Posts Tagged ‘Chester Zoo’

Remembering Albert Mottershead died WW1 22 October 1917

October 22, 2017


Albert Mottershead is one of the many Manchester Regiment men with no known graves remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

33 year old Lance Corporal Albert Mottershead, Service No. 25258, Lewis Gunner in the 23rd Battalion, Manchester Regiment was killed on 22 October 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele.

He is commemorated amongst the 35,000 names of missing British servicemen with no known grave on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

A Market Gardener like his father (also called Albert), Albert is the (half) brother of George Mottershead who set up Chester Zoo. At the time that Albert (‘Bert’) was killed,  George was badly injured and nearly paralysed in late 1916 on the Somme.

There is more about the Mottershead family here and about another brother Stanley Saul Mottershead who was killed in late 1916

Bert, Stanley and George

George Cogswell has researched the Sale War Memorial and Trafford War Dead including the Mottershead brothers.

Part of this story was told in the recent BBC series Our Zoo:

The Mottershead family had its influence on Newquay Zoo where I work. Newquay Zoo was designed by Curator Peter Lowe, one of George’s experienced senior keepers, with input and advice from George Mottershead in the late 1960s.

How lucky we and Chester Zoo are  that George Mottershead was not a name on a WW1 memorial as his brothers Stanley and Bert sadly were.

The Mottershead family and the men of the Manchester Regiment,  remembered 100 years on.

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

1916 The Somme, the Zoo and Kew Gardens

July 1, 2016

Somme poppies, Thiepval area, France taken on my first trenches tour, 1992 (Copyright: Mark Norris)

Somme poppies, Thiepval area, France taken on my first trenches tour, 1992 (Copyright: Mark Norris)



The 1st July 1916 was the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, arguably one of the worst days in the history of the British Army.

Experts remain divided over whether Haig’s battle plans and The Somme Battles overall were a complete disaster or a sharp learning curve for his “Citizen Army” of volunteers.

Amongst these “Pals” battalions of early volunteers from similar streets, towns or trades were several Zoo and Botanic gardens staff, some of whom were killed or wounded. They joined the memorial and roll of honour list of scientists, museum staff, gardeners and naturalists that we have been following as part of the World War Zoo Gardens project to see what impact WW1 had on zoos, botanic gardens and similar trades and institutions.

Routledge is one of several British zoo staff with no known grave are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial (Image: CWGC website)

Several British zoo staff with no known grave are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme battles. 
(Image: CWGC website)

‘The Zoo’  ZSL London Zoo

10.07.1916 Albert A Dermott 13th Btn. Rifle Brigade, Rifleman ZSL Messenger

Rifleman S/4504 Albert Arthur Dermott, 13th Btn. Rifle Brigade, (The Prince Consort’s Own) ZSL Messenger, aged 22, was killed on the Somme and has no known grave, being listed on the Thiepval Memorial.

Dermott is listed amongst the 72,000 names on the strangely shaped Thiepval memorial to the missing dead who have no known grave of the Somme battles of 1916-18. The memorial by Lutyens which sits high on a hill overlooking the killing fields of France is nicknamed by some the ‘elephant’, with its howdah or passengers on a zoo elephant ride.

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

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

According to CWGC records, Albert Arthur Dermott was the son of Frederick John Dermott and (Margaret) Rachel Frances Dermott (nee Creswell) of 2 Queen’s Road, Dalston, Middlesex, London. After his mother Rachel’s death, Dermott’s father Frederick remarried a Louisa Archer.

Albert was born in Islington, Middlesex, London on 25th April 1894 and was resident and enlisted in Marylebone, Middlesex. According to his medal records, he entered service overseas on 29 July 1915 (earning a 1915 star) and was killed just under a year later. He would have been only just past 22 years old when he was killed in action.

Dermott is listed on the Thiepval project database. The following biographical information was researched by Ken and Pam Linge for Dermott’s database entry, culled from Census information – Dermott was the youngest of five children. His siblings were Rachel Margaret Dermott (b.1883), Alice Louisa Dermott (b. 1885), Frederick John Dermott (b.1887), Edith Dermott (b. 1891). The young Albert was educated at Shap Street School, Hackney from 9th September 1901.

15.9.1916 Arthur G Whybrow 2547, 19 Bn. County of London Regt , ZSL Helper.

Whybrow joined up on 4 September 1914 and went to France on 8th March 1915. He was killed during the Somme battles, probably in the clearance of High Wood by 47th (London) Division, 15 September 1916.

Born around 1891, Arthur Whybrow worked first as a Domestic Gardener (like his father John) before joining London Zoo as a keeper (noted on his marriage certificate in July 1913). He married Daisy Sutliff and they had a child, Winifred Daisy Whybrow born 1913/14. Daisy remarried after Arthur’s death, a Mr Goodard in mid 1919.


High Wood was fiercely fought over during the Battle of the Somme until cleared by 47th (London) Division on 15 September 1916 when Whybrow was killed. The original ‘London’ Cemetery at High Wood was begun when 47 men of the 47th Division were buried in a large shell hole on 18 and 21 September 1916. Other burials were added later, mainly of officers and men of the 47th Division who died like Arthur Whybrow on 15 September 1916. His gravestone looks slightly more squeezed in next to others than normal as if this is a mass grave.
A G Whybrow lies buried with many others of his London Regiment who died on the same day.

At the Armistice in 1918  Whybrow’s cemetery contained 101 graves. The cemetery was then greatly enlarged when remains were brought in from the surrounding battlefields, but the original battlefield cemetery of London Regiment soldiers where Whybrow is buried is preserved intact within the larger cemetery, now know as the London Cemetery and Extension. The cemetery, one of five in the immediate vicinity of Longueval which together contain more than 15,000 graves, is the third largest cemetery on the Somme with 3,873 First World War burials, 3,114 of them unidentified.

Listed on CWGC website as the son of John and Louisa Whybrow, of Hampstead, London and husband of Daisy Goodard (formerly Whybrow), of 193, Junction Rd., Highgate, London.

05.10.1916 Gerald P Patterson 19th County of London Regt ZSL Helper

The 19 County of London Regiment may be an error or his first regiment. This is likely to be 43689 Private Gerald Phillips Patterson of the 8th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment was killed on 5th October 1916 during the Somme fighting. He is buried in an individual grave XI. C. 4. in Connaught Cemetery, Thiepval, Somme, France. There is no family inscription on his headstone, pictured on the TWGPP website. .

The life of his battalion during the Somme battles is well set out in the Somme school visit site

It is likely that Patterson went into action with the Norfolks on the 1st of July 1916, the first day of the Somme as part of the 18th (Eastern) Division as part of K2, Kitchener’s 2nd Army Group of New Army volunteers. Patterson was most likely killed during the attack and capture of the Schwaben Redoubt on the 5th October 1916. The next day his battalion went back for rest out of the line.

Many of Patterson’s 8th Norfolk battalion who were killed and whose bodies or graves were not found are remembered on the nearby Thiepval Memorial, alongside other ZSL staff like Albert Dermott.

Patterson is listed on the ZSL memorial plaque as 19th County of London Regiment; along with several other ZSL staff he enlisted locally in Camden Town, Middlesex, close to the London Zoo.

Later he must have transferred to his County regiment the Norfolks as he was born in Great Yarmouth like his parents and siblings. His father was a school attendance officer and Patterson was the youngest of 7 brothers and sisters, all born in Great Yarmouth. On leaving school, the 1911 census lists him as an Auctioneer’s Articled Pupil, before becoming a ZSL Helper (a junior or trainee keeper rank).

There are now 1,268 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in the Connaught cemetery. The vast majority of the burials are those of officers and men who died in the summer and autumn of 1916 battles of the Somme. Half of the burials are unidentified, many brought in from smaller cemeteries around the Somme battlefields area.

William Dexter, ZSL London Zoo keeper killed in WW1 (Photo: Courtesy of Nova Jones, digital clean up Adrian Taylor ZSL)

William Dexter, ZSL London Zoo keeper killed in WW1
(Photo: Courtesy of Nova Jones, digital clean up Adrian Taylor ZSL)

23.10.1916 William Dexter Kings Royal Rifles, Rifleman ZSL Keeper

Rifleman S/19841 William Dexter was a married keeper enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade, The Prince Consort’s Own, who died on or around 23 October 1916 aged 31. Dexter is buried in an individual grave XVIII. J. 5. at Bienvillers Cemetery, near Arras,and the Ancre, France.

Nova Jones, Dexter's granddaughter, inspects his name on the new panels at the ZSL London Zoo staff war memorial. (Image: Mark Norris)

Nova Jones, Dexter’s granddaughter, inspects his name on the new panels at the ZSL London Zoo staff war memorial. (Image: Mark Norris)

According to his granddaughter Nova Jones whom I met at London Zoo in March 2014, William Dexter came from a zoo family of several generations. The daughter of William’s daughter Dora, Nova found in time for ZSL’s wartime centenary exhibition in 2014 a photograph of William Dexter in uniform with Rifles cap badge and has confirmed with the Royal Greenjackets Museum that “William as a Rifleman (Service no. S/19841) served with the 2nd Bn. Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own) during the First World War.”

