Posts Tagged ‘nature writing’

Homeland, Britain March 1917

March 22, 2017


Percy Izzard, Homeland: A Book of Country Days (1918)



As a follow up to yesterday’s post on Homeland, Percy Izzard’s book of nature writing on the British countryside during the First World War, here are several more daily entries. A book well worth tracking down second-hand.


Some deal with the changing agricultural landscape, such as noticing (March 28th 1917) that “It is interesting to see how quickly the birds have become accustomed  to the motor plough. The strange form and immense noise of the machine …” 



March 25th (1917) “And although the flowers were few when you think what this day has seen in other years, never did they open to a world readier to welcome them”


welcome to a world weary not only of the long winter, but also the war?







British farming and the countryside was facing difficulties by 1917 from poor harvests and the call up of male farm workers. Add to this the demands of feeding several armies overseas. From early  in the year, the unrestricted submarine warfare of the German U boat blockade of Britain increased the sinking of merchant shipping bound for  Britain with imported food from around the Empire and world.

These were pre-war cheap and plentiful food imports that we had come to rely on, much to the detriment of pre-war British farming.

Both rationing (1918) and a form of WW2 style Dig For Victory in 1917 were eventually organised  in Britain in WW1.

We will feature more from Homeland by Percy Izzard in late March / early April 2017, when the quiet world of nature in Britain that he works hard to convey  can be read 100 years on as (directly ? deliberately?) at odds  with events overseas, the Battle of Arras (9 April to 16 May 1917) in France.

This  battle would involve many of Izzard’s audience of  “soldier lads” who read his daily nature column in the Daily Mail in the trenches. Forming a valuable bit of escapism, these short daily columns would be adapted and edited to become his book Homeland: A Year Of Country Days in mid 1918.

The Battle of Arras would see the deaths on active service of several of the zoo staff, botanic gardens staff and  naturalists that we have been researching through the World War  Zoo Gardens project.

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



Laggard Spring 1917

March 21, 2017

Spring 1917 Wartime – March 21st , uncannily like the weather today a century later. Hail and sunshine.



Homeland A Year of Country Days by PWDI (Percy W. D. Izzard) 1918

Here in the preface, Percy Izzard sets out the structure for his year of inspirational short pieces about country life. These are  made especially poignant or valuable as his work was read not only by “war-workers … men and women of country heart who are pent now for England’s sake in the reek of great towns” isolated from the countryside but also  “amid the cruel distractions of war” by troops in the trenches who obtained a Daily Mail from friends and families.

Based on letters received from soldiers, Percy Izzard realised that his daily entries  provided to “soldier lads in France and Flanders, in rough notes pencilled on the battlefields … glimpses of the Homeland  for which they long and fight.”



This book of nature writing by Percy Izzard,  reproduced from his nature  column in the Daily Mail, begins unusually not on January 1st but on the first day of spring 1917, the spring equinox, March 21st.

It finishes a year later on March 20th and Izzard’s preface, written after preparing them for publication in book form, was written on April 21st, 1918.

Having checked the obvious date references, like references to Sundays etc, I am fairly sure this is written from March 1917 to March 1918 onwards as the First World War raged across Europe.

It finishes documenting country life in Britain during this year of attrition and killing, on March 20 1918  just as the Western Front collapses with the German onslaught of late March 1918.

The Writer Percy Izzard?

I have previously written about Percy Izzard and this Homeland book on this and a local history blog:

Percy W. (William) D. Izzard OBE (September 1877 – 1968) was the well-known gardening correspondent on the Daily Mail newspaper.

He was author of several books on gardening including Grow it Yourself: Daily Mail Practical Instruction Book on Food from the Garden in War-Time (1940), one of the  Dig For Victory books in my collection of WWII gardening books.

Blogposted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo, 21 March 2017


Remembering William Donald Pascoe April 1915, Primrose Day and Percy Izzard

April 20, 2015

Cross-posting from another research post about a local war memorial in Cornwall, I featured a lyrical couple of pages from Homeland, a book written in 1918 from press pieces by garden writer Percy Izzard.

April 19th and 20th entries, Homeland: A Book of Country Days (1918) Percy W D Izzard

April 19th and 20th entries, Homeland: A Book of Country Days (1918) Percy W D Izzard

He later wrote the more prosaic Daily Mail guide to Dig for Victory in WW2, which I have used as topical advice of the time for our World War Zoo Gardens WW2 allotment project here at Newquay Zoo.

Preface to Percy Izzard's Homeland (1918)

Preface to Percy Izzard’s Homeland (1918)

One can imagine the solace that Izzard’s  writing gave during wartime to anxious relatives and soldiers far from their Homeland”, all part of the healing power of nature, albeit a slightly romantic and vanishing countryside.

Lots more could be written about his book (available second hand on the web) and I will feature more about Izzard and his book Homeland close to its centenary in 2018.

Lyrical and lush, maybe even painterly in places, it chimes with contemporary efforts like the Wildlife Trust’s My Wildlife campaign and Project Wild Thing, to value the healing power of nature and get people outdoors. Gardening Leave the ex-forces horticultural therapy group would no doubt agree.

The Future of Nature Writing?

Continuing the Izzard tradition, nature writers like Gerald Durrell  inspired (and continues to inspire?) a whole generation of conservationists who work alongside me in zoos and wildlife parks.

I wonder what the next generation of nature writers will be like and how they will communicate?

I shall have to ask the Wildlife Education and Media students next door at Cornwall College Newquay.

The slow calm and quiet headspace created by good nature writing from people like Richard Mabey in Nature Cure and others, pioneered in the past nature writing competitions by BBC Wildlife magazine, still has a power to engage people with conservation and wildlife, even in the manic days of tweets, podcasts, dramatic whizzy films and apps.

Good nature writing can be as calming as  a quiet country churchyard full of wildflowers but on a page and at your own pace.

Interesting compilations of nature writing can be found online including the Guardian based  Country Diary (see article about 1914) collected as The Guardian Book of Wartime Country Diaries (Martin Wainwright, 2007) or an older US compilation The Nature Reader by Daniel Halpern.

By the way, whatever happened to Primrose Day?

Does anyone still celebrate this?

Primroses seem to be doing well enough in Plantlife’s

You can read a little more about Percy Izzard (who will feature in a forthcoming blog here in 2016/7)  and William Pascoe at the original blog I wrote:

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

Back to Nature: The quiet  riches of a country churchyard where William D. Pascoe, WW1 casualty is remembered on the family plot amongst wildflowers, pinecones and primroses. Devoran Churchyard, Cornwall,  April 2015.  Image: Mark Norris

Back to Nature: The quiet riches of a country churchyard where William D. Pascoe, WW1 casualty is remembered on the family plot beneath the fir tree amongst wildflowers, pinecones and primroses. Devoran Churchyard, Cornwall, April 2015.
Image: Mark Norris

%d bloggers like this: