Posts Tagged ‘Herbert Whitley’

Remembering Charles Whitley killed WW1 Arras 11 April 1917

May 16, 2017

Remembering Captain Charles Whitley, 7th KRRC, brother of Paignton Zoo founder Herbert Whitley, who was killed at Arras,  11 April 1917.

The Battle for Arras finished today 100 years ago on the 16th May 1917.

hibers

Hibers cemetery, where Herbert’s brother Charles Whitley is buried, on the brow of the hill to the left of the cross of sacrifice (Image; CWGC website)

A mistake in blogpost scheduling meant this did not go out on the 11th April on the centenary anniversary as intended.

Captain Charles Whitley, 7th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, Military  Cross, died aged 28 on 11th April 1917 during the Battle for Arras (9 April – 16 May 1917).

He is buried at  Grave Reference C. 15, Hibers Trench Cemetery, France.

http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/31605/HIBERS%20TRENCH%20CEMETERY,%20WANCOURT

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website lists him as born at Halewood, Liverpool and as the Son of the late Mr. Edward Whitley and Elizabeth Eleanor Whitley, of Primley, Paignton, Devon.

His headstone personal inscription is a Bible verse chosen by his mother:  “I  thank my God upon every remembrance of you. Philippians Chapter 1 Verse 3”

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KRRC soldiers are buried alongside their Captain Charles Whitley at Hivers Trench Cemetery, Jersey. Surrounding cemeteries at Wancourt and the Arras memorial bear more names of Whitley’s fellow KRRC soldiers.

There are several websites which describe Charles Whitley including portraits, obituaries and pictures of his headstone:

http://www.flintshirewarmemorials.com/memorials/hawarden-memorial/hawarden-sodliers-2/charles-whitley/

In the 1911 census, Charles Whitley aged 22  was  living as the Joint Owner and Occupier of “Weatherstones”, Windle Hill, Neston, Cheshire.  The other Joint Owner and Occupier was Edmund Page.

Both Charles and Edmund were engaged in a similar  type of stock breeding venture as his brothers Herbert and William in their farming and stock ventures in Devon. Charles was partnered with Page in   “a special and scientific line in farming and cattle breeding” (Hawarden Parish magazine, memorial service / obituary 1917 shown in the Flintshire War Memorials website.)

Looking at the portraits of Charles and brother Herbert you can see a strong family resemblance.

The Battle of Arras

For 38 days the Battle of Arras saw the highest average daily casualty rates of any British offensive in a First World War Battle. Over 300,000 soldiers were killed or wounded on the British, Allied and opposing German side.

From 9th April to the 16th May 1917, British troops attacked German defences near the French city of Arras on the Western Front.

At first it seemed like success, the British and Allied army achieved the longest advance since trench warfare had begun, surpassing the record set by the French Sixth Army on the first day of the Battle of The Somme 1 July 1916, which went so badly wrong for the British Army. This British advance slowed in the next few days, the period when Charles Whitley was killed, as the German defences recovered.

The Battle of Arras soon became a costly stalemate of trench warfare for both sides.

By the end of the Battle of Arras on May the British Third and First armies had suffered about 160,000 casualties and the German 6th Army 125,000 casualties. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Arras_(1917)

Several zoo keepers from London Zoo and other zoos were also killed in this same 1917 period and Arras battle. No doubt many of the various Whitley family’s farm and estate workers in Wales and Devon also served and some died.

ZSL London Zoo librarian Henry Peavot

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2017/04/21/remembering-zsl-london-zoo-librarian-henry-peavot-killed-ww1-21-april-1917/

ZSL London Zoo Gardener Robert Jones

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/robert-jones-london-zoo-gardener-killed-battle-of-arras-april-1917-ww1/

J.L. Jennison of Belle Vue Zoo

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/remembering-j-l-jennison-of-the-belle-vue-zoo-jennison-family-died-ww1-3rd-may-2017/

Ralph Stamp of Belle Vue Zoo https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2017/04/23/remembering-ralph-stamp-of-belle-vue-zoo-manchester-died-23-april-1917-ww1/

Charles’ brother Herbert Whitley, a keen zoologist and gardener,  established his Zoological Gardens at Primley, Paignton, Devon in 1923 partly as a Botanic Garden.

Many Botanic garden staff were killed in WW1 including during the Battle of Arras..

