Posts Tagged ‘Paignton Zoo’

Remembering D-Day 6th June 1944

June 6, 2016

TRebah and LC USA links 006

29th Lets Go! Over Here, then off to D-Day beaches 1944: wreath at Trebah Gardens war memorial, Cornwall

6th June 1944 was an important date in World War Two, the Normandy Landings and especially poignant in our three zoos’ local areas of Cornwall, Devon and the South West Coast.

Thousands of American, British and Allied Servicemen left our local basecamps, airfields and coastal areas where they had trained for the shores of Normandy, many of them never to return.

Since 2009 we have posted several blogposts on D-Day and our sister zoo,  Paignton Zoo . Thousands of young Americans were camped over the Clennon Gorge part of Paignton Zoo ready for embarkation onto landing craft  next to our other sister zoo, Living Coasts.

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

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2009/08/17/please-do-not-eat-the-peacocks-when-visiting-the-zoo/

 

TRebah and LC USA links 014

D Day Embarkation Hard next to our sister zoo Living Coasts, Torquay.  

Hundreds of American servicemen perished off the coast of Slapton Sands, a battle training area, where our founder Herbert Whitley had purchased the now peaceful Slapton Ley as a field reserve.

 

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

dday 6 extiger crop

Operation Tiger dated entries , 1944 diary WWZG collection Image: Mark Norris, WWZG.

Recently I spotted several other local D-Day links in Weymouth on my zoo travels:

DDay weymouth photo

 

Weymouth DDay statuethhhDDay weymouth insriptionweymouth DDay wreathsth weymouth DDay inscription

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Weymouth D-Day plaque of thanks from US troops.

As well as the Weymouth memorial, I noticed a new D-Day plaque in 2014 at Lyme Regis whilst fossil hunting there. We use the ammonites and other Jurassic Coast  fossils in dinosaur and extinction workshops at Newquay Zoo.

Falmouth about 25 miles from Newquay Zoo also has a D-Day memorial shelter as  thanks from US troops stationed across Cornwall

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Falmouth D-Day memorial shelter, near Gyllyngvase Beach / Pendennis Castle. 2016.

:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Compass plaque, Falmouth D-day memorial shelter.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

 

D-Day remembered 6th June 1944 / 2016 across our three zoo sites and  the Southwest.

Posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, 6th June 2016.

Advertisements

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!

image

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.

Saving energy and salvage in wartime – advice for today from Vicky Victory the Hair Aid Warden!

September 22, 2015

Salvage message in WW1 ration book (Image Source: Mark Norris, private collection)

Salvage message in WW1 ration book (Image Source: Mark Norris, private collection)

World War 1 and World War 2 both saw salvage and energy saving drives that are uncanny parallels of modern initiatives like ‘Pull the Plug’, the Pole To Pole challenge set up by EAZA European Zoos.

Encouraging positive behaviour change is nothing new, as we can see from these interesting items in our collection:

Energy saving WW2 style Bookmark (source: author's collection, on loan to World War Zoo Gardens project)

Energy saving WW2 style
Bookmark (source: author’s collection, on loan to World War Zoo Gardens project)

From the days before Twitter and Facebook, there are many examples from WW1 and WW2 of mini-messaging from bookmarks and  bus tickets to big broadcast messaging through posters (‘weapons on the wall’) and numerous information films.

inspire yr 6 ww2 doc

Posters are a great wartime study resource and the primary history Inspire Curriculum Year 6 WW2 unit suggest a poster design session to mix Art and Design with History.

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 evcauted with  Benenden school to Newquay.  Copyright Newquay Zoo

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 evcauted with Benenden school to Newquay. Copyright Newquay Zoo

You can  see the WVS website for posters and Imperial War Museum for wartime poster examples. There’s a COGS poster, the Squanderbug, etc  all downloadable for classroom use. You can also buy great reproduction Wartime Posters through the IWM  shop, I use these posters  in our Year 6  wartime zoo schools workshops.

Wartime recycled handmade toys and Blitz, our re-enactor bear have got the squander bug surrounded - surrender! Objects from the Newquay Zoo wartime garden archive collection.

Wartime recycled handmade toys and Blitz, our re-enactor bear have got the squander bug surrounded – surrender! Objects from the Newquay Zoo wartime garden archive collection

The Squanderbug is another of my wartime cartoon favourites.

salvage bus ticket WW2

Mini Eco- messaging examples 1940s style on 1940s bus and tram tickets. (Image Source: Mark Norris, private collection)

Mini Eco- messaging examples 1940s style on 1940s bus and tram tickets.

Save Steel - An encouragement to reuse rather than recycle, with Vicky Victory The Hair Aid Warden (USA) (Source: author's collection, World War Zoo gardens Project)

Save Steel – An encouragement to reuse rather than recycle, with Vicky Victory The Hair Aid Warden (USA) (Source: author’s collection, World War Zoo gardens Project)

Save Steel – An encouragement to reuse rather than recycle, with Vicky Victory The Hair Aid Warden (USA).

Salvage was not all as glamorous as Vicky Victory in the beauty salon.  It could involve,  as the WVS did, dragging village ponds for abandoned tyres as rubber became more scarce after December 1941 with the war spreading  in the Far East .

The WVS  have produced some excellent teachers resources  and picture gallery,  including of COGS “Children on Government Salvage” collecting scrap metal and school salvage clubs.

Energy saving became not only thrifty and money saving but also a patriotic duty in wartime. This was recycling at gunpoint!

Part of our wartime garden display on Make Do and Mend in wartime, Newquay Zoo World War Zoo Gardens collection

Part of our wartime garden display 2010 on Make Do and Mend in wartime, Newquay Zoo World War Zoo Gardens collection

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

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

Reduce Reuse Recycle is a modern way of looking at Make Do and Mend, involving zoo scrounging and recycling materials in unusual ways.

Chester Zoo still had visible in 2011 wartime concrete road blocks sold as Government Surplus to George Mottershead to build enclosures when building materials were scarce in the 1940s.

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

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

Our Modern Energy Saving Challenge

The parallels between wartime and peacetime challenges are explored in the interesting New Home Front reports including their poster competition modern ‘wartime’ propaganda posters http://www.newhomefront.org/

Phil Wellington's winning modern 'wartime' poster for the New Home Front Report No. 2 (Image Source: http://www.newhomefront.org)

Phil Wellington’s winning modern ‘wartime’ poster for the New Home Front Report No. 2 (Image Source: http://www.newhomefront.org)

Energy saving  is now a big challenge in peacetime for a modern Zoo or Botanic Garden – how to look after our rare  animals and plants in the most environmentally friendly way, and how to involve our visitors in positive behavioural change for wildlife.

Recently throughout 2014/15 many zoos have run ‘Pole to Pole’ activities as part of this EAZA European Zoo Association campaign.

We have got through thousands of leaflets to visitors, amongst other activities, as well as continuing our ongoing energy audit which is part of our past Green Tourism Gold award and current ISO 14001 accreditation.   You can learn more about this here on our Newquay Zoo website page. and some good links on our Paignton Zoo website page. pole to pole leaflet

The Two Degrees is the Limit Campaign 2015

Scientists are clear about the devastating effects on human well-being, the natural world and its biodiversity that man made global warming above 2⁰C will have. As part of the Pole to Pole Campaign of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, website and zoo visitors signed the petition  to demand the commitment of our national governments and the European Union to support all measures which help keep global warming under the 2⁰C limit, and to work towards a binding global agreement at the intergovernmental meeting on climate change in Paris in December 2015.

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

 

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.

 

 

D-Day and a curious 1944 matchbox diary

June 1, 2014

Amongst my World War Zoo Gardens project collection of original civilian diaries and letters from WW2 is a recently acquired  1944 HMSO No. S3 Diary, its military date stamp [Jan?] 1944, crossed out with childish writing: “Matchbox Album”

Front cover of Bernie Walker's curious 1944 diary. Image: Mark Norris, WWZG

Front cover of Bernie Walker’s curious 1944 diary. Image: Mark Norris, WWZG

Inside along with adverts to buy 3% Defence Bonds from the National Savings Committee is the pencilled inscription S/Sgt Bernie Walker US Army for ‘Sammy‘, amidst lists in childish writing [by Sammy?] of countries where the matchbooks and matchbox covers pasted on the pages have come from.

