearances of country villages and disastrous US training exercise surprised by torpedo boats (Operation Tiger) are also mentioned, now the peaceful home to one of our Whitley Wildlife Conservation  Trust nature reserves at Slapton Ley.

Whilst it was fascinating to to be involved in the research for a new book and read the finished outcome, what was equally interesting was to come across new material in Duff’s book that I hadn’t read elsewhere in print.

The  first surprising section was Duff’s own memories of farm work as a small boy just before war broke out in 1939, an era of horses and steam machinery soon to give way to the more mechanised tractor rich intensive farming of wartime and post-war agricultural policy.

There are also fascinating sections about how the Scottish rural landscapes of privilege and country shooting became home to Special Operations Executive secret agent training camps, the gillies among those recruited to teach the silent arts of stalking and killing. Eccentric  naturalists like Gavin Maxwell, more usually associated with otters in his Ring of Bright Water book, were in demand as deadly trackers, readers of the land and the art of spooring.

Another interesting area Duff Hart-Davis  covers is the decline of country estates and later demolition of the more badly damaged country houses, requisitioned for a wide range of evacuated organisations and military bases. Some of these estates became the postwar basis for safari parks and zoos.

Land girls, Lumber Jills, hidden art treasures in Welsh slate mines, fox hunting n wartime and many other interesting areas are covered in this fascinating book.

Well worth a read in hardback or the forthcoming February 2016 paperback.

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

Potato days are here again … and colour clips of postwar Bristol Zoo Gardens

January 30, 2011

Dig for Victory advert Smallholder Magazine, 1940/41 (World war Zoo gardens collection)

“Potato Pete, Potato Pete, see him walking down the street …”

or at a garden centre or gardens near you.

Look at   for dates and venues.

Set up mostly by Garden Organic, as well as Potato Days, there are some good factsheets on growing potatoes and other veg on their website and regular e-newsletter.   

The period around 30th January 2011 has lots of potato related events going on around the country.

Here at the World War Zoo gardens project at Newquay Zoo we are busy chitting a few of the following, and preparing the ground (which was frozen this morning). Such great and often stirringly patriotic names for the humble spud: Sharpe’s Express, Arran Pilot, Home Guard, Duke of York, King Edward. These should be in, earthed up  and doing well in our wartime allotment by the time of our next wartime gardens week May 28th to June 5th 2011 at Newquay Zoo . This May half-term week coincides with the national BIAZA Love Your Zoo week events

Here are a few more wartime varieties, available from major seed suppliers and heritage seed sites that would suit your 1940s allotment.  














If you are stuck indoors  planning your garden, you can catch a glimpse of the amazing postwar footage of Bristol Zoo Gardens from its archive of 175 years work on the Bristol Zoo Youtube channel

including some colour footage of c.1948 elephants, with the famous gardens restored from veg production to flowers, and Army and RAF servicemen in uniform wandering around. There’ll be more about this in Alan Ashby and Tim Brown’s forthcoming book on 175 years of Bristol Zoo, published with the Independent Zoo Enthusiasts Society IZES around  March 2011.

Nice to see a zoo taking good care of its archives as well as its animals!

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 . (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 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, 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.

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

 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!

Blitz, Battle of Britain, Broad Beans and Dig For Victory’s 70th anniversary at the World War Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo

September 7, 2010

Fowey Town Hall, Salute The Soldier week plaque awarded to Fowey, Cornwall 1944 (Image from World War Zoo garden, Newquay Zoo)

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


7th September 2010 sees the official anniversary of the 1940 Blitz on British cities, especially London, as Luftwaffe tactics in the Battle of Britain changed from bombing airfields to civilian targets. (Falmouth saw civilian bombing in July 1940 – see earlier blog entries). 

  A poignant little diary by a young  female London Post Office worker in the zoo archive lists “1941 5th January,  2nd Great Fire of London Blazes all around.  Cornwall House hit Hilda will not have to go to work” . Amongst many other routine air raid entries and cinema listings of films seen, we have similar entries for a 1944 London diary about the flying bomb blitz. 

Lots of blitz coverage on the BBC at present blitz 

This week sees the anniversary of the launch or rechristening of what became the Dig For Victory campaign  on 10th September 1940, renamed from the less catchy National Growmore Campaign. 