Botanic gardeners, naturalists and scientists killed at Arras 

Charles Beswick of  Kew Gardens and Fota

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2017/04/22/remembering-charles-beswick-of-kew-gardens-and-fota-died-ww1-22-april-1917/

F.T. Pursell of Kew Gardens

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2017/04/04/remembering-f-t-pursell-kew-gardens-ww1-died-4-april-1917/

Fred Honey of Kew Gardens

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/remembering-frederick-honey-of-kew-gardens-died-ww1-17-april-1917/

Munro Briggs Scott of Kew Gardens Herbarium

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/remembering-munro-briggs-scott-of-kew-gardens-herbarium-killed-12-april-2017-ww1/

Australian herpetologist Dene Barrett Fry

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2017/04/08/remembering-zoologist-dene-b-fry-aif-fellow-linnaean-society-nsw-died-arras-1917-ww1/

Many of these men who have no known grave are remembered on The Arras Memorial, maintained by the CWGC

http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/82700/ARRAS%20MEMORIAL 

CWGC have also produced an interesting online booklet about the Battle of Arras, including mention of poet Edward Thomas killed on its opening day. http://blog.cwgc.org/arras-intro/

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Herbert Whitley, trademark cigarette in mouth (Image source: Paignton Zoo website)

One wonders what might have happened if Herbert Whitley had been fit enough to fight?

Herbert Whitley was lucky in someways to have had poor enough eyesight to fail an army medical, likewise his brother William was unable to serve, having severely damaged his leg in a riding accident years before. Their contribution to the war effort would be as estate owners, animal breeders and farmers, then a reserved occupation.

‘What If’ History?

Captain Charles Whitley served on the Western Front, gaining a Military Cross for gallantry before being killed in 1917.

If Herbert had been fit to serve, this could well have been his story. A What If? history that would see no Paignton Zoo opened, no Slapton Ley nature reserve was preserved for the nation from inappropriate development and ultimately no Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) was formed on Whitley’s death in 1955.

Read more at:

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

Remembering Charles Whitley, the men of the 7th King’s Royal Rifle Corps and the many casualties of the Battle of Arras on both sides, 100 years on from this 38 day battle ended, 16 May 1917 / 2017. 

Thankfully there is now a lull in the casualty lists amongst zoo and gardens staff until August 1917 when the Third Battle of Ypres in Belgium known as Passchendaele dragged on bloodily into the harsh muddy winter months from 31 July – 10 November 1917 (3 months and 6 days) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_

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

Chessington Zoo Blitzed 2 October 1940 – eyewitness accounts

October 2, 2015

peter pollard and derek witney

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

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

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

Ladies first …

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

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

Wendy Gothard (nee Pollard): 1940 Chessington memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chessington aerial 1950s

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

Chessington Memory  – Peter Pollard (born 1930)

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

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

image

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

Chessington Zoo – 1939/40 memory by Peter Pollard 

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

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

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

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

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

But it didn’t last.

chessington bombsight graphic

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

The Chessington Raid – memory by Peter Pollard 

There were two air raid shelters in the zoo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chessington wartime memory by Peter Pollard.

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

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

The aftermath – a memory by Peter Pollard 

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Foster’s account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chessington foster 1

chessington foster 2chessington foster 3

chessington foster 4

Tracing the Chessington Zoo Casualties of 2 October 1940

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

cwgc chessington casualties

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

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

cwgc ronald page

 

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

 

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

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

A BBC audio clip of Peter Pollard 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Researching and confirming this wartime story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting up with Derek Witney and family to hear their stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Derek Witney, personal comments, 2014

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

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

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

primley pic WW2

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

primley zoo pic 2 ww2

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

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

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

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

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

Lots more stories to follow …

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

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

War and the Whitleys: Para-medics, Peacocks and Paignton Zoo

August 28, 2014

Herbert Whitley, trademark cigarette in mouth (Image source: Paignton Zoo website)

Herbert Whitley, trademark cigarette in mouth (Image source: Paignton Zoo website)

It is 70 years this year since the events of D-Day, and this month 75 years since World War Two began and also 100 years since the outbreak of World War One – both wars were to cost the Whitley family dear. The 29th August 1944 / 2014 is one such sad anniversary.

Our sister zoo at Paignton was started in 1923 by an eccentric and wealthy figure with hard business sense, a passion for the colour blue and an eye for good breeding stock amongst plants and animals – Herbert Whitley.

