Posts Tagged ‘evacuees’

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

June 19, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Gardening and garden centres for growing wartime boys, tomboys and garden gnomes. “Go to it, lads!” (The Boy’s Own Paper, August 1940)

August 4, 2010

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

 Happy National Allotments Week 9th – 15th August 2010

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

August, our first garden anniversary amid school holidays with Newquay Zoo and busy local Cornish beaches, full of children and their families enjoying sunshine, picnics, animal feeding talks and each other’s company (along with the odd temper tantrum and family row). Many stop to look at the fresh veg, flowers and busy bees of the World War Zoo garden, soon to be celebrating its first anniversary at the end of August 2010. Sadly the cares of the office and family back home are never far away, judged by awkward mobile phone conversations. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My friend Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, Detoxing Childhood, and 21st Century Boys (all by Orion, see ) would no doubt approve of the vigorous and earnest pursuits suggested or sold to Boy’s Own Paper readers in the August 1940 edition.

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

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

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

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

Battle of Britain in your hands for the growing wartime boy! Frog kits were the forerunner of postwar Airfix kits, and taught valuable craft skills and aircraft recognition - friend or foe - for young and old alike! (Image: World War Zoo collection, Newquay Zoo.)

Cold Ovaltine! The ultimate summer drink, showing lots of busy boy and tomboy sporting activities to fill the holidays, as advertised in August 1940, Boy's Own Paper (Image: World War Zoo collection, Newquay Zoo)

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

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

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

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

So “get to it, lads” (and lasses) at your local garden centre!  Newquay Zoo and its World War Zoo wartime gardens display were ‘on tour’ at the weekend of July 31st and August 1st, as guests of  Trelawney Garden Centre at Sladesbridge near Wadebridge. We were very busy for two days showcasing wildlife friendly gardening, helped out by giant minibeasts from the Newquay Zoo collection, along with amazing phasmid leaf and stick insects from Kevin Roberts, Trelawney’s events manager, as an active member of the PSG Phasmid Study Group.

Hopefully some of these children might go on to join  the AES Bugs  Club, junior section of the Amateur Entomologists Society

Amongst many welcome cups of tea from their friendly staff, we chatted to many hundreds of children and adults of all ages, from all over the country along with a puzzled elderly couple of Cornwall’s many German ‘garden tourists’. My German is  a little ‘Rustig’, especially when it comes to explaining the wartime garden display, marginally better on insects, habitats and camouflage (‘Muster unt Tarnung’).    

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our khaki clad Gnome Guard also travelled out to Trelawney Garden Centre at the weekend as part of our wartime garden display. Here he was greeted by many other gnomes awaiting employment and a home, dressed in their civvies and colourful demob suits. The place was like a Victorian hiring fair for gnomes, all with the tools or symbols of their trade.  So far our Gnome Guard member of the LDV, introduced to the World War Zoo gardens to mark the July 1940 renaming of the Home Guard, has not been stolen by gnome liberators. Yet.

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

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

So hopefully, during the summer holidays, you might like to paint your own china gnome, if you don’t have your own real wood and fungi. Wherever you are you could grow one thing, even if it’s in a tiny pot, as part of Garden Organic’s 2010. (Apparently if I encourage several others to sign up, I earn my very own Gardening Guru membership card or badge. How Boy’s Own Paper is that!) More growing advice can be found on the and  BBC Dig In campaign pages. You can also sign up to “do one thing” campaign, part of International Year of Biodiversity  2010, the theme of some of our summer 2010 activity weeks at Newquay Zoo

Finally, if you are in London this August,  look out for wartime chickens and WLA Land girls! There is a Wartime Farm outside the Imperial War Museum 12-15 and 19-22 August (admission free) as part of their Ministry of Food wartime rationing exhibition, (small admission charge to exhibition). These are both mentioned in the August 2010 Grow Your Own magazine  has a well illustrated article by Sara Cork interviewing wartime Land girl Joan Proctor. The main exhibition Ministry of Food continues until early January 2011 and marks the 70th anniversary of rationing and also the Dig for Victory Campaign.

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

Hooray We passed our 6000th page view today on 8th August 2010!

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

If stuck inside, 21st century child style, you might like to check out our past blog entries, look at the macaque monkey webcam on or join our World War Zoo gardens’ official Facebook page (to eventually replace our original world war zoo worldwarzoogardener pages). 