Robert Hudson, Minister of Agriculture (from May 1940 onwards) broadcast a BBC radio speech on 10 September 1940: 

“We want not only the big man with the plough but the little man with the spade to get busy this autumn … Let Dig for Victory be the motto of everyone with  a garden.”   

(quoted in Jane Fearnley Whittingstall’s Ministry of Food book accompanying the IWM exhibition). 

The Little Man with The Spade - unofficial logo for the National Growmore Campaign 1940, replaced by the iconic hobnail boot on spade image of the Dig for Victory campaign in 1941 Image from adverts in The Vegetable Garden Displayed, RHS (image from the World War Zoo gardens archive, Newquay Zoo)

This “little man with a spade” would often have been a woman, rarely featured in adverts or photos in gardening books of the time.  Many women gardeners had to do make do with special interest columns such as “EXPLAINING THINGS – For the benefit of women who are doing their bit in the garden” in the Smallholder and Home Gardening Magazine.  Both women and children often had their own special pages or columns (see last month’s August 1940 Boys Own paper blog article).    

It would be 1941 before the iconic foot of Mr WH Mckie of Acton in London became the famous boot on spade of the  Dig For Victory poster

Several modern campaigns are underway this week – the start of the Prince of Wales’ Rainforest project development into START with rail journeys around the country encouraging citizens to do their bit for climate change 

Clays Fertiliser advert back cover, The Vegetable Garden Explained, RHS (image from World War Zoo gardens archive, Newquay Zoo)

The zoo is a little quieter this week as schools go back, a different story from the busy Bank Holiday weekend here that saw our first birthday anniversary of the World War Zoo gardens project. The BBC Dig In campaign mentions the schools going back and we’re delighted to see the return of schools gardens schemes over the last few years. One of our intended publications in 2011/12 will be a Dig For Victory schools gardening pack for cross-curricular primary history work 

The last few Broad beans are now saved for seed. Our animals (especially our monkeys) will miss podding these fresh crops. The 2009 sown leeks are now in big flower seed heads awaiting an October seed harvest. 

The next crop of BBC Dig In carrots is growing well along with BBC French beans. Winter hardy cabbage, lettuce and spinach are growing well from seedlings for early spring fresh greens.  As the BBC Dig in site suggests, patches of bare earth that’s too late for catch crops is being sown with ‘green manure’ (buckwheat, clover etc) for a bit of extra soil fertility, ready for next year. 

An early press version of the iconic boot on foot Dig For Victory poster (Smallholder and Home Gardener magazine, Oct 26, 1940) Image from the World War Zoo gardens collection, Newquay Zoo

We should soon have a permanent World War Zoo webpage on the Newquay Zoo website keeping you posted on the next stages of the project. The page and blog also mentions the wartime experiences of our sister Zoo Paignton Zoo in Devon, a town now home to Sutton’s Seeds (based in wartime in Reading). Sutton’s seeds have a good grow your own blog,  which is at  Paignton Zoo’s gardens team led by Kevin Frediani have a request to local gardeners for sunflower seed heads as animal food. 

Other sources of inspiration are the RHS / Wildlife Trust Wild About Gardening campaign (see blogroll 

The RHS also have a new Dig For Victory documentary DVD on sale, filling the gap until one day the BBC release the 90s series The Wartime Kitchen and Garden  on DVD (please, someone at the BBC!) with Ruth Mott and the much missed Harry Dodson.    

Advice for new women gardeners and the importance of wartime onions! Smallholder and Home Gardening magazine, Oct 26, 1940 (Image from World War Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo).

Don’t forget the Imperial War Museum exhibition Ministry of Food  (until Jan 2011) 

We’re offline and around and about away from the zoo for two weeks before our next posting. 

We’ll be keeping an eye out for any wartime connections or evidence, the equivalent to our Victorian Time Safari on our companion blog  for pupils and teachers studying Darwin, postal history and the Victorians. Maybe this historical I-Spy may be another coastal pillbox or tucked away as I saw in Fowey Town Hall recently on an offsite animal encounter talk during the Fowey Royal Regatta for Newquay Zoo. There is a rare surviving (in- situ) example of a Salute the Soldier Week Campaign plaque awarded to the town to look out for.   