Herbert Whitley (1886 – 1955) was one of four sons of Edward Whitley, a Liverpool based brewer (Greenall Whitley) and Victorian MP (1825 – 1892). Herbert’s father Edward has an impressive entry in Debrett’s 1886 House Of Commons directory from the year Herbert Whitley was born.  On his father’s death, Herbert Whitley, two brothers William and Charles and a sister Mary moved from Liverpool and Lancashire to Devon around 1904 to 1907 with his widowed mother Eleanor (1848 – 1929). Here Herbert quickly established an estate of several farms in the area with his brother William. His older brother Edward Whitley Junior (b. 1880) remained with his young family  in Liverpool, after studying medicine.

With an agricultural or science based degree behind him, Whitley quickly used his family wealth to establish stud kennels and farms for his experiments in breeding dogs, farm animals, pigeons, horses as well as building greenhouses for exotic plants.  Unlike Picasso, Herbert Whitley never grew out of his ‘blue period’. He had a lifelong passion for blue animals and plants, from peacocks to rosemary. Paignton Zoo has recently been searching for ‘lost’ cultivars from Whitley’s Primley Botanic Nursery,  named ‘Primley Blue’ (including mallow, rosemary and hebe).

These plants and animals would by summer 1923 be transformed into the nucleus of the collection which became Primley Zoological Gardens, opened to the public for educational rather than just purely entertainment reasons (see below). A fight ensued with local authorities over its educational role, rather than pure entertainment which saw Herbert close his zoo for a number of years rather than be liable for an ‘entertainment tax’ on zoo visits.

It is said that Herbert Whitley’s zoo began as a child, when his mother gave him a pair of canaries. He went on to breed and exhibit finches, rabbits, poultry and pigeons. His archive or library has scrapbooks and bound journal volumes featuring his many breeding successes, some featured in Jack Baker’s ‘biography’ of Whitley (see below).

Herbert and his brother William formed a partnership to manage the Primley estate farms. Their  plan was to create a breeding centre for pedigree livestock, but exotic animals soon appeared. The first monkeys arrived in 1910 and a pair of sulphur crested cockatoos in 1911 – the foundation of Herbert’s bird collection which was later to feature secret carrier pigeons and unfortunate GI snacks in the shape of peacocks.

Going public after a private wartime tragedy
In 1923, in the aftermath of the First World War, Herbert Whitley opened his collection, then known as Torbay Zoological Gardens, to the public. The Zoo closed briefly in 1924 due to a dispute over entertainment tax; Whitley felt very strongly that his collection was a place of learning and not entertainment. In 1930 the collection changed its name to Primley Zoological Gardens.

Sadly by the time his fledgling zoo opened in 1923, one of the four Whitley brothers was dead. Charles Whitley, one of the four Whitley brothers was dead, killed in the First World War. Some of the family of his estate workers and no doubt some of his horses would no doubt have perished too on the Western Front.

Hibers cemetery, where Herbert's brother Charles Whitley is buried, on the brow of the hill to the left of the cross of sacrifice (Image; CWGC website)

Hibers cemetery, where Herbert’s brother Charles Whitley is buried, on the brow of the hill to the left of the cross of sacrifice (Image; CWGC website)

Captain Charles Whitley, 7th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, Military  Cross, died aged 28 on 11th April 1917 during the Battle for Arras. He is buried at  Grave Reference C. 15, Hibers Trench Cemetery, France. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website lists him as born at Halewood, Liverpool and as the Son of the late Mr. Edward and Elizabeth Eleanor Whitley, of Primley, Paignton, Devon.  There are several websites which describe Charles Whitley including portraits:

http://www.flintshirewarmemorials.com/memorials/hawarden-memorial/hawarden-sodliers-2/charles-whitley/

Several zoo keepers from London Zoo were also killed in this same period and battle. One wonders what might have happened if Herbert Whitley had been fit enough to fight?

Herbert Whitley was lucky in someways to have poor enough eyesight to fail an army medical, likewise his brother William who had severely damaged his leg in a riding accident years before. Their contribution to the war effort would be as estate owners, animal breeders and farmers, then a reserved occupation.

The agricultural challenges of 1914 -18 are described in a new book on the People of Devon in World War One by David Parker (History Press, 2013), an interesting social history to complement Gerald Wasley’s Devon in the Great War (Halsgrove, 2013).