'For Sammy' title page 1944 diary. Image: Mark Norris, WWZG

‘For Sammy’ title page 1944 diary. Image: Mark Norris, WWZG

January to March 1944 pages are covered with matchbox covers some of which have overprinted “War Quality 2 Pices” on Indian made matchboxes, a few possibly postwar ones (marked 1947) from almost every country in Europe and many countries of the Empire (India, Burma, S.Africa) as well as Canada, USA, Japan, Lebanon and others.

Wartime propaganda matchbooks  & matchbox labels, 1944 diary WWZG collection  Image:  Mark Norris, WWZG.

Wartime propaganda matchbooks & matchbox labels, 1944 diary WWZG collection Image: Mark Norris, WWZG.

The matchbox labels themselves are interesting as wartime propaganda, with lots of patriotic slogans:
– “Waste in wartime is a crime”
– “Save food, save metal, save bags, save paper”
– “Save coal gas electricity paraffin, save fuel for battle!”
– a football picture with the words “Back up your side, and help the war effort”.
– “Don’t talk about your work, get on with it!”
– “We must win! Buy more war bonds stamps” and other similar
– “Invest in America, Buy War Bonds” (Maryland USA match co.) and “Keep ‘Em Flying Buy War Bonds” (Jersey USA match co.)
– Canadian YMCA War Services Along with a big “V for Victory” (Canadian matches)

More wartime propaganda matchbooks  & matchbox labels, 1944 diary WWZG collection  Image:  Mark Norris, WWZG.

More wartime propaganda matchbooks & matchbox labels, 1944 diary WWZG collection Image: Mark Norris, WWZG.

A colourful childhood collection given to & continued by Sammy?

However on the first blank pages in late March 1944 is written:

Wednesday 29 March 1944: Surgeon Commander Visit to Unit with General Bradley and General Gerhardt and [?] HQ.

1944 diary WWZG collection  Image:  Mark Norris, WWZG.

1944 diary WWZG collection Image: Mark Norris, WWZG.

Charles Gerhardt (June 6, 1895 – October 9, 1976) commanded the U.S. 29th Infantry Division from 1943 throughout its training in Cornwall and Devon and D-Day until the end of World War 2.  Omar Bradley was chosen to command the US First Army throughout D-Day. I’m not sure who the Surgeon Commander was, it may well have been US Army Surgeon General Norman Kirk

More wartime propaganda matchbooks  & matchbox labels, 1944 diary WWZG collection  Image:  Mark Norris, WWZG.

May 1944 diary entries, Walker diary WWZG collection Image: Mark Norris, WWZG.

Monday 24 April 1944: Intensive Training Category B Exercise (Amphibious) (B)

Ditto for Tuesday 25 to Thursday 27 April 1944.

Friday 28 April 1944 – Training Live Category A ocean and beach Assault (A)
Enemy shipping in Area (U/T) some units engaged. Some of our boats lost.

Saturday 29 April 1944: All information heavily censored and restricted.

The following first week of May the diary is ruled across and the words “Censored” written in, no other entries recorded throughout the rest of May. It is interesting to see contemporary references to Exercise Tiger, where hundreds of US servicemen were lost off Slapton Sands in Devon on 28/29 April 1944.

Friday 2 June 1944: large movement of forces and equipment

Saturday 3 June 1944: ditto

Sunday 4 June 1944: boarding for Exercise Category A

Monday 5 June 1944: En boarding for Exercise. Weather heavy swell / Storm

More wartime propaganda matchbooks  & matchbox labels, 1944 diary WWZG collection  Image:  Mark Norris, WWZG.

More wartime propaganda matchbooks & matchbox labels, 1944 diary WWZG collection Image: Mark Norris, WWZG.

No further entries are recorded for the day after, 6th June 1944, which was of course D-Day.

There are only a couple more scrawled entries:

Tuesday 18 July 1944:  St Lo France Falls.

Thursday 26 August 1944:  Brest France Offensive

Monday 18 September 1944:  Brest France Falls

Thursday 7 December 1944 page lists River Elbe 4/19/45
River Roer 2/23/45. Bremen Germany 1945

The remaining pages are full of matchbox and matchbook covers, some from wartime, others from the 1950s (for example Festival of Britain 1951, Ascent of Everest 1953).