William Dexter was listed on his Army Medical Form as a “Keeper at Zoo”, 5 foot 5 ½ inches, Physical development ‘Good’. His father Robert Dexter had been employed at the zoo from the 1860s onwards. After working as a labourer and painter, William obtained employment ‘as worth keeping’ in 1908, rising to Junior Keeper of Ostriches in 1913 before joining up. The 31-year-old father of four children, enlisted in the Rifle Brigade in December 1915.
A portion of boot with his numbering appears to be all that helped identify William Dexter and prevent him being buried like all the others as “Unknown British Soldier”.

After barely one month serving in France he was listed as “Missing – accepted as having died on or since 23 October 1916”. Although war service and pension records are difficult sometimes to decipher, “A portion of boot” was seemingly all that was left to identify his missing body , along with posthumous medals and a pension, for official recognition and return by the authorities of Keeper Dexter to his wife and four children.

Belle Vue Zoo Manchester

Belle Vue Zoo staff 1916 deaths

3. Private William Morrey 27 June 1916

Several William Morreys from the Cheshire, Lancashire and Manchester area are listed on the site, obviously a local name.

Before his enlistment under the Derby Scheme, it appears our William was the one who worked as a water and gas fitter at the Zoological Gardens at Belle Vue, Manchester.

Pioneer 130519 William Morrey died aged 21 on the 27 June, 1916, serving originally with the Manchester Regiment but on his death with the 1st Battalion of the Special Brigade, Royal Engineers (a gas unit).
William Morrey is buried in the middle of the second to back row of these hospital related casualties, Beauval Communal Cemetery, Somme, France.
Morrey is buried at an individual grave B17 at Beauval Communal Cemetery, Somme, France. The great majority of the burials were carried out from such hospitals as the 4th Casualty Clearing Station where Morrey died at Beauval from June 1915 to October 1916.

Directly alongside Morrey in three other graves B 14-16 are three others of this special Battalion killed on the same day, Pioneer 129027 Richard Brown, Pioneer 128027 James Duckett (also from Manchester) and Pioneer 128805 Walter Norman Welton.

CWGC lists Morrey as the son of William and Lydia Morrey, of Widnes. Mr A.E. Morrey of 13 Ollier Street, Widnes, Lancs appears to have chosen the family inscription on his CWGC headstone: “He gave his life for Freedom”
Morrey and comrades lie in the middle of the second to back row of Beauval Cemetery, France. Image:
These Special Companies are described on the Long, Long Trail website and on their forum posts #61 Royal Engineers Special Brigade: post #61 jones75 which gives the following information:

Pioneer William Morrey, No.130519, 21st Section, 1st Bn, Special Brigade, Royal Engineers
Born : Widnes, Lancashire.
Enlisted : Manchester, 20th January, 1916.
Resided : The Lodge, Halton View, Widnes.
Died of wounds in France on 27th June, 1916, aged 21.
Buried at Beauval Communal Cemetery, Row B, Grave 17.
William Morrey is also commemorated at St Ambrose church in Halton View, the Belle Vue Zoo memorial and on the Widnes War Memorial in Victoria Park, Widnes in Cheshire.

William Morrey was the second son of William & Lydia Morrey and died in No.4 Casualty Clearing Station on the 27th June as result of gas poisoning on the previous day.

His sister, Mrs Dutton of Milton Road, Widnes, received a letter from an Army Chaplain, Reverend H.D.W. Dennison, CF, in it he wrote….

”It is with deep regret that I have to tell you of the death of your brother, Pioneer W. Morrey. He was admitted into this hospital yesterday afternoon suffering severely from gas poisoning, and though everything possible was done for him, he died early this morning. I am burying him this afternoon with four of his comrades who suffered the same fate in Beauval Cemetery. May he rest in peace and, and may God comfort sad hearts that his loss will cause……”
An old boy of Simms Cross school, William Morrey also attended St Ambrose church and Sunday School and was a member of the Gymnasium at St Paul`s Parochial Rooms. On leaving school, he worked for five years as an apprentice gas & water fitter at the Corporation Gas Works in Widnes.

Before his enlistment under the Derby Scheme he worked as a fitter at the Zoological Gardens at Belle Vue, Manchester.

He joined up on 20th January, 1916 into the 14th Bn, The Manchester Regiment, regimental number 32486 and in March that same year was transferred to the Royal Engineers and sent to France.
He wrote his last letter home in mid June and in it he said he was in the best of health and expected to be moved nearer to the front line. (WWN 1916)
The Special Brigade, Royal Engineers was a unit formed to counter the German Gas threat, they were employed to dispense poison gas from the allied trenches towards the enemies lines, it is possible that William Morrey was gassed carrying out this task as accidents and the effect of shell-fire on the equipment caused leaks on a regular basis.

So Morrey died in the preparation for the Somme, which three months later would claim another Belle Vue Zoo colleague, Alfred Routledge.

Routledge is one of several British zoo staff with no known grave who are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial.
4. Private Alfred Routledge

He died serving with the 11th Battalion Manchester Regiment on The Somme aged 23 on 26 September 1916. He was killed in an attack on Mouquet Farm which was part of the final and successful British attempt to capture the village of Thiepval.

The village occupied high ground in the centre of the battlefield and had been a British objective on the first day of The Battle of The Somme on 1 July 1916.

Alfred Routledge is one of the many “Missing of the Somme” listed on the Thiepval memorial, having no known grave. Routledge was killed in the final days of taking Thiepval village, one of the original objectives of the 1st July 1916, the first disastrous day of the Battle of The Somme two months earlier.

CWGC lists him as the son of the late Alfred and Emily Barton Routledge of 504 Gorton Lane, Gorton. Married.

Routledge and fellow Belle Vue Zoo staff Sidney Turner and Ralph Stamp are remembered on the St. James Parish Church war memorial

Chester Zoo

George Mottershead who founded Chester Zoo in 1930s was badly wounded on the Somme on 15 October 1916. The Mottersheads were nurserymen and market gardeners, as shown in BBC Our Zoo June Mottershead’s  ‘Grandad’ Mottershead working well into old age and wartime to provide food for his son’s zoo animals. Three of June’s Mottershead uncles and step-uncles from this gardening family were killed in the First World War, two others on her mother’s side, whilst her father George was badly wounded on theSomme.

Kew Gardens

Royal Botanic Gardens Kew wartime casualties 1916

Several Kew staff were killed serving in the Somme area later in the autumn of 1916.

Sydney George Cobbold, 3 October 1916.

Sergeant Sydney George Cobbold, S/12906, 8th Battalion, Rifle Brigade died on the 3rd October 1916, aged 28. His 1917 Kew Guild Journal obituary lists from his letters back to Kew that he had enlisted in the Rifle Brigade by June 1915 and shortly after November 1915 embarked for France.
He is buried at Grave Reference II. B. 7, Le Fermont Military Cemetery, Rivière, a front line cemetery of 80 burials begun by the 55th (West Lancashire) Division in March 1916 and closed in March 1917. Looking at the Graves Registration GRU documents, it appears that on the same day that Sgt Cobbold was killed, 4 other 8th Rifle Brigade were killed and buried in the same plot 2 Row B of this front line cemetery alongside him – Rifleman L.J. Farr, W.G. Kittle, Benjamin Gordon (Jewish star in place of a cross) and fellow sergeant J.R. Aspden, Military Medal. Cobbold lies among his comrades and his men.

Sydney Cobbold (Kew Guild photo)

Sydney Cobbold of the 8th Battalion, Rifle Brigade died 3rd October 1916, Somme area (Kew Guild photo)

John Divers, 9 October 1916

Rifleman John Divers, service number 7056, 1st / 9th Battalion, London Regiment (Queen Victoria Rifles) and also County of London Cyclists, died on 9th October 1916 when his patrol into No Man’s Land towards the German trenches was wiped out. For a time he was “missing, believed killed” and an officer wrote to his father that they had not been “able to thoroughly search the ground” for his body.

As a result Divers has no known grave and is one of two Kew Gardens casualties (with H.M. Woolley) listed amongst the missing of the Somme Battles on the Thiepval Memorial at Panel Reference Pier and Face 9 C. John Divers is listed amongst over 72,000 men from the UK and South Africa who died in the Somme area before March 1918 and who have no known grave. An excellent Thiepval database exists to put faces to names and add to the publicaly available knowledge about these 72,000 men.
Several Kew staff with no known grave are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial
At the end of September 1916, Thiepval village was finally captured from the Germans, one of the original objectives of the disastrous first day of the Battle of The Somme on 1st July, 1916. Attacks north and east continued throughout October when John Divers was killed and into 18th November in increasingly difficult winter weather. Over 90% of those commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial died like John Divers between July and November 1916.