With disastrous harvests in 1916/17, enlistment and call up of agricultural workers and horses and a deadly U-Boat campaign targetting Allied supply routes and merchant shipping, Britain experienced a potential food crisis that would severely affect its ability to feed itself, maintain maximium war production and win the war. In spite of the agricultural and mineral wealth of its vast Empire, the British people saw increasing price rises in basic foods which eventually saw an early form of rationing introduced in 1917/18. Remarkably throughout this period of the U-Boat campaign, Primley stud  pedigree farm stock was being  shipped overseas, business as usual,  to bolster the Empire livestock.

British farming was at the start of the First World War struggling to keep up with imported cheaper food. It was in one of its many picturesque but poor states, in recession and the doldrums again at the end of the Victorain and Edwardian period, one well recreated in the BBC’s Edwardian Farm (filmed in Devon and Cornwall around the Tamar Valley and Morwhelham Quay).

Herbert and William Whitley took up farming or running an estate in an age of agricultural revolution, of new machinery such as the first tractors, steam farm machinery and interest in new chemical fertilisers. Devon farms however were still largely powered by men and horses, two valuable assets that would be drawn away by the demands of war.

‘What If’ History?

Captain Charles Whitley served on the Western Front, gaining a Military Cross for gallantry before being killed in 1917. If Herbert had been fit to serve, this could well have been his fate, a “What If?” History that would see no Paignton Zoo opened, no Slapton Ley Nature reserve preserved for the nation from inappropriate development and ultimately no Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) formed on Whitley’s death in 1955.

In 2003 my 1960s home zoo at Newquay, host of our World War Zoo Garden project, became part of the WWCT alongside Living Coasts, built on the old Marine Spa site of the Beacon Quay area of Torquay and Brixham, which had its own unusual wartime history, worthy of a future blog post.

Much of what we know of Whitley today is thanks to the “Blue Book”, the closest we currently have to a biography of Whitley, written by someone who knew Herbert Whitley in the 1940s and 1950s. The book is  appropriately known as the “Blue Book”, not just from the bright blue cover but from Herbert Whitley’s love of this colour; it is a slim and lively volume of reminiscences of Whitley collected by its author Jack Baker in the 1980s called Chimps, Champs and Elephants (out of print but available online).

Herbert Whitley was famously shy of women and never married, but his trusted ‘right hand man’ was unusually for the time and the company of a reclusive bachelor, a woman called Gladys Salter. Gladys had been a land girl on National Service in the First World War version of the Women’s Land Army.

The Whitley family losses in WW2

The Whitley family lost two further members in WW2 before Herbert Whitley’s death in 1955, an RAF pilot and a paratroop medic in the Normandy battles. They share a striking stone memorial in a Devon churchyard.

Herbert’s brother Charles Whitley was killed in 1917. Two Whitley nephews Edward and Peter were killed in World War Two, sons of Herbert’s brother & farmer business partner William Whitley.

Herbert’s nephew Captain Edward Neil Whitley  (born c. 1918), Service No: 252025, Royal Army Medical Corps serving with the Parachute Regiment.  He died back in England on 29th August 1944 of shrapnel wounds received four days after landing on D-Day 6 June 1944. His gravestone reads interestingly:

“Who landed in Normandy on D Day with the 6th Airborne Division,

was wounded by mortar fire on June 10th while succouring a foeman”

suggesting that he died whilst treating a German casualty. His unusual gravestone can be found at  Buckland-in-The-Moor (St. Peter) Churchyard in Devon (see below).

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website lists him as the son of William and Elizabeth Frances Whitley, of Ashburton; husband of Eileen Zender Whitley. B.A. (Cantab.), M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P. He had a son, Micheal Neil Whitley, pictured on the  the Para-Data entry for his father Edward.  Edward literally was a ‘para – medic’ as he parachuted in with the British 6th Airborne Division paratroops on D-Day June 1944 and is pictured on the Para-data history website along with documents to his mother and photographs.

Pictures of the unusual granite memorial in Buckland churchyard to both Edward and his brother Peter can be seen on the Devon Heritage website.