More Research Needed?

I’m not sure at the moment about the full story behind the diary / album and it demands more research. If you have any other thoughts or insights on this unusual diary, please contact me through the comments page.

  • Who was ‘Sammy’ for whom the diary or album was a gift?
  • Who was Staff Sergeant Bernie Walker who gave the album & presumably wrote the diary?
  • When and how were the matchbooks and matchboxes collected?

Looking at these places and dates, it seems likely that this album is from someone connected with the 29th Infantry Division. In May 1943 the division moved to the Devon–Cornwall peninsula and started conducting simulated attacks against fortified positions. At this time it was assigned to V Corps of the First United States Army. After training in England for two years, the 29th took part in D-Day or Operation Overlord, the landings in Normandy. The division was among the first wave of troops to the shore at Omaha Beach, suffering massive casualties in the process. It then advanced to Saint-Lô, and eventually through France and into Germany itself. All this tallies with entries in the diary.

Hopefully the 29th Infantry Division Historical Society or Regimental Association may have a record of Staff Sergeant Bernie Walker. There is an excellent autobiographical article by PFC Mills H. Hobbs in the recent 29th Association newsletter. The 29th have several related reenactment groups which you can find online, no doubt very busy with June 1944 commemorations.

Previous related blog posts
I have written several times about D-Day stories uncovered during World War Zoo Gardens research, and our Cornwall and Devon links, through Newquay Zoo, Paignton Zoo and Slapton Ley (all run by the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust).
https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2010/06/23/d-day-1944-and-the-disappearing-peacocks-and-ducks-of-wartime-paignton-zoo/

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/over-here-70th-anniversary-of-first-us-troops-arriving-in-britain/

TRebah and LC USA links 014

So this week on the 70th anniversary of the 6th June 1944 landings I will be thinking of S/Sgt Bernie Walker, among  the many V Corps / 29th division troops that embarked from our local Cornwall & Devon beaches, hards & harbours like Brixham & Trebah, those that trained at Slapton Sands, as well as the US IVth Infantry Division  GIs (the “Ivy Boys”) camped at Paignton Zoo not to mention some missing & delicious peacocks & wildfowl …

Over Here, then off to D-Day beaches 1944: wreath at Trebah Gardens war memorial, Cornwall

29 Lets Go –  Over Here, then off to D-Day beaches 1944: wreath at Trebah Gardens war memorial, Cornwall

 

I’ll also be thinking of one of my neighbours whose late father went in with the British 48th Royal Marine Commandos at Juno Beach (pictured in the IWM image B5218  & survived the Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944, but that’s another story for another blog post …

Thanks to Nigel & Tony at http://www.militarytrader.co.uk for their sourcing & assistance with the item.

World War Zoo Gardens workshops for schools at Newquay Zoo

January 29, 2014

We’ve been busy recently at Newquay Zoo setting up for some primary school workshops about wartime life and what happened in zoos in WW2.

http://www.newquayzoo.org.uk/learning-zone/world-war-zoo

This topic has survived into the new 2013/14 Primary History Curriculum in Year 6 as turning points in history, elsewhere as ‘local history’ and can be seen in the Inspire Curriculum (Cornwall Learning) as Year 6 Spring 2 Unit:  The Battle of Britain:  Bombs, Battles and Bravery. 

inspire yr 6 ww2 doc

 

 

 

 

A colourful cross-Inspire Curriculum map for this topic can be downloaded via this link.

Schools visit Newquay Zoo from upcountry and around the county for many topics. One recent local school who usually go to a local museum visited to find out the answer to an unusual question. The children asked their teacher – “What happened to animals during the war?” so a trip to Newquay Zoo was the answer. Others book in as the start or finish of their wartime history classroom topic or alongside their more traditional animal studies of rainforest or habitats.

Our wartime zoo trail is quickly set up for visiting schoolchildren around the zoo, a trail that’s been shared with visitors during Armistice weekends and wartime garden weekends.