Look out for future blog articles on the Vive la French Marigolds! The Entente Cordiale: Friend or Foe, Garden allies, pests and sympathetic planting – flowers and herbs in wartime garden.

World War Zoo gardens project blog has passed the 5000th reader / web hit mark and is preparing for an award- can you help?

July 4, 2010

Display corner from World War Zoo gardens project June 2010 - Fox Rosehill Gardens, Falmouth, Cornwall display

Hooray! Our World War Zoo gardens project has just passed the 5000 reader mark since we started the blog in Summer 2009. 

We have also recently celebrated our first ‘podcast’ last week – have you heard this? 

We’re now putting the World War Zoo garden project, displays, launch weekend, Facebook & Twitter pages, blog and all forward for a prestigious BIAZA Education (General & Public Visitor) award.(British and Irish Association of Zoos And Aquaria)   The deadline is  July 23rd, 2010. 

We need your help! We always need feedback and comment from users, readers or visitors on such projects. 

Did it surprise you to learn about this neglected aspect of history? 

Did it surprise you to learn that a modern zoo has a wartime Dig For Victory allotment on one of its former lawns? 

Have you enjoyed looking at some of the objects in the zoo’s wartime collection, featured in photographs on the site? 

Did you get the connection? Has World War Zoo  made you think differently about the past and the resource challenges of the future? 

Has it evoked any interesting memories or family stories of the time? Would you like to share them with us? 

Some of our source material - old wartime gardening books by the fabulous Mr. Middleton, Imperial War museum seeds from their Ministry of Food exhibition online shop, 1940s varieties available from modern seed suppliers like Suttons, all in an ARP 1940s tin medical box - World War Zoo gardens display, Newquay Zoo

Many thanks to those of you who have already left comments or sent us emails about our project and its unusual way of communicating sustainability, recycling and grow your own and food miles “with a  Vera Lynn soundtrack” by looking at the experiences of zoos, aquariums and botanic gardens in the 1940s.   

We’d love you to leave us a comment.

You can browse the earlier articles back to July 2009 or look at our blogroll for useful links, including the excellent Imperial War Museum  Ministry of Food exhibition running throughout 2010.

You can comment via our blog direct to the project team.

Talk about fresh! Talk about food metres, not miles! Everyone gets conscripted or enlisted – Kat from our Cafe Lemur washing some of our surplus salad lettuce for use in the zoo cafe, once zoo keepers had used as much as they could! World War Zoo project, Newquay Zoo.

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

April 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World War Zoo gardens project team

Hitler never missed the bus? public transport, plants, 1940 and all that in the wartime zookeepers’ garden at Newquay Zoo.

April 7, 2010

Raised beds from recycled and salvaged timber, sandbags full of salvaged sand, along with an old Civil defence Helmet civilian issue for atmosphere; the World War Zoo garden at Newquay Zoo awaits seedlings April 2010

April, as T.S.Eliot wrote  in The Wasteland  just after the First World War “is the cruellest month” … it’s also one of the busiest for gardeners. Chaucer notes April as with “showers sweet” or April showers as we now call them. We’ve had our fair share of those to slow us up , especailly as you “never sow when the soil sticks to your boots” as one wartime garden advice book suggests, quoted in Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall’s interesting new book Ministry of Food accompnaying the Imperial War Museum exhibition

 More than the weather was being talked about in April 1940. This month proved to be  a particularly cruel and rude awakening for many on the Home Front for  whom a state of war had become almost a joke – the ‘Bore War’, the ‘Phoney War’ or The ‘Sitzkreig’. Many evacuees had returned home to the cities from the boredom of country life. ARP and Blackout restrictions seemed an uneccessary nuisance, especially to the diminishing number of zoo keepers in wartime zoos.

After the ‘lightning’ Blitzkrieg invasion of Poland of September 1939, nothing much had happened for months, except at sea. (The BBC History magazine this month has an article on the War at Sea in 1940.)  Chamberlain the British Prime Minister unwisely observed on April 5th that “Hitler had missed the bus” in terms of wartime success. Four days later on April 9,  the Nazi invasion of Norway and Denmark began, followed shortly in May by the invasions and rapid collapse within weeks of Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium and  France.