Our stamp blog with RZSS is at  

 Whatever campaigns you’re inspired by, enjoy your gardening and if you miss us over the next few weeks, enjoy reading previous blog entries.

Shades of Dunkirk, the race for the Channel Ports: No it’s not 1940 all over again. It’s the BBC Dig In Campaign, Icelandic volcanoes, ash and our Dig For Victory garden at Newquay Zoo prepares for our World war Zoo wartime garden event, 1 to 3 May 2010

April 22, 2010

Dig In for victory - BBC Dig in campaign seeds ready for planting in the next few weeks in our wartime garden, getting ready for our Wartime garden weekend at Newquay Zoo 1 to 3 May 2010.

Two of our resourceful zoo managers have just made it back from a European zoo meeting in Hungary  as there were no flights to be had in the last few days. (Another keeper’s planned trip to our BIAZA rainforest reserve project in Brazil didn’t even leave Britain). The Prime Minister ordered British subjects to make their way to the Channel Ports, on the expectation that the Navy or others would somehow get them back to Blighty.Over the last few days one could almost believe that Dunkirk and the fall of the Channel ports in May and June 1940 was being recreated as part of the 70th anniversary. Maybe I’ve spent too much time in the wartime garden and the 1940s preparing our displays  for our World War Zoo gardens event at Newquay Zoo on 1 to 3 May 2010.
This event marks the 70th anniversary of the events of 1940, rationing, dig for victory (or dear life as some wartime wags put it) and the happier 65th anniversary of  VE and VJ day in May and August 1945. Street parties, Spam fritters and the like.
I eagerly awaited a call from the PM on national radio for the owners of ‘small ships’ to make their way to France and bring back as many as they could. Once the channel ports had fallen, U boats and bombers attempted unrestricted blockade and blitz of Britain. Goodbye easy food imports and luxury goods for the duration.  Hello rationing, recycling, gardening (and spivs with suitcases on the black market). I wonder if any of our wartime suitcase ‘display cases’ of wartime objects  that didn’t go through the Battle Of Britain with WAAFs or accompanied evacuees might have belonged to the Private Walkers of the time, full of the Nylons and hard to get items of the time. (We’ve got some of these luxuries in our wartime collection to show you, no coupons or qusetions asked).

Today's headlines are recycled into tomorrow's plant pots while yesterday's Dig for Victory posters and civil defence helmets look on. The fabulous Paper Potters and a successful potting up of sunflowers in practice for visitors to try out at our wartime gardening event 1 to 3 May 2010. Note the vintage fuel can as a reminder of fuel rationing and the modern BBC Dig In campaign leaflet! Paper potters in FSC wood are available singly or in sets from and

Hard to get items in Britain and Europe the last few days include flights, ferry tickets, coach seats  and even hire cars. The last few days of Volcanic ash from Iceland might have cleared international air space but they’ve probably made many people realise how dependent we have become on flying for holidays, business and international trade with a knock on and backlog in many countries and food producers around the world. It also makes you realise the appalling conditions that wartime pilots had to fly in with subsequent losses. We have in our archive a flight dairy of a (bored) flight mechanic in RAF Reykjavik in Iceland, servicing planes which didn’t quite make it over from Canada and America in one piece. Some of these were Liberator bombers.

One of these US planes tragically crashed near Newquay at Watergate Bay on 28 December 1943 with complete loss of life. Relics of this plane and other local stories will be on display at the zoo on our wartime weekend, thanks to Newquay wartime schoolboy Douglas Knight who salvaged some of these relics along with some very impressive shrapnel from the zoo valley at the time.   

St George and the wartime dragon, ready for St. George's day this week - striking Battle of Britain imagery from Carmen Blacker and Joan Pring's wartime design for Newquay War Weapons Week, whilst evacuated with Benenden school to Newquay. Copyright Newquay Zoo

We’ll also have some memories and photos of Benenden girls from that famous school in Kent evacuated to the Hotel Bristol from June 1940 to  December 1945, to accompany the Newquay War Weapons Week salvage and savings poster designed by two sadly now passed away Benenden Girls  Carmen Blacker and Joan Pring. Photos show the girls doing voluntary agricultural work around the Zoo valley area in the 1940s.
We’ll also be highlighting the daring exploits of plant hunters including Frank-Kingdon-Ward, employed secretly during the war to map jungle scape routes, teach survival skills and find crashed aircraft in the jungles of Burma and South east Asia.
A pilot’s silk scarf escape map of these jungles will be on display to illustrate this strange tale.
Silk stockings and scarves aren’t needed to visit the zoo but you could dress to impress in 1940s style to visit us on 1 to 3 May 2010. We’d love to see you … you can take way your little pot of a wildlife gardening sunflower  as part of 2010 Biodiversity Year as well and a few wartime recipes.
Cheerio and TTFN!
Until We’ll  Meet Again …
Mark Norris ,

World War Zoo gardens project team

Ration books, root vegetables and recession thrift in the wartime garden at Newquay Zoo

February 10, 2010

Pak choi from our first Autumn harvest 2009, adult ration book and original wartime gardening magazines from the zoo's wartime life collection (Copyright: World War Zoo project, Newquay Zoo)

The popularity of carrot cake and baked potatoes in the Newquay Zoo cafe are only two of our wartime legacies from rationing.

The 70th anniversary of  wartime rationing of food in Britain takes place this year, something which was to dominate the British household for the next 14 years from bacon, ham , sugar and butter going on ration on 8 January 1940 until the last item – meat – came off ration in June 1954.

 Between  these two dates, Meat was rationed in March 1940. (Zoo animals didn’t get ration books!)

In April 1940 the amazingly energetic Lord Woolton of Woolton pie fame became Minister of Food. 

July 1940 saw tea, margarine, cooking fats, and cheese were rationed. March 1941 – Jam, marmalade, treacle and syrup rationed.

The distinctive National Dried Milk tin nestling (centre left) amongst some of our wartime life collection of World War Zoo items NewquayZoo (Copyright: photo by Michelle Turton, Newquay Zoo)

June 1941 – Egg distribution controlled and a year later June 1942 American Dried egg powder on sale (still available 70 years later from the 1940s Society online shop). 

November 1941 saw milk controlled and in December 1941 National Dried Milk introduced in its distinctive tins.   

 Some of our older zoo volunteers in their fifties and sixties remember  the end of sweet rationing in February 1953, 11 years after being rationed in July 1942, something they happily talked about  at our last wartime garden weekend in August 2009. Few had much positive to say about whalemeat and snoek fish  available for sale from January 1945 or the wartime bread which was finally rationed after the war from January 1946 to July 1948 as the rest of Europe needed to be fed. Off the ration came jam in December 1948, Tea in October 1952, Sweets in February 1953, Eggs in March 1953, Cream in April 1953, Butter, cheese, marg and cooking fats in May 1954 and Meat in June 1954. 

The web editor of Yesterday’s Spirit of 1940 blog has gamely submitted herself to this wartime ration diet and chef Valentine Warner explores  the ration book cooking in the UK TV series Ration Book Britain

There are plenty more interesting  reproduction ration cookery books (good ones by Mike Brown or Gill Corbishley) available in the exhibition shop  for the  fabulous new exhibition  about food, rationing and gardening opens this week at the Imperial War Museum London, entitled Ministry of Food (running until  3 January 2011) The  online shop is a good source of seeds, posters and reproduction gardening and cookery books.

Our original wartime and postwar ration books , cookery books and gardening advice leaflets and posters on display at our first wartime garden event in August 2009 were much talked about and handled  and will be some of the many evocative items back on display at our  1 to 3 May 2010 second  World War Zoo wartime garden weekend at Newquay Zoo. Our 2010 seeds from garden magazines and the IWM shop should be in the ground on our World War Zoo garden Plot No. 1, formerly the Lion House Lawn, and growing happily by then as well.  

Delabole Co-op and Camelford stores in Cornwall for meat, registered with Haddy's for other rationed items, (is Haddy's still going?) this well used (light brown adult RB1) Ration Book from Cornwall is part of our wartime life collection (copyright: World war Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo).