Having visited this Thiepval memorial, it is like many of the other memorials to the missing such as the Ypres Menin Gate, quite overwhelming to scan the panels ccontaining thousands of carved names.

Born 7 August 1891 at Redhill in Surrey, he was the only son of a gardener and amateur botanist Mr Jos. Jas. Divers. From a well known family of gardeners, Divers worked with his uncle W.H. Divers VMH at Belvoir Castle, Grantham before joining Kew, March 1912, quickly becoming a Sub-foreman, Herbaceous and Alpine Dept. He was killed on the same day as fellow Kewite H.M. Woolley. (Thanks to his relatives for some of this background family / genealogical information).

Front Cover 2016

John Divers, Kew Gardens 

Herbert Martin Woolley, 9 October 1916
Listed on the Kew memorial as Rifleman / Corporal Herbert Martin Woolley, “Essex Regiment” is most likely to be Rifleman 3844, 1st / 5th Battalion, London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade), died 9 October 1916. Herbert is commemorated on Panel Reference Pier and Face 9 D, Thiepval Memorial, along with fellow Kewite John Divers.

Born 27 September 1883, Herbert was the son of G.H. Woolley, Vicar of Old Riffhams, Danbury, Essex. In 1908 after working in several nurseries and Kew 1906-08 he left to work managing a rubber estate in North Borneo. He returned from Borneo to join the Essex Regiment but ditched his commission and training as an officer to become a corporal in the London Rifle Brigade to see action more quickly. His brother suggest he was also promoted to Sergeant. Herbert was killed shortly after the attack on Combles in 1916.

Herbert or “Bertie” Woolley came from a high-achieving and distinguished family of 12 children including his brother Lieutenant Colonel Sir Charles Woolley (1880 – 1960), “Woolley of Ur”,a famous archaeologist who knew Lawrence of Arabia. His brother Major George Harold Woolley VC OBE MC (1892 – 1968) was the first Territorial to win the Victoria Cross. In G.H. Woolley’s autobigraphy, “Sometime a Soldier“, Bertie’s unusual decision to become a private soldier and change regiments to get to the front quicker is described:

“While I was on sick leave my third brother, Bertie, returned from British North Borneo. He had been trained at Kew Gardens and in Germany, and then was employed on rubber plantations in Borneo. When in England he had joined the old Militia, so I had no difficulty in helping him to get a commission in the Essex Regiment. He soon tired of England, so transferred as a private to the London Rifle Brigade; he did well with them in France and was quickly made a sergeant, then offered a commission. He was killed with the L.R.B. on the Somme in 1916.


G.H. Woolley, Sometimes A Soldier. London: Ernest Benn, Ltd., 1963, pp. 38-39

Charles Henry Anderson, Albert Medal, 29 November 1916
Lance (or Lance Corporal) Charles Henry Anderson died on 29/11/1916 aged 26, Service no. 2326, 1st/14th Bn. London Regiment (London Scottish). His medal record card states that in addition to the standard Victory and British war medals, he was also awarded the Albert Medal (citation below). Anderson is buried amongst 253 WW1 Commonwealth soldier burials at Grave Reference II. K. 3, St. Venant Communal Cemetery in France. From 1915 to 1917 this cemetery was linked to British and Indian forces Casualty Clearing Stations in the area.
His mother Mrs L. Anderson chose the inscription on his headstone: “I Will Give Unto Every One of You According to His Works” (Revelation 2.23)

” The King has been graciously pleased to award the Decoration of the Albert Medal of the First Class in recognition of the gallantry of Lce. Cpl. Charles Henry Anderson, late of the 1st/14th Bn. of the London Regt., who lost his life in France in November last in saving the lives of others. On the 28th Nov., 1916, Lce. Cpl. Anderson was in a hut in France with eleven other men when, accidentally, the safety pin was withdrawn from a bomb.

In the semi-darkness he shouted a warning to the men, rushed to the door, and endeavoured to open it so as to throw the bomb into a field. Failing to do this, when he judged that the five seconds during which the fuse was timed to burn had elapsed, he held the bomb as close to his body as possible with both hands in order to screen the other men in the hut. Anderson himself and one other man were mortally wounded by the explosion, and five men were injured. The remaining five escaped unhurt. Anderson sacrificed his life to save his comrades.”


Royal Botanic Gardens  Edinburgh no doubt had staff who served during the Somme Battles but they lost no staff there. Their equivalent to the Loss of Pals battalions on the Somme was the loss of several staff in the local regiment 5th Royal Scots at Gallipoli in 1915.

Gardeners and others 

Garden magazine editor, writer and Kewite Herbert Cowley was home from the trenches, invalided out and newly married by 1916.

His new  brother in law was  killed on the first day of Battle of the Somme, as his wife Elsie Mabel (nee Hurst) lost her 30 year old brother Percy, a clerk.

Rifleman 4278 Percy Haslewood (or Hazlewood) Hurst of the 1st /16th Battalion, London Regiment (Queen’s Westminster Rifles) waskilled on the 1st July 1916, during his battalion’s diversionary attack on Gommecourt. Percy left a wife Geraldine of 18 Teddington Park, Middlesex. His widowed clerk / accountant father Samuel and typist sister Elsie Mabel was left grieving for his loss.

Like Herbert’s Kewite colleagues Rifleman John Divers and Corporal Herbert Martin Woolley, Percy H. Hurst is listed on the Thiepval memorial to the Missing of The Somme (Pier / face 13C). Several other Kew Gardens staff are listed in the Kew Guild magazine ‘Roll of Honour’ section as serving in Percy Hurst’s local London Regiment but thankfully survived.

Wartime editions gardening magazines and journals listed lost gardeners such as George Harrow, son of George Harrow of Veitch’s Nursery, killed 1st July 1916. Gardener T. Percy Peed, a nurseryman, died serving with the 8th South Staffs in France on 10 July 1916.

Gardener Sergeant L.A. Iceton Seaforth Highlanders died on 26 July 1916.

RHS Wisley lost several staff during the Somme Battle period including:

Private John Fletcher Lee 31st Battalion Canadian Infantry, died 5 July 1916, buried at Lijssentheok Cemetery.

2nd Lieutenant Fritz Bowyer, 9 Squadron RFC died on 25 July 1916, Arras a Flying Services Memorial.

Natural History / British Museum staff 

Private C.R. Dunt, killed Hebuterne, on staff of British Museum



Scientists, naturalists and others

Of the eight fellows FLS of the  Linnean Society casualties lost in WW1, two were lost in the Somme period and battles of 1916.

Geoffrey Watkins Smith 10 July 1916 
A Captain in the 13th Battalion Rifle Brigade, Geoffrey Watkins Smith died on 10 July 1916 is buried in grave III J 27, Pozieres British Cemetery, Ovillers la Boisselle. CWGC lists him as the son of Horace and Susan Eleanor Penelope Smith, of Beckenham, Kent. A Fellow of New College Oxford, Watkins Smith wrote several books including Primitive Animals and A Naturalist In Tasmania.


Wilfrid Omer Cooper  26 September 1916
Born 1895, he was killed in 26 September 1916. He had been involved with the Bournemouth Natural Science Society, studying isopods. Elected to the Linnean Society only in Spring 1915, he was still a private G/40113 in the 12 Battalion Regiment, Middlesex Regiment when he died aged 21. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme battles.
Wilfrid Omer Cooper has no known grave and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial.
He is listed on the CWGC website as the son of the late John Omer Cooper (died 1912) and Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Thompson Cooper, 6 Queensland Road, Boscombe, Bournemouth. On the listing for Soldiers Died in The Great War (SDGW) he is listed as born at Boscombe, Bournemouth, Hants and resident at Bournemouth. He enlisted at High Beech, Loughton and was originally listed as formerly B/23290 Royal Fusiliers.

In 1911 census he and his brother Joseph Omer Cooper were both schoolboys living with their 89-year-old father (a retired auctioneer, surveyor and estate agent, born in Reading, Berkshire 1822-1912) and 53-year-old mother Mary (born Willenhall, Staffordshire, 1858-1944) at 50 Westley Road, Boscombe. Two other children had not survived infancy. His brother Joseph served from 1914-19 in Britain in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC).

He may be the author of several books including The Fishing Village and other writings (Literary and Scientific) posthumously published in Bournemouth by H.G.Commin 1917, the author one Wilfrid Omer-Cooper.

Remembered all as part of #Somme100

Posted on 1st July 2016 by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens Project, Newquay Zoo.


George Mottershead’s trip from “Our Zoo” at Chester Zoo to Newquay Zoo …

October 9, 2014

GM PL letters 6Series 1 of “Our Zoo” has come to a close with episode 6  leaving us all wondering whether the Mottershead family can  convince a visiting inspector to overturn the council ban on the fledgling Chester  Zoo. An inspection of the zoo is held but the final decision could take weeks – can the Mottershead family hang on and will there be life after Oakfield House?