On May 10, Churchill replaced Chamberlain as Prime Minister, on May 26 Britain evacuated its troops at Dunkirk and the Spitfire Summer of 1940 and the Battle of Britain and the Blitz were not long away.

Soon much of Europe, its fine network of zoos, its market gardens, food imports etc would be occupied in German and Italian hands. Britain would soon be in easy range of bombers and U-boat submarines along the Atlantic and Northern coasts, seriously affecting shipping of food and other raw materials into the UK. Rationing of many foods would rapidly be introduced as the imported foods from Channel Islands, Mediterranean countries and South of France disappeared.

Fuel and petrol would soon be rationed, leading to people using public transport and “Shank’s Pony”  (on foot). Newquay remained popular as a seaside resort despite the difficulties of wartime train services, requisitioned hotels for servicemen and evacuated schools like Benenden, along with mostly wired off and mined beaches. The Easter visitor season has started well this year with reasonable weather. Newquay has a fabulous ‘on foot’   trail and map to explore the town, along with public transport links out into its wonderful coastline

So no need like Hitler or Chamberlian “to miss the bus”.  Newquay Zoo,  as part of COAST the sustainable tourism network, offers discounts for vistors arriving by public transport.  A flavour of Newquay in wartime can be glimpsed in Alf Townsend’s book of wartime evacuee life in Newquay and Cornwall, Blitz Boy. Emma Smith’s Great Western Beach gives a flavour of Newquay seaside life between the wars in the 1920s and 1930s.

‘Dig for Victory’ became  more necessary than ever. We’ll be marking this effort at our next World War Zoo wartime garden weekend  on 1 to 3 May 2010 with our displays of objects illustrating wartime life and the wartime garden launch for 2010, along with our planthunters trail 

Civilain and Home Front Re-enactors are welcome to attend our 2010 event. We remain a “no weapons or tanks on the lawn, no bangs or flashes” site due to the animals here, who will benefit form the food grown in the wartime garden.  

We’ll have the recycled plant pot makers out for you to try your hand at potting up and taking your own seeds or plants home as part of 2010 Year of Biodiversity, to encourage you to grow your own and do a bit of wildlife gardening. Check out the BBC’s Dig In campaign as well (on our blogroll).

Spitfires, penguins, science and sowing seeds … getting busy with Spring in the wartime zoo keepers’ garden

March 21, 2010

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

Finally it has rained! It’s been a busy few weeks on the World War Zoo project following the success of the BBC Radio Cornwall interviews (see previous blogs) . We’ve been up country to Birmingham for the ‘How Science Works’ events  during National Science Week talking ourselves almost hoarse about the penguin breeding programme and genetics in a big hangar of a room.  Hello to all the Year 9 pupils from Birmingham schools that we met and talked to!

"How would you publicise our World War Zoo gardens weekend?" was a question we asked at the recent business studies challenge day at Penrice School. Anya and Cassie came up with this fashion idea and collage on their event poster and leaflet ideas roughed out in a very short time.

I had hoped we’d be downstairs in the Move It! gallery of Thinktank at Birmingham with two fabulous Birmingham and Black Country built icons – the Spitfire and the Hurricane. These are hung low enough to have good look at the wonderfully basic engineering and shapely streamlining.

It would have been great to have been chatting about the camouflage, countershading and aerodynamics of penguins, fish and leopard seals with these two shapely beauties hanging above!

 A few days later back in Cornwall, we were busy  digging in plenty of free muck from the zoo’s lovely compost heaps (a bit less to landfill!) sowing veg and flowers in the wartime garden and signing up for free seed varieties from the BBC Dig In Campaign. Raised beds or terracing from recycled timber around the zoo, more sandbags and an old and rusted Civil Defence helmet now grace the wartime keepers’ garden.

Crop rotation has seen beds shifted around to cut down on disease. Beans, sweet peas and ‘saladings’ are already sown. Sympathetic planting of flowers (Marigolds and Chives) should naturally protect our tomatoes and carrot crops, adding a bit of colour as well. Catmint and other herbs for animal enrichment are germinating ready to go in next to the Lion Enclosure, where we have dug up part of the lawn for our wartime keepers’ garden (Plot No 1.)   Not far for the Catmint to be picked by keepers and used with our retired pair of lions who roll around on this happily and wear a big sleepy grin!  