There are good short films  about food, rationing and gardening at with more resources in their  online shop full of seeds, posters and reproduction books. 

Whilst I wait eagerly to see the new exhibition book by Jane Fearnley -Whittingstall , I’ve enjoyed reading the fabulous book from the IWM online shop by Patricia Nicol, Sucking Eggs: What Your Wartime Granny Could Teach You about Diet, Thrift and Going Green … 

This sets out the very strong parallels between wartime rationing and supply shortages and our recent  recession thrift, grow your own,  transition towns and allotment culture approach to the environment, climate change and sustainability. We love this book and one copy isn’t enough to circulate around our zoo staff.

This book (and the IWM exhibition) is everything that our wartime garden is exploring in colourful vegetable form for zoo visitors .

We started thinking about Peak Oil at the zoo after the fuel strike of 2001. We’ll blog more this year as we watch our garden grow about the “let your shopping save our shipping” approach to food miles and local food today compared to the worst days in wartime when one in four merchant navy ships was being sunk by enemy action. This  makes even more poignant our handmade wartime sliding puzzle Christmas toy made from an old Australian butter box, submitted as part of the BBC’s online museum for A History of the World in 100 objects series (see previous blog entries).

Petrol ration books from the 1940s, Wartime life collection (copyright: World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo)

Meanwhile look out for Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff short cartoon film and blog to see how Britain and many countries are still very dependent on shipping and lorries for delivery, then having to think about packaging and recycling …

Any favourite rationing recipes, we’d love to hear from you via the Blog comments page.

Happy reading, digging, gardening , cooking and recycling!

Off to eat Potato Pete (Baked jacket potato, a popular Victorian street food) and carrot cake in the zoo cafe … Mmm.

Bright sparks and seeds of ideas for the wartime zoo keepers’ garden – young Cornish business entrepreneurs brainstorm ideas for our wartime zoo weekend

February 3, 2010

'Team Exploration' handling part of the Zoo's World War Zoo wartime life collection, one of the teams of bright sparks enlisted on the 'Men in Business' and 'Women in Business' days for young business entrepreneurs from Wadebridge and Falmouth Schools, January 2010, Sands Resort Hotel, Newquay (picture by Kate Whetter, event organiser for Devon and Cornwall EBP Education Business Partnership)


It’s seed time at the World War Zoo gardens at Newquay Zoo. After a quiet snowy January when not mush could be practically done outside,   ‘Home Guard’ variety seed potatoes are being chitted and sprouted ready for planting. ‘Vera Lynn’ sweet peas are among the seeds for new displays of food and colour (the wartime garden cleverly manages both) ready to sow and plant. The garden is getting busy again … 

Excitingly last week,  I had the chance to take a couple of our wartime life display cases to a ‘Men In Business’ event in Cornwall run by the Cornwall Education Business Partnership (EBP). We set a business challenge about our Plant Hunters and World War Zoo gardens event at Newquay Zoo on 1 to 3 May 2010 to some very bright teenage business studies students from Wadebridge and Falmouth school and community colleges in Cornwall . Biology meant I didn’t attend the ‘Women in Business’ event but we’ve received their ideas back from Kate Whetter the EBP organiser. 

In the short time allotted, the students came up with and presented to our panel of local business people (from Newquay Zoo, Volunteer Cornwall and Creative Juices) some great ideas about events, marketing and the use of new media such as blogging. 

Great design suggestions of discount tickets for the zoo shop or food vouchers in the style of ration books, along with wartime style posters exhorting or enlisting people to “Fall In, Families!” and come along to the zoo. Free  “trail sheets designed like ration books to take you on a self-guided tour around the zoo to discover ‘”how the animals were used and treated in wartime” (to quote from the students’ sample leaflets and blog entries).   

“Solve puzzles and break secret codes” using the help of Zoo staff in uniform in the company of 1940s re-enactors who stamp your booklet. The group were quite taken with the story of Frank Kingdon-Ward, plant collector and wartime secret agent, when shown one of the original pilot’s silk escape scarves for South East Asian jungles. Suggestions of discounts and prizes for the ‘bestest dressed’ 1940s visitors to the zoo where “adults and children can dress up as World war 2 people”.  