If you miss it on BBC I player, the DVD is due soon – and leaves me hanging on for the wartime section which will surely come in future series.

OurZoo (October 2014) the latest version of June Mottershead's memoirs.

Our Zoo (October 2014) the latest version of June Mottershead’s memoirs.

I’ve written several previous blogposts about Chester Zoo’s wartime history. A story that not many know  is how an elderly George Mottershead in his last decade (he died of a stroke in 1978) helped and advised one of his ex-keeping staff, the late Peter Lowe to  design and partly stock my home zoo of Newquay Zoo in 1968/69. George’s correspondence with Peter Lowe into the early 1970s  has been kindly  scanned by Chester’s archive team to help us piece together our Zoo’s early history, ready for our 50th anniversary in 2019.

When someone asks why it’s worth the  bother  my hoarding and tracking down  old photos, record cards and the paraphernalia of our zoo history, I can mention the simple answer: prime time BBC 1.

GM PL letters 1

Letter by Newquay Zoo Curator Peter Lowe to his old boss George Mottershead at Chester Zoo, 12 June 1969

Peter Lowe and the Newquay Council  sent condolences to George on the death of his wife Lizzie Mottershead in 1969. They had been writing to each other about Newquay Zoo since early 1968. In the letters he asks after June Mottershead – the young June of “Our Zoo” – and her husband Fred Williams, both people that he would have known whilst on the Chester Zoo staff.

By 1969 the real cast of “Our Zoo” was thinning – Muriel had now emigrated to New Zealand, one of Lizzie Mottershead’s uncles (merged into one character in the TV series) Robert Atkinson had died fighting in WW2 and Grandma Lucy passed away in 1945. Mottershead’s aristocratic patrons and friends were still strongly supporting Chester, such as the ‘Duchess’ or ‘Sally’ (the Duchess of Westminster) who came down to see and keep in touch with Peter Lowe in Cornwall in August 1971.

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

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

There follows two years of regular correspondence with George Mottershead, trips by Newquay Council staff to Chester and Bristol Zoo and the successful opening of Newquay Zoo on Whit Monday  26 May 1969. There are some interesting letters arranging for  Mr Mottershead to visit Newquay  Zoo in October 1971, staying at the Kilbirnie Hotel (like Newquay Zoo, still open 40 years later).

GM PL letters 3

George Mottershead to Peter Lowe and family, 21/10/71

Miss Howard (Nancy) was George’s secretary and travelling companion on trips to Newquay and American zoos  in his later years. It is to her organisation partly that we owe the survival of this amazing cache of decades of George’s correspondence.

Sadly these all appear to be carbon copies of George’s letters to Peter, so we don’t have signed letters from George but he was obviously a very busy man into his eighties.

GM PL letters 5

The letters run from 1968 to 1971, finishing just after George Mottershead’s visit. It is interesting to read George’s comments on the fledgling Newquay Zoo and the worries of its first Curator Peter Lowe. George speaks with the reassuring wisdom of someone who has built his own zoo, often against criticism or local lack of faith in its future. In several places George with his long experience “strongly advises” against certain ideas. However George in another letter reassures Peter (and by extension the Newquay Urban District Council) that the Zoo’s first few weeks attendance of 15,322 was not too bad, considering the fine weather that saw people head to the beach, not pay the 3/6d adult and 1/6d child rate to see the zoo.A council car parking charge of 2/0d – two shillings – was causing complaint even then.

I don’t think your attendance of 15,322 is too bad for something which has just opened. Why do people want to be right in the top rank as soon as they start. Everything has to grow! When I first came to Chester we didn’t have anything like that in the first twelve months.” George Mottershead to Peter Lowe, 20/6/69

“In a month’s time we shall have been open for 12 months and have had 152,507 visitors through the gates to date”. Peter Lowe to George Mottershead, 27/4/70

This is still not too bad an annual  attendance for us today!

George’s zoo at Chester survived the recession of the 1930s and the difficult wartime years. The early days of Newquay were not without problems. Electricity blackouts, postal strikes and industrial action are mentioned, a glimpse of what was to come throughout the 1970s.

It is good to think that George got to finally walk round our zoo, taking in what Peter Lowe and his colleagues and council staff had achieved.

If you walk round Newquay today, you can still see the ‘bone structure’ of our 1969 zoo that George and Peter discussed in their letters. The  old lion and leopard houses are still standing, along with the bear enclosure,  long converted to other uses and more  suitable animals. Within a few years, these older houses will come down to make way for new enclosures;  I’m sure George would approve, his motto for Chester Zoo being “Always Building!” and that the zoo that Peter and George built is looking towards its 50th anniversary and future task of conservation and education.

Rare 'Yaki' Sulawesi Macaque monkey at Newquay Zoo enjoying fresh broad bean pods, summer 2010. (Picture: Jackie Noble, Newquay Zoo)

Critically Endangered  ‘Yaki’ Sulawesi Macaque monkey at Newquay Zoo, a group with females on breeding loan from Chester Zoo, enjoying fresh broad bean pods from our wartime allotment, summer 2010; this enclosure housed bears from 1969 to c. 1994 (Picture: Jackie Noble, Newquay Zoo)

The Chester and Newquay zoo links are still strong. An education centre and service was written about in 1970; we now teach thousands of local school children and hundreds of HE students on zoology degree programmes based next door  at Cornwall College Newquay. We have several families of endangered animals here at Newquay Zoo on breeding loan or descended from Chester Zoo animals – Humboldt penguins, critically endangered Sulawesi Macaque monkeys – as part of modern studbooks and conservation breeding programmes through BIAZA and EAZA to which Chester and Newquay both belong. George Mottershead and Chester Zoo was  part of the early Zoo Federation in the 1960s which became BIAZA in 2005.

There is more about the early years of the Zoo on our Wikipedia timeline.

The Bison enclosure on the hill outside the zoo – an advert for the Zoo’s presence in the valley –   that once  housed ex-Chester Bison Fred and Freda is now gone, probably by 1973. There are many letters discussing its construction and obtaining the Chester stock.  It is now part of the surrounding fields and crazy golf course.

I never met George Mottershead as he died whilst I was a child. I was lucky enough to meet Peter Lowe and his wife on a rare visit back to Newquay Zoo, shortly before our 35th or 40th birthday. He had with him a large battered sketch plan of the zoo that he had to rapidly sketch out when the Council appointed him to run the zoo. I had no way of copying it at the time and sadly Peter Lowe, like George Mottershead,  has now passed away.

bison record card

One of our surviving stock cards from Newquay Zoo, regarding the Bison that came from Chester Zoo. The female was supposed to be a straight swap for a llama which sadly died of ‘pulpy kidney’ before this could occur in 1971. Money changed hands for animals then in a way it doesn’t now in a modern zoo.

Chester Zoo has made much of its history, with an archive, timeline, tours, a website, and of course the TV series.This is something that we at Newquay and many zoos could learn much from. If anyone has any other archive photos, film or memories, we would love to hear from you at ‘our  zoo’ at Newquay to expand our archive. Contact us via our website.

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

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

George Mottershead, Peter Lowe and our World War Zoo Gardens wartime allotment project share a strange wartime ‘make do and mend’ spirit of improvisation that sees a thread or link from our zoo today, our 1960s zoo origins and George Mottershead who was nearly killed on the Somme and nursed his zoo through wartime and postwar challenges. Had George Mottershead been killed or paralysed, maybe Newquay Zoo might not be here today – at least in the same shape or form – if Chester Zoo had never been built. One feels the same ‘what if?’ story about Paignton Zoo, Herbert Whitley and his family experiences in WW1. We have much to be thankful for, especially to men like George Mottershead.

As we work towards our 50th anniversary in 2019, I will scan onto and blog post about some of the early Newquay guidebooks and record cards that have survived or been acquired for our archive, one not as well filed as Miss Howard’s neat Chester Zoo correspondence files.

There are many more interesting snippets to type up and explore of what might have been at Newquay – second thoughts considering housing a baby elephant, strongly advising against whether wolves would be suitable alongside leopards or the noise affect neighbouring houses, whether staying open till 10 pm was sustainable in the summer months. A Zoological Society of Cornwall to run the zoo was hinted at, to relieve the financial pressure on the Council funds and taxpayers; this never happened but many years later, Newquay is now run as part of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust charity.

Newquay 70s guidebook cover

The cover of the first Newquay Zoo Guidebook from the early 1970s – c. 1974

I’m not sure the early days of Newquay Zoo are quite dramatic enough for a screenplay, although we were established in the Apollo Moon Landing Year of 1969, built as the swinging 60s became riotous, when Newquay had Magical Mystery Tours from The Beatles, early surfers on real waves not in cyberspace, all Pure Heartbeat / The Royal  1960s nostalgia period stuff. The few photographs we have of the staff, visitors and builders’  haircuts and clothes alone are worth a series in themselves …

newquay penguins

Great hair and Humboldt penguins, where our meerkats now roam. Newquay Zoo postcard and photograph in our guide book c. 1974

So Newquay Zoo staff and visitors, past and present, owe a small debt to George Mottershead and his “Our Zoo” family. Thanks, George!