Last week we were back on the road again. A shorter trip twenty miles away to St Austell to Penrice School and Community College to work with Kate Whetter from the local Education Business Partnership and Penrice’s Business Studies students on ideas to promote the World War Zoo gardens weekend here from 1 to 3 May 2010.

Some chose ideas to publicise our Plant Hunters trail celebrating the many plant hunter links there are with Cornwall, the plants in the zoo and the secret exploits of daring botanists like Frank Kingdon-Ward, Robert Fortune, Francis Masson, ‘Chinese’ Wilson, Joseph Banks and the Cornish brothers Thomas and William Lobb (a few of their relatives were amongst the groups by the sound of the surnames)  and others.

Some great event ideas to store away – from a Ready Steady Wartime Cook style challenge using wartime ingredients (BBC radio’s  wartime Kitchen Front had its own celebrity chefs) to  Forties fashion parades  – lots of ideas to use in future years!  

We’ve included some of their poster and leaflet designs on this blog entry – congratulations to all who took part on a hectic and different day at school.  We also have the equivalent poster designs by Benenden Girls School who were evacuated to Newquay in wartime, to promote Newquay War Weapons Week in wartime.

“This is the BBC …”: BBC Radio Cornwall page on World War Zoo project and interview with wartime zoo evacuee and BBC History Magazine food rationing article and podcast

March 3, 2010

Looking forward to our wartime garden weekend 1 to 3 May 2010, there is now a whole page link to the World War Zoo project at Newquay Zoo via BBC Radio Cornwall with short interview clip with Peter Pollard a wartime zoo evacuee on life in a wartime Chessington Zoo as a child amidst bombing and a free range childhood around the zoo.

Chessington Zoo partly evacuated staff, animals and railway to our sister zoo at Paignton Zoo later in the war. 

There are good links on the page to an archived  BBC Northwest TV interview at Chester Zoo from 2007

 interviewing the Chester Zoo founder’s daughter June Mottershead about her memoir of wartime zoo life Reared in the Zoo (Ark Books) with some wartime film footage of reconstruction at Hamburg Zoo.

As a change from reading BBC Wildlife Magazine, we noticed that BBC History Magazine (our current reading along with BBC Gardener’s World (“other gardening magazines are available”)  features an article and podcast on wartime rationing

Keeper Billett of Whipsnade Zoo ZSL in tin hat and gas mask pictured in the shortlived 'Animal And Zoo magazine', November 1939 (magazine / photo from the World War Zoo archive, Newquay Zoo)

 in the March 2010 issue, linked to the Imperial War Museum Ministry of Food exhibition.

World War Zoo project and wartime zoo evacuee on Radio Cornwall – listen on BBC I-player

February 28, 2010

World War Zoo project and wartime zoo evacuee on Radio Cornwall – listen on BBC I-player   slide the time line at bottom along to 1.23. to 1. 28 and about 1.32 onwards so broadcast roughly about 8.25 and 8.35 a.m. – only available to 5 March 2010

is the BBC I- Player link for the radio interview by James Churchfield of BBC Radio Cornwall with us about our wartime zoo keeper’s garden project, some very atmospheric BBC clips on London Zoo and Whipsnade,  Peter Pollard, wartime evacuee at Chessington Zoo when it was bombed (b. 1930) and about our wartime life collection and forthcoming Waorld War Zoo gardens weekend 1 to 3 May 2010 what’s on events page

For further details of the project, keep looking at this blog. Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo

BBC A History of the World in 100 Objects – sliding puzzles, Spitfires, penguins and poppies. Which one of the zoo’s objects in its wartime collection to nominate?

January 24, 2010

Our 1940s ‘wartime handmade sliding  puzzle’  is now featured in the BBC’s online museum for the BBC ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ series,  You can see pictures of the front side of the puzzle online.  It’s in good company alongside the treasures of the British Museum in London and many other national and regional musuems. Search for it  under categories ‘war‘, ‘family‘ and ‘entertainment‘ in the 20th century time slot.
We could have listed it under ‘trade‘ as well, because of what it is made out of

Back of the wartime handmade sliding puzzle toy, showing Australia Butter brand on the wooden box

“This toy was handmade from an Australian butter box as a Christmas present for a wartime child in the 1940s. It is a sliding puzzle with numbers and a Father Christmas head (both cut from a calender) on the tiles. It is part of the ‘Make Do and Mend’ approach to resource shortages during World War Two. Toys were scarce on the shelves during Christmas later in the war.  Simply made and timeless in appeal, it was highly treasured by the child concerned. (We sadly don’t have a name for the child or whether the father was away from home on active service).