Edward Neil’s brother and Herbert’s nephew Pilot Officer Peter Percy Whitley  (born c. 1910) Service No: 118892, 57 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve died on active service, listed as  missing over Cologne on a bombing raid on 15th October 1942. As missing aircrew, he has no known grave and is remembered on Reference Panel 72, Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. He is also listed on a roll of honour in Ashburton, Devon.

Runnymede memorial to missing Allied aircrew of WW2  (Image: CWGC website)

Runnymede memorial to missing Allied aircrew of WW2 (Image: CWGC website)

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website lists him as the son of William and Elizabeth Whitley; husband of Primrose Vinen Heron Whitley, of Teignmouth, Devon and father of Elizabeth Clare Whitley.

Paignton Zoo, Mr Whitley and D-Day 1944

The death of his nephew Edward was not the only D-Day connection for Whitley and his Paignton Zoo. Herbert Whitley bought the unique Slapton Ley area in 1921 to save it from commercial exploitation. Slapton Ley and its surrounding beaches and rural area became part of a massive US Army training ground in 1943-4 before D-Day, although amphibious landing training had happepned there several years before War broke out. This area saw the accidental deaths in training during Exercise Tiger on February 28th 1944. An unofficial memorial, a Sherman tank salvaged from the sea bed nearby and a more official US war memorial cross records the US forces thanks to the sacrifice of local people in giving up their homes and farms now stand near the beach, remembering the wartime losses.

Clennon Gorge, part of the extensive woods and nature reserves on Whitley’s Primley estate (and now part of Paignton Zoo) was an area of quarries and small wildfowl lakes that Herbert Whitley was developing to house animals in a naturalistic style. This style was inspired partly by the Hagenbeck family of German zoo owner and animal dealers that influenced animal enclosures worldwide including at London Zoo’s Mappin Terrace ‘artificial mountains’ and Whipsnade Zoo’s 1930s enclosures.

Clennon’s wooded areas and quarries were to prove perfect cover from German aerial reconnaissance for the campsites and well stocked cookhouses of US troops, secretly hidden close to Torquay and Brixham embarkation beaches before D-Day. On clearing the area after the GIs left, Whitley’s wartime staff found the remains of some of the bored and anxious GI’s last suppers – some of the famous Primley peacocks and wildfowl amongst others of his bird collection.

One possible wartime Paignton Zoo site of Clennon Gorge quarries, possible site for US troops GI cookhouse / campsite before D-Day June 1944, cleaned up after the war to become a now peaceful nature reserve at Paignton Zoo. (Nov. 2010)

One possible wartime Paignton Zoo site of Clennon Gorge quarries, possible site for US troops GI cookhouse / campsite before D-Day June 1944, cleaned up after the war to become a now peaceful nature reserve at Paignton Zoo. (Nov. 2010)

Sadly despite appeals in their veterans’  newsletter, we have unearthed no further memories of this unusual last supper  incident from the veterans and their families of the US 4ID association, once camped at Paignton.

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

Photographic proof! Peacock (or peahen) sized garden pests peck away at our salad leaf selection, World War Zoo Gardens, Newquay Zoo.

Photographic proof! Peacock (or peahen) sized garden pests peck away at our salad leaf selection, World War Zoo Gardens, Newquay Zoo, 2010.

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/d-day-and-a-curious-1944-matchbox-diary/

There is a delightfully dated 1941 newsreel glimpse of  the women staff of wartime Primley or Paignton Zoo in its Chessington partnership era, entitled Ladies Only, worth watching at http://www.britishpathe.com/video/ladies-of-the-zoo-issue-title-ladies-only/query/flamingos

Having looked through Whitley’s wartime zoo and estate ledgers in the Paignton Zoo archive, it was  a case again in wartime of  ‘business as usual’. There are also interesting folders of Whitley’s  fairly random and eclectic press cuttings about animals, the war and Whitley’s interests.

There are many more interesting stories to research about Paignton’s wartime history, from its wartime business partnership with Chessington Zoo & Circus, the evacuation of Chessington staff there (look out for future blog posts featuring interviews with surviving staff children from this time) and further research into Whitley’s wartime ‘secret agent’ carrier pigeon lofts, part of the National Pigeon Service but staffed by Royal Signals staff. Where better to hide secret pigeons than in the middle of a large bird collection?

We would be delighted to hear via our comments page from anyone who has further memories of Herbert Whitley, his family and how his estate and zoo fared in wartime.

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo, August 2014.