 More sound effects, “listen to music from 70 years ago”  and more chance to look at and handle the zoo’s growing collection of objects from wartime life pictured on our blog since August 2009. Learning ‘bomb shelters’  was another unusual idea, full of sounds and display panels. (We did have to say no sirens, bangs and flashes etc because of the animals nearby!) 

Other brilliant suggestions by students included having veterans and volunteers to tell their stories alongside the wartime zoo keeper’s garden display and display cases. This worked really well informally at last August’s event with visitors and our older volunteers  sharing and retelling their family stories with their families and zoo visitors and staff. Our play areas  transformed or retitled into ‘Assault courses’. The chance to get stuck in get digging new garden areas and filling sandbags on your family day out. Thrifty gardening tips, recycled planters and seeds to take away. These were all great suggestion that we will think about for this and future World War Zoo garden events.   

Powdered eggs, reproduction posters and original wartime gardening advice books from the Newquay Zoo archive collection of wartime life, World War Zoo gardens project (copyright: Newquay Zoo).


Curiously the only thing they didn’t seem too enthusiastic about was trying authentic wartime food. No fat, no sugar, powdered egg (still available form the 1940s Society online shop), mock banana. Despite being only teenagers, they’ve obviously heard how uninspiring yet healthy much of the food was, often depending on what you could grow. We look forward to trying out some wartime nibbles on visitors at the World War Zoo gardens event at Newquay Zoo on 1 to 3 May 2010. Lots of seeds of ideas for the future for our growing wartime zookeepers’ garden project – thanks to the students, staff, organisers and hotel staff who hosted the event.  

Bought from the IWM online shop, a beautifully packaged seed packet with the famous colours and image of one of my favourite wartime posters 'Dig For Victory'


Maybe the soon to open  ‘Ministry of Food’ exhibition at the Imperial War Museum London  will have more success tackling the poor opinion of wartime rations    

Speaking of seeds,  beautifully packaged wartime dig for victory seeds have been bought for the zoo garden from the Imperial War Museum’s online shop along with reproduction posters and books which are hard to obtain as originals. This includes the poster of  the famous Off The Ration exhibition at wartime London Zoo, about which we’ll blog more in the future. Check out the exhibition and addictive online shop   

In the February  2010 edition of Grow Your Own magazine , there is a good write up by Sara Cork in her article Digging for History about war-time veg gardening,  the IWM Food exhibition until 2011 and one at the Garden Museum in London until 7 March 2010  Other gardening magazines are available  in your local newsagent ! Thanks for the three free packets of tomato seeds in the magazine which will go into our wartime zoo keeper’s garden for this summer, no doubt to be eaten like last year’s strawberries by cheeky scrumping small children

Happy digging! Contact us at the World War Zoo gardens project via comments on this blog. We look forward to seeing you on 1 to 3 May 2010 at our World war Zoo garden weekend.  Then there’s the Twitter reminders , the attendance function the students told me about on Facebook (for fans of the worldwarzoo garden page on Facebook) … “Fall In, Families!”

Biggles does Double Trench Digging, Biggles Does Gardening … and other strange discoveries.

October 29, 2009

We’ve picked the first leaves of Pak Choi from the Wartime Garden at Newquay Zoo, ready and fresh for our Junior Keeper today to scatter feed as enrichment for our very rare Sulawesi Macaque monkeys.

You can read more about our award-winning Junior Keeper and adult Keeper for a Day scheme on the Newquay Zoo website

World War Zoo garden items Oct 09 026

W.E.Johns garden article "The Passing Show" January 1940 issue Our Garden magazine

We’ve had some good comments on the World War Zoo project blog and emails from fellow zoo gardeners, so please pass on our garden blog address. The more people read it, the more strange things we will uncover.

Discoveries such as this wartime gardening magazine, with features on gardening in the early months of the war (probably hastily rewritten as most magazines have several months in hand as we found out today). The gardening article is written by no less than Captain W.E. Johns, author of the famous Biggles flying stories (recently reissued) with such daring-do titles as Biggles Defies the Swastika. These would wile away the long hours in the Anderson Shelter or for keepers on night-time  fire watch.