Made from butter box wood, this butter and its box would have run the U-boat blockade on convoys to reach Britain and the contents been on ration. Australia was part of the British Empire, under threat in wartime and the butter must have been refrigerated to survive the journey showing how food and trade links had changed. Newquay Zoo houses it in its World War Zoo 1940s wartime life collection in its archive.”

The puzzle will be on  display at certain wartime garden events such as the World War Zoo wartime garden weekend 1 to 3 May 2010 at Newquay Zoo, alongside other toys such as a handmade wooden Spitfire (below).

If we had to describe this handmade wooden Spitfire  and  list this for the BBC 100 objects site, ‘war‘, ‘family‘ and ‘entertainment‘ would be obvious categories. When this plane has been on display outside of a display case, it has been a magnet for adults and children of all ages to pick up. They’d fly it round the exhibition room given the chance, probably making ‘dugga dugga dugga’ noises too.

A beautiful wartime handmade wooden Spitfire toy, our other favourite suggestion for the wartime object collection on the BBC A History of The World.

How would we list this object for the BBC site?  “The Spitfire is such an iconic object of the Battle of Britain and of Allied resistance in wartime. The wartime bombing of British airfields after the 1940 fall of Europe 70 years ago came to an end when bombing switched to the ‘Blitz’ of cities and civilian targets, including zoos and botanic gardens.

Just as much food was scarce and rationed in wartime, Hence the wartime zoo keeper’s ‘dig for victory garden’ project at Newquay Zoo, toys would be scarce and often handmade with little, if any metal or rubber parts. Many toy factories making toy soldiers switched to making munitions and machinery. Plastic wasn’t used for toys until after the war.”

I love the ‘Make Do and Mend’ approach to making your own toys. It is a beautiful object to hold. The Peace Pledge Union with its famous white poppy campaign and invaluable archive on conscientious objection would no doubt raise the ‘war toy’ issue about whether such toys encourage aggression and ultimately, the furtherance of war?

On our Facebook site worldwarzoo, you’ll find a link to Alicia Gilbert’s proposed Blitz Memorial site mentions the civilian and pro-peace side of conflict. Some of our wartime life collection of diaries will be featured as part of this.

One toy plane could raise whole numbers of questions, discussions and hold its rank amongst all the other treasures, military and civilian, ancient and modern in the British Museum and A History of the World in 100 Objects series. But we put forward the wartime handmade sliding puzzle toy  instead!

Off to go and ‘chit’ some Home Guard variety of potatoes for the wartime garden until shooted ready enough for planting for Spring … or maybe just fly this toy Spitfire round the office making ‘dugga dugga dugga’ dogfight noises.

One of our  recent blog and Facebook entries mentions the ‘Newquay Spitfire’ at Spitfire Corner on the road near the Newquay airport, belonging to a local aviation artist. We have been bizarrely and gracefully interrupted during a penguin feeding time talk at Newquay Zoo back in 2000 by the Battle of Britain memorial flight   of Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane roaring beautifully overhead.

Just as wartime gardeners must have craned their necks to watch the dogfights high in the sky, every head, penguin, keeper, visitor and meerkat,  was raised skywards. Flightless birds, however sleek their shape, must have been envious that day.

For the purposes of balance, we have to point out that many fine German city zoos were incidentally flattened by Allied bombing by such planes as the Lancaster during wartime. Many zookeepers and zoo directors from Germany, across Europe and Britain would have known each other and worked together in peacetime. This is the tragedy of war.

Who knows what you’ll see at Newquay Zoo! We can’t guarantee Spitfires but we  look forward to seeing you at wartime garden events, getting your email comments via the blog and  hope you enjoy looking at all the other  ‘BBC History of the World’ objects online.

Happy gardening! (dugga dugga dugga)