 

 

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) www.biaza.org.uk   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.

D-Day 1944 and the disappearing peacocks and ducks of wartime Paignton Zoo

June 23, 2010

Photographic proof! Peacock (or peahen) sized garden pests peck away at our salad leaf selection, World War Zoo Gardens, Newquay Zoo.

Peacocks are an unlikely garden pest but I have posted photographic evidence – proof – that what I thought was slug and snail damage was pecking by birds. 

It could also be the egg shells donated by the zoo’s Cafe Lemur staff that are intended (crushed) to deter slugs. Might they attract a peahen preparing to nest? A rich source of calcium and we know peacocks to be nest raiders and wreckers around the zoo, especially of other free-ranging birds. 

The D-Day anniversary passed quietly nationally on the 6th June, not being a major anniversary year. For many of those involved in the Normandy  Veterans Association, it would have been a day to remember quietly or in company of other veterans.  However many sites around the SouthWest coast mark the occasion of D-Day, such as at Trebah Gardens in Cornwall, marking the moment when thousands of young British, Canadian and especially American troops left the South(west) coast bound for Occupied France. For many, they never speak of the events; Peter Dwyer, a much-loved zoo volunteer and  nature columnist into his eighties in our past zoo newsletter Paw Prints spoke and wrote often colourfully about local bird life, the zoo’s exotic inhabitants but rarely about his D-Day experiences aboard LST Landing Ships. 

Diary of an anonymous South London woman involved in Civil Defence, 1944 - D-Day, Tuesday 6 June 1944 "D-Day Invasion started. troops landed at Cherbourg. Went to Clapham & Brixton and to Oberon ..." nOte also the entry for Thursday 15 "Germany started sending pilot-less planes" - the first mention in the diary of V1 "doodlebugs" (Copyright: Diary in the World War Zoo wartime life collection, Newquay Zoo)

Diaries in the zoo’s  wartime life collection quietly mark the events amongst all the clutter of everyday life queuing for rations or working on the farm. 

D-Day saw a strange emptying of many South coast and West country towns in Devon and Cornwall, as tens of thousands of US, Canadian and British troops left their army camps and headed for the Normandy beaches from 6 June onwards. 

 Some of the American servicemen had an infamous last supper. Part of the Paignton Zoo estate is the nature reserve at Clennon Gorge in Devon, featuring wildfowl ponds and a stream through a limestone valley down to the sea. This part of Herbert Whitley’s estate was being developed in the 1930s just before the outbreak of war. Whitley had  vision of wildfowl ponds, woodland haunts of a wolf enclosure, old lime kilns turned into small mammal dens and converting old quarries into bear and carnivore enclosures, much in the style, ironically, of Carl  Hagenbeck’s zoo at Hamburg in Germany. Work had been completed by stonemasons on the first bear dens when war broke out in 1939. The bears never arrived in their dens, but the quarry enclosures were used as cookhouses for US troops camping in the adjoining zoo paddocks whilst waiting for D-Day in 1944. (At the same time, RAF and American bombing raids were targeting Berlin, Frankfurt, Nuremberg and other German towns with renowned zoos.)  

 As Jack Baker wryly notes in Chimps, Champs and Elephants, his history of Whitley and Paignton Zoo’s early days, “A clearing up exercise provided ample evidence that many a zoo peacock and ornamental bird had varied the diet of the visiting ‘doughboys’ …” 

So maybe those pesky peacocks pecking away at the plants of the World War Zoo “dig for victory garden” at Newquay Zoo 70 years later  is their way of extracting compensation or reparation. 

 We haven’t yet identified which US regiments or divisions spent their last days in England,  camped at Paignton Zoo and Clennon Gorge, so if anyone knows we would interested to find out more. Maybe in America somewhere, there are US veterans in their 80s and 90s who remember this unusual last meal of exotic bird or camping in the zoo grounds over 65 years ago. It would be interesting to hear from them and their memories of Paignton Zoo in wartime. We can be contacted at the World War Zoo gardens project via mark.norris@newquayzoo.org.uk  

 The training for the D-Day landing formed part of the tragic events at  Slapton Ley, then part of Herbert Whitley’s  estate. It is now a peaceful nature reserve owned by the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust which runs nearby  Paignton Zoo www.paigntonzoo.org.uk , Living Coasts www.livingcoasts.org.uk and ourselves at Newquay Zoo. The similarity of the beaches and nearby countryside at Slapton matched those on the D-day beaches in Normandy. The local population was moved out, many never to return and the countryside, woods and villages devastated by shellfire. An American War Memorial lists the names of those several hundred US servicemen lost on ‘Operation Tiger’, when a secret live firing exercise practising for D-Day was interrupted by German torpedo boats. A Sherman tank has now been raised from the seabed as another stark memorial of the events at Start Bay and Slapton Sands in 1944. 