Maybe Biggles does Double Trench Digging never made it further than the waste bin of history.   W.E. Johns (a former pilot) also wrote Worrals of the WAAF to inspire girls with air stories. But I never knew about his other life as a gardener …

We have acquired steadily at Newquay Zoo a small archive of wartime gardening and cookery books to help us with our modern recreation of a wartime zoo keepers’ garden, so we will share with you some of the tips and recipes over the next few months. You can buy powdered eggs still from the 1940s Society website, to attain that truly authentic (and revolting) flavour! (Revolting, according to our visitors at the garden launch weekend in August). Home cooking and ‘grow your own’ food together, history you can eat!

World War Zoo Pak Choi and  garden archive items Oct 09 016

Our first Pak Choi fresh picked at Newquay Zoo for endangered macaque monkeys alongside a wartime gardening magazine from our Newquay Zoo archive

Excitingly we have had our first article about the wartime garden accepted in the BGEN Botanic Gardens Education Network and Botanic Gardens Conservation International BGCI magazine Roots for 2010, so we have a few weeks to get this together for a January copy deadline and then wait a few months for this to appear.

Maybe some exciting Biggles style passages would be welcome?

Autumn leaves, the smell of bonfire smoke over the wartime zoo garden …

October 19, 2009

Leaf collection as enrichment for the animals continues from our small wartime garden as well as making the place look untidy. The smell of smoke and burning from nearby garden bonfires  doesn’t seem to disturb the zoo animsl too much. (Zoo staff are still trained like their wartime counterparts in basic fire training!)  On a  peaceful day at Newquay Zoo,  whilst working in the garden, how strange it must have been to have been working in wartime zoos in the rubble and smoky aftermath of bombing raids.

Carel Weight the painter  has  a very atmospheric wartime painting of esacaped zebras galloping around Camden Town after a bombing raid at London Zoo, acessible through the Imperail War Museum website (see links and blogroll).

Today I had the enthusiastic  company of secondary History Teachers from Cornwall and Devon at a teaching conference in Newquay, who were all much interested in our display tables of archive materails that we have acquired on wartime zoos, childhood and the modern sustainability  angle on our Wartime Zoo ‘Dig For Victory’ Garden.

Wartime life when not muddy in the zoo gardens: Some fabulous 'make do and mend' materials and powdered egg from the 1940s Society source, part of Newquay Zoo's wartime life display today .

Wartime life when not muddy in the zoo gardens: Some fabulous 'make do and mend' materials and powdered egg from the 1940s Society source, part of Newquay Zoo's wartime life display today .


Successful second day of our Wartime zoo life exhibition … and Vera Lynn back in the charts!

September 1, 2009

A much visited box of ration books, gardening books and wartime recipe collections

A much visited box of ration books, gardening books and wartime recipe collections.

Day 2 of 2: Another busy exhibition day on Bank Holiday Monday talking to zoo visitors about the wartime zoo garden project, in fact not much time to plant more seedlings beyond another bed of leeks.

Lots of  “jawjaw” about “war war” but mostly listening to people’s experiences of wartime, especially evacuees (ahead of today’s St. Paul’s commemoration) and children and their parents who had just done “the war” and wartime childhood at school.

Objects such as gas masks, a mystery object (a banana), Mars Bars (our staple and suitably wartime diet for two days talking), Kitkat wrappers (scanned and sent by fabulous 40s girls of The Polar Bears re-enactment group)  and ration books, but especially Powdered eggs (thanks to the 1940s Society for a fresh supply) got different generations talking, teaching and reliving each other. So no need to write captions for this two day museum exhibition!

Most people, especially older visitors agreed how important it was that the experiences and lessons of this time are not forgotten. Vera Lynn, the new website and the 7oth anniversary of the outbreak of war, linked to the week’s television schedules and the new Imperial War Museum exhibition “Outbreak” were mentioned by visitors.

The usual bank holiday weather watered the wartime zookeeper’s garden for us which will keep on growing whilst the exhibition goes back into store. We photographed sections of it laid out to share with you over the next few blogs. We’ve a winter ahead scanning, conserving, cataloguing and preparing resources for schools. Research into wartime zoos goes on.