I hope you enjoyed  the “Our Zoo” series, the website coverage on the BBC and Chester Zoo website (including a Chester Zoo YouTube website) and June’s books Our Zoo or its predecessor Reared in Chester Zoo, if you can track a copy down. Happy reading, happy viewing and of course, happy gardening!

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

Reared in Chester Zoo: Reading more about the Chester “Our Zoo” story

October 2, 2014

For the many zoo visitors I’ve spoken to in the last few weeks whilst doing our daily animal talks at Newquay Zoo, quite often the BBC’s series of “Our Zoo” about the early days of Chester Zoo is mentioned.

Those that know of my wartime garden project or interest in wartime zoos and botanic gardens often ask what I think of it and how accurate it is. Until the new book “Our Zoo” by June Mottershead comes out in October 2014, alongside the BBC Series 1 DVD, I direct people to track down a copy of “Reared in Chester Zoo, the Story of June Mottershead” written by June with Janice Batten (published by Ark Books, 2008).

OurZoo (October 2014) the latest version of June Mottershead's memoirs.

OurZoo (October 2014) the latest version of June Mottershead’s memoirs.

Within the 2008 book are many of the wonderful photographs glimpsed in the “Our Zoo” title sequences. You should be able to find copies easily enough online.  June’s earlier book about Chester Zoo, “Zoo Without Bars” (by June Williams, her married name) is now out of print and only available from  secondhand bookshops.

Tucked inside my well read copy, I keep the CD-Rom of scans of the surviving Chester Zoo Newsletters, written by the Mottershead family, dating back to the earliest days of “Our Zoo” in the 1930s (available from Chester Zoo’s library /archive) , which have given such incredible detail to the book. For me this is superb  month by month detail to help understand how the zoo struggled and survived the 1930s and the wartime 1940s. With the speed that the first series of “Our Zoo” is going through the early 1930s section, no doubt this wartime  section will be in “Our Zoo” Series 2, which I hope is in the BBC pipeline …

(BBC staff please note:  I have my own tin hat, spade, stirrup pump and ARP uniform from our wartime zoo schools workshops if the BBC want any 1940s  extras  🙂

I’ve written previous blogposts about Chester Zoo’s wartime history. A story that not many know (and so a  blog post to save  for another day) is how an elderly George Mottershead in his last decade (he died in 1978) helped and advised one of his ex-keeping staff, the late Peter Lowe to  design and partly stock my home zoo of Newquay Zoo in 1968/69. George’s correspondence with Peter Lowe into the early 1970s  has been kindly  scanned by  Chester’s archive team to help us piece together our Zoo’s early history, ready for our 50th anniversary in 2019.

So the next time someone asks why it’s worth the  bother  my hoarding and tracking down  old photos, record cards and the paraphernalia of our zoo history, I can mention the simple answer: prime time BBC 1.

I hope you enjoy the rest of the “Our Zoo” series, the website coverage on the BBC and Chester Zoo website  and the book Reared in Chester Zoo, if you can track a copy down. Happy reading, happy viewing and of course, happy gardening!

I’m off soon to Kew Gardens on 20th October 2014  to deliver an evening talk at 6pm (open to the public) as part of the annual Kew Mutual Improvement Society KMIS session talks, all  about how  zoos and botanic gardens survived wartime,  where no doubt Chester’s canny George Mottershead and wartime surplus concrete will be mentioned. See Kew’s website  for details.

Reared in Chester Zoorearedinchesterzooback

Our Zoo: Chester Zoo and the drama of zoo history

September 5, 2014

I have been looking forward to watching this autumn BBC’s “Our Zoo” about the  early days of Chester Zoo, with some excellent links to past and future on the Chester Zoo website –

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

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

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

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

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

Chester Zoo history symposium 20 May 2011 from the SHNH website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chester Zoo history timeline banners, Chester Zoo, 2011

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

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

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

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

Inside June’s Pavilion, Chester Zoo May 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC clip about June at wartime Chester Zoo:

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

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

Last wartime letters of Peter Falwasser, Chester Zoo aquarist 1916 -1942

February 7, 2013

Arriving at the office in Oakfield House in Chester Zoo  70 years ago this week, the first week of February 1943, the wartime postman (or more likely postwoman) carried  some sad news.  One letter was  postmarked Manchester 31 Jan 1943 (about the time and date that I draft this blog 70 years on) and stamped with an attractive orange  2d and green 1/2d stamp bearing the portrait of the Queen’s father George VIth. Within was a short handwritten letter on one piece of paper:

“I feel sure that you will be sorry to hear of the death of my brother, Peter Felix Falwasser, whilst on active service in the Middle East. He died in hospital on December 23rd as the result, no  doubt of  the serious injuries he had received at Tobruk a long time ago. Subsequently he had operation but he seemed to have made a good recovery. He had for some time been on base duties at GHQ, so that his death, when seeming to be comparatively safe, comes as a severe blow…” (letter by John F Falwasser to the Mottershead, 30/1/43, Chester Zoo Archive).

Selection from letter 27 March 1941 reprinted in Chester Zoo Archive Zoo News, 1942/3

Selection from letter 27 March 1941 reprinted in Chester Zoo Archive Zoo News, 1942/3

This letter is filed away in  the archive of Chester Zoo  amongst hundreds  of letters to and from its enterprising founder George  Mottershead, saved  by the zoo and his daughter June over many decades.

Among this archive has recently come to light a small batch of four poignant letters written by or about  the zoo’s early aquarist in the 1940s, Peter Falwasser.

 “Possibly you had heard from him””, John Falwasser’s letter continues, “but in any event you will like to know that his interests in wildlife and nature were most helpful to him while on Active Service & during a recent leave to Palestine.”

Peter was a 26 year old ‘bomb casualty’ of the desert war, buried in a trench during an attack by a German dive bomberat Tobruk. He lost two of his mates who died from their injuries, lost the hearing in his right ear and received back and chest injuries which put him in the 63rd General Hospital hospital in Egypt for four months. In the same letter (opposite), he describes the wildlife he’d seen. He went back on active service to his regiment in 1942. Gunner P.F. Falwasser, 952126, (Rocket Troop, B/O Battery) 1st Regiment Royal Artillery, Middle East Forces  is buried in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission hospital-linked cemetery at Heliopolis, near Cairo in Egypt.  A photograph taken by the Rogers family of Peter’s grave in Egypt can be seen online at the excellent website of the  The War Graves Photographic Project.  

Peter had written three other surviving letters, one of which was already part published in the Chester Zoo News, all about the wonderful range of fish, birds and other wildlife he hoped to bring back to Chester Zoo after the war. Peter’s last letter to the zoo arrived in the same post as the one from his brother, announcing his death. These letters are a gift to a zoo historian studying wartime conditions in zoos, full of his questions home which prompt other questions 70 years later:

“I often wonder how the zoo is jogging along and whether attendances are keeping up. Rationing of foods must be making things very difficult for you. Since I have been abroad I have twice visited the Cairo Zoo …” (Undated letter to George Mottershead by Peter Falwasser, 1941? 1942? Chester Zoo Archive)

” I often wonder how things have been going on at the Zoo especially through a wartime winter? The only news I have of your activities was a small newspaper cutting sent by my sister concerning the removal of certain animals from Bristol Zoo to Chester Zoo for the war’s duration. This I took as a good sign that the Zoo was still flourishing & I hope it continues to do so … Raids on Liverpool have given me some qualms as to the safety of the zoo  … .” (Letter to George Mottershead by Peter Falwasser, 27 May 1941 falwasser 2, Chester Zoo Archive)

Chester Zoo and its ‘new’ aquarium continues to flourish, 70 years on, in its own way a fitting testament and memorial to the memory and hard work of ‘Mr Mott’, his daughter June and keepers like ‘gentle Peter’ Falwasser (as June describes him in her memoir Reared in Chester Zoo)

“I was very pleased indeed to hear that you have had a record season and really wonder how you have managed it. I’m afraid that any other man would have given in long ago … I should be interested to know what staff you have now and what you have lost in the way of the parrots … as seed became scarcer and more expensive …  I am sorry that Chester Zoo’s aquarium had had to be neglected owing to lack of interest  on the part of the staff. What have you got left and are you still using all the tanks?” (Letter to George Mottershead by Peter Falwasser, 10/11/42, Chester Zoo Archive).

This letter is likely to be his last letter, the one mentioned in Chester Zoo News (all of which newsletters are scanned an available on Cd disk from Chester Zoo’s library). With this last letter is Peter’s photograph of a lion from Tel Aviv Zoo, Palestine, dated 19th Oct 1942.

Peter knew the  Chester Zoo aquarium that he and the young schoolgirl June Mottershead created in the basement of Oakfield House was not faring well. This happened to many wartime aquariums, big and small. Oakfield House is still open for dining and conferences,  part of the attractive gardens of Chester Zoo. As a result  I have spent  several convivial meals and evenings during zoo conferences  below the ground floor there, little knowing what hopes of a fine wartime fish collection and of a zoo career after the war were frustrated by Peter’s  death. His letters were full of plans for the new aquarium after the war, and notes on species to stock:

“If things come out OK after the War, you must build a good reptile house in place of the old greenhouse and as time goes on a Sea Lion Pool as I feel that both would be good attractions; they only have a couple of Sea Lions at Cairo but there is usually as big a crowd there as anywhere. They charge each person 1 pt (two and a half old pence) to throw one fish into the pool, quite a good money maker.”  (Letter to George Mottershead by Peter Falwasser, 10/11/42, Chester Zoo Archive).

At my home zoo at Newquay, where the World  War Zoo Gardens project is run from, we fundraise in the main season in much the same way by selling sprat fish to visitors to feed our Humboldt’s Penguins during keeper talks.  Newquay Zoo Has Chester Zoo links in that Peter Lowe an ex- Chester keeper designed and ran the zoo  including its penguin pool in 1969 with advice from George Mottershead. Many years later Chester-born penguin chicks came to reinforce our breeding programme.

The  two and a half pence a fish  in 1942 has now gone up to 50p a fish today! Peter Falwasser would be pleased to see how Chester Zoo has grown to become an active breeding centre of endangered species, including fish. A Sea Lion pool was built after the war and there are several impressive reptile areas, including Komodo dragon lizards. “Lizards abound everywhere in the desert …” , he wrote in his May 1941 letter. Few could have foreseen in 1942 the need for  Chester Zoo’s new Act Now! conservation projects for endangered wildlife.

Is there a photograph of Peter Falwasser anywhere in a family album? I am currently researching a little more about Barnsley born Peter Falwasser’s family history.You can see my growing Falwasser family tree based  on research in several other family trees on His solicitor father John Felix Falwasser of Cawthorne Lane, Kexborough nr. Barnsley in Yorkshire (1870-1940) and mother Mary Annie (nee Cousins, 1870-1932) appear to be dead by the time Peter joined the Army.

Peter was the youngest of eight children, two of whom died very young (Ione, 1900-1915 and daphne 1909-1912). John Frederick Falwasser, his older brother (b. 1902) had the sad task of dealing with Probate and Peter’s Will, along with help from his unmarried older sister Christine (b.1905). Peter  mentions wartime letters from his sister(s) as he had several other siblings Theodore (1903-1979), Angela (1907-1999) and Katherine (b. 1912) who would long outlive him.

In a recent Chester Zoo blog post  update in September 2014 to link with the BBC series Our Zoo, there is more information about Peter’s older sister Christine Rossetta Falwasser who was a gardener and writer.

I will update the blog as I find out more about Peter and other zoo keepers and botanic garden staff  who served in wartime.

All the Falwasser letters are quoted from with the permission / copyright of the Chester Zoo Archive.

2012 – a whole growing season missed in the World War Zoo wartime garden …

November 8, 2012

Hello again – at long last! It’s been over 6 months since my last blog post and a whole growing season in 2012 has come and gone in the wartime garden at Newquay Zoo. And I missed it all …

Mr Bloom visits the World War Zoo Dig For Victory wartime garden at Newquay Zoo, 2 April 2012 with project manager Mark Norris.

April 2012 started really well with a visit to Newquay Zoo from popular Children’s TV gardener Mr. Bloom. After an exhausting day signing autographs and singing songs from his show, he popped over to see our award-winning World War Zoo wartime garden plot.

Somewhere in the midst of the RHS National Gardening week in April I downed tools mid planting and didn’t come back.  I have a good excuse (and an impressive scar to prove it) as I have been offline and away from my daily work and wartime garden at Newquay Zoo since mid April with ill-health requiring an operation.

So whilst I recovered offline and at home, my zoo colleagues got the 2012 harvest in for the zoo animals  – a small harvest, for the weather this growing season was generally poor.

Convalescence and nursing a still aching wound or operation scar have taught me a few things. Patience, for one. I also realise how physically difficult and slow their recovery and return to work would be for zoo keepers  injured during the war.

It’s poppy time again and time to spare a thought for keepers and animals affected by war over the last century. Below the list of keepers killed in action on the Belle Vue Zoo gardens staff memorial in Gorton Cemetery Manchester  is a postscript,  keepers who died after 1918 from the effects of war service.  My lungs are now healthy again but keepers and zoo staff at Belle Vue Zoo such as Bernard Hastain were passing away years later from the after-effects of being gassed in the First World War. You can read more about these men in last November’s blog posts, 2011.

I had hoped whilst convalescing off work to catch up on researching wartime zoos and botanic gardens  for our forthcoming book but morphine (an age-old pain-killer familiar to injured troops) doesn’t do much to help you concentrate on reading.  I did come across some interesting sections in books I was lent by kind friends on country houses in wartime. Some of those estates with animal collections had an important wartime role, as did those  later to be opened postwar as stately homes  and safari parks. Some such as Harewood House (still with a popular bird collection) were convalescent homes like the one you might have seen in Downton Abbey series 2.

Others such as Woburn housed London Zoo’s priceless library collection safe from the London Blitz and later housed a secret Wrennery of WRNS (navy women) working as part of the Bletchley Park codebreaking network.  Knowsley Safari Park at Prescot in Merseyside still bears the scars on its rough ground of tank and artillery training.

It was the loss of wartime heirs, shortage of staff, crippling death duties, lack of wartime maintenance and the destructive effects   of troops stationed in these houses that saw many estates broken up and sold off, houses demolished. Others opened to the public and developed leisure attractions to pay their way, such as Longleat  and its famous safari park. Maybe Downton Abbey series 47 or some such will see the grounds full of roaming lions or elephants …

So whilst wartime was a difficult time for zoos, and often fatal for their staff and animals, it had the surprising effect in postwar Britain of creating more zoos and wildlife parks when old estates were sold or opened to the public with animals as part of the attraction, alongside the house. Marwell Zoo is one such surviving example, created in the 1960s by John Knowles and once home to a secret wartime airfield. 

It’s Poppy month and also the 7oth anniversary of El Alamein in 1942.  Church bells silent since 1939 were rung in Britain to celebrate El Alamein,  featured in the wartime film Desert Victory.  Fighting between the Desert Rats and the Afrika Korps in the Western desert of North Africa claimed the life of one zoo keeper or aquarist, Peter Felix Falwasser of Chester Zoo, Yorkshire born despite his foreign-sounding name. A Gunner in the 1st Royal Horse Artillery, he died of wounds from the  Tobruk battles aged 26 on 22 December 1942. He’s buried in Heliopolis War cemetery, Cairo in Egypt, a wartime hospital cemetery beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  

Chester Zoo Archive Zoo News, 1942/3

We hope to gain more such glimpses of wartime life from his letters home to his zoo colleagues from recent donations to the Chester Zoo archive by founder’s daughter June Mottershead, herself a wartime zoo keeper as set out in her story, Reared in Chester Zoo.

Whilst I was convalescing, I saw the Wartime Farm series on BBC TV and spotted on a leaflet for  improvised toys for Christmas a handmade wooden toy engine just like one in our World War Zoo Gardens  wartime collection.

So whilst zoo gift shops are full of lovely present ideas and expereinces,  this Christmas we hope to informally twin our wartime allotment   with a sustainable modern one through the gift of an allotment somewhere in the developing world through the Oxfam Unwrapped gifts scheme. There’s some great ideas for gifts and well worth a look at

Signing off until the next post , hopefully only for a few weeks this time … Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo.

Remembering zoo staff killed on active service: Poppy days are here again in the World War Zoo gardens at Newquay Zoo

November 8, 2011

Updating our post “LOST IN THE GARDEN OF THE SONS OF TIME” originally posted November 2010

Two poppy crosses again planted in memory of zoo staff of all nations lost or injured worldwide in 1914-18 and 1939-45 amongst the growing food plants of the World War Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo

NOVEMBER  is always a bit of a solemn month for me in the garden with the darker days earlier, the lost hour of summer time, leaves fallen; it is also Remembrance Sunday, poppies and Armistice Day.

One of many overwhelming lists of names in stone. Arras Memorial to the missing with no known graves from the Arras offensive of 1917 and (foreground) CWGC individual graves Image:

Update note: an updated blog post on ZSL London Zoo’s WW1 casualties was posted in November 2013 and updated with further research in March 2014

At Newquay Zoo, there is one of the noisier two minutes silence in the nation if the maroon bangs go off at 11 o’clock in Newquay, as this sets off all the zoo animals calling out.

At London Zoo, at memorials and churches all over Britain and Europe, people will stop and gather, think and reflect on the extraordinary, almost incomprehensible loss of life in wartime which affected so many walks of life including zoos and botanic gardens.


Belle Vue zoo’s sadly vandalised war memorial, Gorton Cemetery. Manchester lists their First World War dead – a tiny glimpse of the losses of men from zoos on active service in both world wars. Image:

Heligan Gardens  Mevagissey in Cornwall, only about twenty miles from Newquay Zoo, is a garden restoration unlike many others I have visited, as it is haunted by the loss of the generation of garden and estate staff. They left their names under the penciled graffiti “Come not here to sleep nor slumber” in the “Thunderbox”, the primitive bothy toilet for estate staff. Many of these staff did not survive their service in the First World War in mind or body. The estate and garden without its usual labour force, as the Heligan staff today simply describe it, “quietly went to sleep” until the story was uncovered along with the overgrown gardens in the early 1990s. A beautiful little book tracing the staff named and signed in pencil on that wall and on the estate books has recently been published The Lost Gardens of Heligan – Heligan History: Lost Gardens, Lost Gardeners, being a Commemorative Album of Heligan through the Twentieth Century, featuring the Tremayne archive and the stories of staff who were lost in the Great War (published by Heligan Gardens Ltd and available on their online shop for about £3.95) 


A small memorial at Newquay Zoo to the many zoo keepers, families and visitors worldwide who have been affected by wartime since 1914 (Image: World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo)

Zoos, aquariums and botanic gardens suffered similar losses of staff, as poignant as the effect on estates like Heligan or large organisations like the Great Western Railway (West country stations like Exeter still have the long list of the dead on their platform walls).  

Few records survive for zoos, I have so far frustratingly found.  I have been researching the wartime effects on a few typical British zoos operational in the First world war and what that generation learnt in preparation for surviving the Second world war (when our wartime dig for victory garden project at Newquay Zoo is set) for a forthcoming article in The Bartlett Society Journal  The few records so far can stand in for a whole generation and zoos across the world.

On Armistice Day Friday 11th and on Remembrance Sunday 13th, spare a thought for the fallen staff of the Natural History Museum London. Every year staff gather at the war memorial plaque there to remember the fallen zoologists, scientists and musuem staff lost in both world wars. I met some of their current and retired staff at the WAZA / SHNH / Bartlett Society Zoo history conference in May this year. They had many tales of bravery including fire watching for and disposing of incendiaries on the museum roof.  Without whom …

Spare a thought for ‘gentle’ Peter Falwasser,  26 year old aquarist at Chester Zoo, buried at Helipolis in Egypt, died 22 December 1942 of wounds received in Middle East desert fighting, Gunner 952126, 1st Regt, Royal Horse Artillery.

 Spare a thought for the fallen staff of Belle Vue Zoo Gardens in Manchester (now closed), their names listed on a vandalised war memorial in Gorton Cemetery.  

Spare a thought for the keepers and zoo staff remembered on the ZSL war memorial at London Zoo. 12 names are listed from the staff  out of 54 who served in the forces or munitions work in the First World War out of a staff of 150.

Poppies will be laid at the ZSL War Memorial, a Portland Stone memorial designed  by architect John James Joass in 1919, based on a medieval Lanterne des Morts memorial  to the dead at La Souterraine,  Creuse Valley, France. The memorial was moved from the main gate area in 1952 after the 1939-45 names were added and is now near to the Three Island Pond area.  

Reading the names means these men are not forgotten.

Read the names and spare a thought for these lost zoo staff from both wars.

Researching and reading a few of these background stories puts a more personal face on the scale of the losses, especially in the First World War. I shall feature a few more of these stories over the next year as information is discovered. The impatient reader can check the site.  Many thanks to Kate Oliver at ZSL who transcribed or guessed the names on the very well polished brass name plates.

ZSL London Zoo war memorial

 The Zoological Society of London

In memory of employees who were killed on active service in the Great War 1914-1919

29.9.1915        Henry D Munro            4 Middlesex Regt                ZSL Keeper (Transcribed details on this need to be checked)

18.03.1916      William Bodman           (Buffs) 6th Btn, East Kent Regt, Private            ZSL Helper. Age unknown. Commemorated on the Loos Memorial, no known grave.

10.07.1916      Albert A Dermott         13th Btn. Rifle Brigade, Rifleman   ZSL Messenger, aged 22, killed on Somme, no known grave, listed on Thiepval Memorial 

15.9.1916        Arthur G Whybrow      2547, 19 Bn. County of London Regt , ZSL Helper. Killed aged 23 during Somme battles, probably in the clearance of High Wood by 47 (London) Division, 15 September 1916. Individual grave at London cemetery, Longueval. Married.

05.10.1916      Gerald P Patterson       19 County of London Regt                   ZSL Helper (Transcribed Regiment details on this need to be checked)Probably Private G P Patterson of the 8th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment was killed on 5th October 1916, no age given, during the Somme fighting. Individual grave. Buried in Connaught Cemetery, Thiepval, Somme, France.  

23.10.1916      William Dexter  Kings Royal Rifles, Riflemen       ZSL Keeper2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own). Aged 31.  Individual grave at Bienvillers Cemetery. Married.

09.04.1917      Robert Jones            9 Royal Fusiliers       ZSL Gardener
Two possibilities for this casualty, firstly Private GS/60595 Robert Jones, 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers was born in Islington or Highgate, Middlesex around 1881 and was married to Bertha Lewin of Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon around 1905 / 1906 in Camden / Highgate. He was formerly listed as 23358 6 Middlesex Regiment, having enlisted in Harringay and been resident in Highgate. On the 1901 census he is listed as a Gardener (not domestic) and in 1911 as a Nursery Gardener. On the CWGC website he is listed as the husband of Bertha Jones of 22 Caxton Street, Little Bowden, Market Harborough. This Robert Jones died of wounds on 7 April 1917 (two days different from the ZSL dates on the war memorial plaque) and is buried in Faubourg D’Amiens cemetery in Arras.

The second possibility is
472712, 1st / 12th Btn. London Regiment (The Rangers), aged 31. Individual grave,  Gouy-en Artois Cemetery, killed first day of the Battle of Arras 1917. Listed on the 1911 census as a coal porter gas works, rather than a gardener. Hopefully the ZSL staff records will help to determine the correct Robert Jones. Both casualties deserve to be remembered.

21.4.1917        Henry George Jesse Peavot      Honourable Artillery     Co       ZSL Librarian    B Co. 1st Btn, aged 35.  Killed during Battle of Arras period, No known grave, listed on Arras Memorial. Married.

23.9.1917        Albert Staniford            Royal Field / Garrison Artillery  ZSL Gardener  174234 216 Siege Battery. RGA   Individual grave, Maroc British cemetery, Greany, France.  Period of Third Battle of Ypres / Passchendaele, July to November 1917

03.10.1917      William Perkins      Royal Garrison Artillery     ZSL Keeper 115806, Bombardier, 233rd Siege Battery.  Buried in individual plot, Belagin Battery Corner Cemetery, Belgium. Aged 39. Married. 

29.11.1917      Alfred? L? Day     2 Rifle Brigade                       ZSL Helper
19.1.1918 appears at first a wrong date transcribed on a well polished brass plate; the most likely casualty of this name appears to be Alfred Lomas Day, S/20305 2nd Bn, Rifle Brigade, killed 29 November 1917 and buried individual grave (1841) Rethel French National Cemetery, Ardennes, France. However my research in March 2014 on ZSL staff records found an R. Day or Richard Day as having died as a German POW on 19 January 1918. These might be two confused records for two men or they may be one and the same man. further research required!

10.9.1918        Charles William Dare    County of London Regt                        Helper, 245116, London Regt (Royal Fusiliers),  Vis-en-Artois memorial, no known grave. Killed during period of the “Adavnce to Victory” (August to November Armistice  1918)


Zoological Society of London

In memory of employees killed by enemy action during the war 1939-45

Regent’s Park

Davies. Henry Peris (Lieutenant RA)    ZSL Clerk: Killed in action Far East 21.12.1941   164971, Royal Artillery, 5th Field Regt, died aged 27. Listed on the Singapore memorial.

Leney. William Walter Thomas      ZSL  Overseer: Killed by flying bomb 25.11.1944

Peachey. Leonard James (Sergeant RAF)    ZSL Clerk: Killed in air crash Lincs 18.12.1940

Wells.  Albert Henry (Gunner RA)         ZSL Keeper: Killed in action, Burma 25.01.1945 Gunner 1755068, Royal Artillery, 70 H.A.A Regiment

Whipsnade Park 

Adams. Percy Murray (Gunner RA)              ZSL Keeper: Died in Japan POW         28.07.1943  Gunner 922398, Royal Artillery, 148 (Bedfordhsire Yeomanry) Field Regt, died aged 26.