"Let your shopping help our shipping" was one propaganda message about saving food - grow your own is another, promoted by a typical piece of advertising from a wartime gardening magazine (from the World War Zoo gardening collection / archive at Newquay Zoo).

In our next blog entries, we’ll look at the rapidly unfolding events of 1940 as Dunkirk was evacuated and what effects it had on zoos, botanic gardens and the zoo staff, families, animals and visitors. It must have seemed to many people that the world or their world was collapsing quickly out of control. 

 This period of June and July 1940 is being widely commemorated by many events 70 years on; it saw the first intensive bombing raids on towns in South Wales from bases in Europe on July 10th and the Battle of Britain dawns in the sky, whilst Operation Sealion (for invasion of England) planning began in Germany and Occupied France on July 2nd 1940. The Blitz bombing on British cities such as Bristol, London, Manchester, Liverpool and their zoos was not far off in September 1940.   

Already bombed, Paris with its historic zoo was occupied on 14th June 1940. The surrender of France swiftly followed on June 22nd. The occupation of the Channel Islands and its tomato rich market gardens began on June 30th 1940 (islands later to be the site of Gerald Durrell’s hugely influential Jersey Zoo, postwar) amidst the  occupation of much of Europe which saw food supplies dwindle to blockaded Britain. Submarine attacks increased confidently from their new bases in Channel ports. 217 Allied merchant ships would be sunk supplying Britain in the next three months, crossing the Atlantic from July to October 1940. “Let your Shopping help our shipping” became a new ‘food miles’ motto. 

Britain dug in, Dug for Victory on its lawns and back gardens and drilled its Home Guard. General De Gaulle over the BBC radio on the 18th and 23rd June famously praised the flame of French resistance that had survived and found shelter in England amongst the Free French and many other Allies.  

  • So what did these events mean for many of the zoos at the time?
  • What can we learn from this for the future challenges of climate change and extreme or peak oil? 
  • Which objects of the Newquay Zoo wartime life collection best evoke this 1940 period?
  • What’s been happening in the World War Zoo ‘dig for victory’ zoo keepers’ wartime garden at Newquay Zoo?
  • What allies, sacrifices and fall guys can a wartime gardener or one today rely on in the perennial battle against pests and diseases? (we’ll look at companion planting).

 You can find out more  in future blog entries and review past ones on the World War Zoo gardens project, archived on this site (see the menu or tool bar, right).

‘Ladies Only’ British Pathe clips of Paignton Zoo’s female wartime keepers 1941

April 29, 2010

Philip Knowling the Press Officer at Paignton Zoo, our sister zoo,  sent me this link for the fabulous archives at British Pathe (lots more zoo clips on the newsreels section) http://www.britishpathe.com/

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/ladies-of-the-zoo-issue-title-ladies-only/query/flamingos

Newsreel  of female keepers at Primley Zoological Gardens (as Paignton was then known) in 1941.

The ‘ladies of the zoo’ are wearing a Chessington style uniform, so possibly staff employed after the temporary Paignton / Chessington merger in wartime

Female keepers and Land Girls were increasingly recruited into what had been mostly a male only profession as the younger male keepers were called up.

Lots more stories like this at our World War Zoo gardens event at Newquay Zoo 1 to 3 May 2010 Newquay Zoo www.newquayzoo.org.uk

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

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 http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/player/nol/newsid_6700000/newsid_6706300?redirect=6706315.stm&news=1&bbram=1&nbwm=1&bbwm=1&nbram=1

 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 http://www.bbchistorymagazine.com

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. www.food.iwm.org.uk

Please do not eat the peacocks (when visiting the zoo) …

August 17, 2009

Newquay’s big sister zoo is Paignton Zoo in Devon, old enough to have several interesting war stories from 1939 to 1945. 