Percy Adams, ZSL Whipsnade keeper who died as a Japanese POW is buried here at THANBYUZAYAT WAR CEMETERY, Image:

Checking with the excellent Commonwealth War Graves Commission records site under ‘search for a casualty’ shows that Albert Henry Wells is buried in the Taukkyan War Cemetery in Myanmar (Burma). Percy Adams in Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery, Myanmar / Thai border. The CWGC website notes of this cemetery: “The notorious Burma-Siam railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war, was a Japanese project driven by the need for improved communications to support the large Japanese army in Burma. During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery was created [postwar] by the Army Graves Service who transferred to it all graves along the northern section of the railway, between Moulmein and Nieke.”

ZSL Clerk Leonard Peachey,  RAF Volunteer Reserve,  died aged 32 as Sergeant Wireless Operator / Air Gunner in an air training crash serving with 22 Squadron in Lincolnshire at RAF North Coates / Cotes. He is buried in North Cotes (St. Nicholas) Churchyard, Lincs alongside what are presumably his crew from 22 Squadron, killed on the same day:  Sergeant Pilot Dennis George How RAFVR (aged 23) and Sergeant Observer Paul Victor Renai (aged 22, from Wellington, New Zealand) and Sergeant Wireless Operator / W.E. Mechanic Ralph  Gerald Hart (22). 22 Squadron brought the Bristol Beaufort into operational service; receiving the first aircraft in November 1939 and, after an intense work up at North Coates in Lincolnshire, the Squadron resumed operations in April 1940, beginning with mine-laying sorties. It moved to RAF Thorney Island where torpedo operations were resumed in August. In order to cover a wider area of sea the Squadron sent out detachments, to RAF Abbotsinch  then to St Eval, Newquay in Cornwall  being the most regular posting. 22 Squadron was re-formed at Thorney Island in 1955 as a Search and Rescue Helicopter Squadron. Information from

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

William Leney at 65,  old enough to have served in the First World war, was killed alongside his wife Kate Jane Leney (also 65) at 59 King Henry’s Road (Hampstead, Metropolitan Borough) by flying bomb. Several flying bombs are recorded as having fallen around the London Zoo area, close neighbour of RAF Regent’s Park. 

Kate Oliver of   ZSL London Zoo’s current education team kindly transcribed the well polished names. She thinks that Helpers were young staff who had not attained keeper rank, something I will be following up in researching their backgrounds through the census, National Archives, London Zoo archive and National Archives. .

March 2014 update: Since 2009 I have spoken to relatives of some of these men and ex London Zoo keepers like Les Bird, who has visited many of the ZSL graves. ZSL is preparing an exhibition to link with the centenary.

I am still very interested in hearing from anyone who has further information about these men or of other wartime zoo, aquarium or botanic garden related gravestones or rolls of honour. I can be contacted at mark (dot) norris via my email


Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, Manchester, war memorial stories

Belle Vue’s war memorial, Gorton Cemetery, Manchester on its unveiling 1926. Image:

The only other well documented zoo one is for Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, Manchester at Gorton cemetery in Manchester, now sadly much vandalized.  Much has been written about this early zoo and leisure gardens collection, which survived from the 1830s to 1977/8. 

Spare a thought for the men listed on the monument, and their families. To read more of their stories, Stephen and Susan Cocks have follwed up information in the book The Belle Vue Monument (or Memorial)- with information on the website and others for  the blog entry at

More about the memorial, press articles from its dedication in 1926 and its current vandalized state can be found at and more from Stephen Cocks at

Belle Vue Zoological Gardens  staff killed on active service 1915-1918

1915 deaths

Private Henry Mulroy, 12th Battalion. Manchester Regiment, killed Ypres, 16 August 1915. Buried Ridge Wood Military cemetery.  

Private Frederick Lester  Reid, 1st Battalion, Loyal North Lancs Regt, died aged 31, 25 September 1915, battle of Loos, no known grave, listed Loos Memorial. Married.

1916 deaths

Private William Morrey, died 27 June, 1916, Manchester Regiment / 1st Battalion, Special Brigade, Royal Engineers (probably a gas unit), buried Beauval cemetery, France. (Several William Morreys from the Cheshire, Lancashire and Manchester area are listed on the site, obviously a local name).

Private Alfred Routledge, 11th Battalion, Manchester Regiment, killed on The Somme, aged 23, 26 September 1916. Married. Listed on the Thiepval memorial, no known grave.

Routledge is one of the many “Missing of the Somme” (in Geoff Dyer’s words),  killed in the  final days of taking Thiepval village, one of the original objectives of the 1st July 1916, the first disastreous day of the Battle of The Somme two months earlier.

1917 deaths

Second Lieutenant James Leonard Jennison, 15th, Battalion West Yorks Regt (Leeds Pals) killed Arras, 3 May 1917 – no known grave, listed Arras Memorial. Son of James, one of the two Jennison brothers who owned Belle Vue zoo. His father James died later that year, possibly as a result of this loss. His cousin Norman, son of Angelo Jennison, also died on active service. 

Private Ralph William Stamp, 18th battalion, Manchester Regiment, died aged 23, 23 April 1917, no known grave, listed on the Arras memorial, the same as J L Jennison. 

Sergeant John E Oliver, 21st Battalion, Manchester Regiment, killed 24 October 1917, Passchendaele battles, no known grave, listed Tyne Cot memorial. Married.   

Stoker First Class T J Tumbs, aged 40, killed HMS Drake, 2 October, 1917, convoy duty off coast of Ireland in U79 U-boat torpedo attack.

Private Harold?  Heathcote, 5th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment died in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), 19 October 1917, buried Baghdad war cemetery.

1918 deaths

Sergeant J Fuller, Devonshire Regiment / Pioneer Corps, died 14 April 1918. Buried Amiens, France. Married

 Private James G Craythorne, 1/6 Manchester Regiment, killed 20 October 1918 ironically in the fighting for Belle Vue Farm, buried at Belle Vue (Farm) Cemetery, France.  (Three or four generations of the Craythorne family worked as small mammal and reptile keepers at Belle Vue, including James Craythorne who follwed his own father into zoo work, was employed aged 12 from the 1880s  to retirement in 1944, replaced then by his son Albert!

Private Sidney Turner, Welsh Regiment, died aged 18, Welsh Regiment, buried in Gorton Cemetery (site of the Belle Vue Zoo war memorial). Several others who died after the war are also individually buried here.  

Captain Norman L Jennison, MC (Military Cross) , 6th Manchester Regt (territorials), died of flu, Genoa, Italy 30 October 1918 serving with a trench mortar battery. Son of Angelo, one of the two Jennison brothers who owned Belle Vue zoo. His cousin James Leonard also died on active service.  

Belle Vue Zoological Gardens staff died from the effect of war after 1918.

Zoo owner Angelo Jennison unveiling in 1926 the Belle Vue memorial in Gorton Cemetery to his son, nephew and zoo staff lost in the First World War. Image:

This unusual addition gives a little glimpse of what must have happened to many zoo, aquarium and botanic garden staff who never recovered from the effects of active service in wartime. 

Private WM Wheatcroft, 3rd Battalion, Kings Liverpool Regiment, died aged 28, 10 July 1919, buried in Gorton cemetery.   

Sergeant Robert Hawthorne, died 24 June 1922, buried in Gorton cemetery.

Rifleman / Lance Corporal William Croasdale, Belle Vue’s baker, served Army Service Corps (bakery) and Kings Royal Rifle Corps, served overseas 1915 to 1919, aged 32, died 1922, (possibly Stephen Cocks suggests in a mental hospital, Prestwich).

Private Joseph Cummings, died 9 May 1926.

First Class PO Matthew James Walton DSM, fought Battle of the Falklands naval action, 1914, died 1926.

Update: Since 2010 we have found the details of the last ‘unreadable’ name on the memorial, Private Bernard A Hastain  of the Rifle Brigade, scene painter of patriotic firework specactles  at Belle Vue Zoo who died in the 1930s from the effects of wounds.

Belle Vue Zoo’s now vandalised war memorial – luckily the names, although hard to read, are inscribed in stone as the brass statue has been stolen. Image:

Tracing service men who died after service is more difficult, not registered on the CWGC site and one for future research in the National Archives medal and pensions records (the ‘burnt documents’) if they have survived.

There are probably many more names to uncover, to add to these known wartime casualty lists from zoos, botanic gardens and aquariums as our World War Zoo gardens research project continues. We would be interested to hear of any more names or memorials you know of.

So buy a poppy (there’s a box in the Newquay Zoo office if you’re visiting) and spare a thought for these men and their families on Remembrance Sunday, and also for the many people not listed who were affected by their war service, men and women not just from  Britain but all over the world.

Afternoon autumn light on the poppies, plants and sandbags of the wartime zoo keeper’s garden at Newquay Zoo

And then enjoy the noisy peace of the zoo gardens or wherever you find yourself …

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

March 3, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

More about the World War Zoo project on news sections.

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

December 12, 2010

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

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

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

 The gardener always has a long list of desirable Christmas presents in this quiet time of the garden year, poring over seed catalogues, tool and equipment lists for desirable things. I’ve been looking dreamily at tough old fashioned tools  such as the FSC oak planter tools set from Mit Hus . (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!

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