Paignton Zoo was opened in 1923, well before its little sister zoo, Newquay. From early seasonal origins in the austerity and rationing of the 1940s and 50s, Newquay Zoo was not permanently built until many years after the war in 1969. I sometimes wonder ‘What if’ the war hadn’t broken out in 1939, a zoo might have been added to the growing seaside attractions in the resort, some like the Newquay Trenance Boating Lake, a Recession or Depression releiving work scheme for the local unemployed in the 1930s. A small zoo may well have been next in the leisure gardens! Who knows how Newquay would have survived the rationing and resource shortages of a wartime zoo?

Paignton Zoo had some unusual wartime  inhabitants, according to a chatty and entertaining memoir by Jack Baker called Chimps, Champs and Elephants (1988). Sadly there is not much helpful information for us about growing vegetables and the other unusual elements of a wartime zoo keeper’s job, but  some fascinating tales nonetheless. As this book is out of print, we’ll include some of the stories here.

Like many zoos Paignton Zoo  would have had to close for several days or even weeks on the outbreak of war 70 years ago. It also had received  very strange evacuees. These were not small bewildered evacuee children like my parents, but animals from Chessington Zoo. Whilst London Zoo evacuated some animals, staff and their families to Whipsnade, Chessington Zoo  shifted many staff, animals and their miniature railway  off to Devon ‘for the duration’.

To confuse any invaders at a time when signposts were being taken down or painted out all over the country, Paignton Zoo was cunningly renamed by its owner the wily Herbert Whitley, ‘Devon’s Zoo and Circus’.

It survived minor  bombing prior to D-Day, as well as the miniature train carrying visitors around site being converted from scarce coal to gas, with a cumbersome gas bag on top of it. This was much like the one on Corporal Jones’ van in the film of Dad’s Army – with equally fateful effects, being derailed accidentally by this cumbersome alternative fuel source whilst braking to avoid a free-ranging crane.

Secretly, carrier pigeons were trained on site to be released in occupied Europe and carry messages back from the French resistance. Zoo owner Herbert Whitley had a great passion for pigeons and other show birds, so this was a good concealment for this ‘cloak and dagger’ or ‘cloak and feather’ stuff! Army signalmen were temporarily seconded to the zoo staff and some of these birds won the Dickin medal, the animal VC for bravery.

Paignton Zoo’s  strangest invasion was  in 1944, just before D-Day.  The grounds, like much of the West Country, had become one large secret camp for Allied and GI (American) servicemen, living in the grounds at Clennon Gorge(now a nature reserve and quiet part of the zoo). The stone bear dens carved out pre-war (but never used) now sheltered US soldiers before they disappeared almost overnight  in early June 1944 to join the vast armada of ships bound for D-Day.

One strange memorial of their stay is the range of peacock and wildfowl feathers and bones that suggest the army rations were supplemented by something more tasty and some useful target practice. They had, as Jack Baker puts it, “varied the diet of the visiting doughboys“. I wonder how many of these US servicemen survived D-Dayand the war, and still remember their brief and unusual meals during  their wartime ‘visit’ to Paignton Zoo?

A sadder memorial is the salvaged US Sherman tank mounted on the beach at Slapton Sands in Devon. Slapton Ley nature reserve is part of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust that runs Newquay and Paignton Zoo. This area was evacauted of people and turned into one large training and firing range ready for invasion of Eirope in 1944. Disastrously many hundreds of US troops died in their landing craft and swimming tanks on an exercise intercepted  by German navy torpedo boats. The disaster was hushed up after the war for many years, as set out in many versions of the Exercise Tiger story http://www.shermantank.co.uk/history.ikml and http://http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exercise_Tiger 

Hrad to imagine when visting now this very peaceful haven to wildlife …     see this at http://www.slnnr.org.uk/

More tales to tell of life in wartime zoos – watch this space.

Project Background note: Our World War Zooresearch project and blog aims to uncover and collect many of the strange tales from this time not only for their own merit, but as a tribute to people of that difficult time and also for what lessons we can learn for our own future. There are lessons to be learnt for the coming days when our food and fuel, resources and climate may become scarce or more unpredictable.

Our World War Zoo project will be a practical living memorial, almost history that you can eat in the form of a wartime “dig for victory garden” being recreated at Newquay Zoo in Cornwall. More news of this project follows over the next few weeks as we prepare the ground and get planting.

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Project team, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK  


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