One of our temporary World War Zoo Gardens trail boards set up for schools workshops, World War Zoo Gardens workshop, Newquay Zoo

One of our temporary World War Zoo Gardens trail boards around the zoo set up for schools workshops, World War Zoo Gardens workshop, Newquay Zoo

Display case of wartime memorabilia, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo
Our display case in the Tropical House houses a changing topical collection of wartime Home Front items from civilian and zoo life from WW1 and WW2. There’s an Eye-Spy list to encourage students to look out for and identify some of the more unusual items. They generate interesting history questions: What are they? Who used them and what were they used for?

The Battle Of Britain in miniature for a wartime boy! A beautiful wartime handmade wooden Spitfire toy, our other favourite suggestion for the wartime object collection on the BBC A History of The World.

The Battle Of Britain in miniature for a wartime boy! A beautiful wartime handmade wooden Spitfire toy in our display case  for the wartime object collection on the BBC A History of The World.

Some of my favourites are the handmade items like toy wooden Spitfires or puzzle games from scrap materials, our contribution featured in the BBC digital online museum accompanying the BBC’s “A History of The World in a Hundred Objects”.

The biggest effort is in unpacking and repacking our stored wartime artifacts. These range from large items like heavy wartime civil defence uniform jackets and land girl overcoats to smaller items like steel helmets that are interesting for students to try on and feel the weight. It’s not advisable to try on the different gas masks though, if they still have the filter sections intact or attached. Many of these are everyday wartime items that zoo keepers, their families or zoo visitors would have carried and been very familiar with.

It takes a while to pin up wartime posters and unpack ‘evacuee’ suitcases but the end result looks good so well worth the effort. Alongside our original Newquay War Weapons Week poster design by evacuee Benenden schoolgirls,  the other wartime posters (” weapons on the wall”) are battered old reproduction examples from the Imperial War Museum shop 

' Evacuee' suitcases with original handmade wartime toys, ARP advice and blue WAAF silks!  World War Zoo Gardens workshop, Newquay Zoo (Picture: Lorraine Reid, Newquay Zoo)

‘ Evacuee’ suitcases with original handmade wartime toys, ARP advice and blue WAAF silks! World War Zoo Gardens workshop, Newquay Zoo (Picture: Lorraine Reid, Newquay Zoo)

Different topics such as the outbreak of war and closure of places of entertainment like zoos, preparing and repairing the zoo from air raid damage, feeding the animals when they had no ration books and coping with the call up and casualties of staff are covered through enlarged photographs, newspaper headlines, adverts and posters from our collection to illustrate our talk or answer questions.

Through telling the story of how we are researching wartime zoos and showing the students many of these original source materials, we’re showing them an idea of the process of how history is written and researched, an important skill for future historians.

Rationing and Dig For Victory gardening items being laid out for our World War Zoo Gardens schools workshop, Newquay Zoo  (Photo: Lorraine Reid, Newquay Zoo)

Rationing and Dig For Victory gardening items being laid out for our World War Zoo Gardens schools workshop, Newquay Zoo
(Photo: Lorraine Reid, Newquay Zoo)

The tiniest items on display are original artefacts like shrapnel and incendiary bomb tail fins that did such damage to zoo and botanic garden glass roofs and hay stores. These small items, along with the bewildering variety of wartime cap badges and buttons, often survive as part of a wartime schoolboy’s souvenir collection of relics.

"What did you Do in the War, Granny?" is partly answered by these poster reproductions on the wall. World War Zoo Gardens workshop, Newquay Zoo

“What did you Do in the War, Granny?” is partly answered by these poster reproductions on the wall. World War Zoo Gardens workshop, Newquay Zoo

This schoolboy collecting bug often puzzles the female students – “what did girls do during the war?” they ask. This question we partly answer with a range of items from land girl greatcoats, women’s magazines, cookery books, knitted dolls and some highly desirable items such as WAAF issue silk stockings and bloomers. Most of the students know how stockings were faked using gravy browning, coffee and eyeliner pencils for the seams. Our other precious silk item, of course of animal origin, is a pilot’s silk escape map of S.E. Asian jungle islands where many of our  endangered animals come from today.

We try to cover all the senses such as the weight and roughness of uniforms, sandbags and helmets. Smell is not so easy to represent – what did wartime Britain smell like? – but we visit our recreated wartime allotment near the Lion House to harvest (in season) some fresh animal food and herbs.

World War Zoo Garden, Summer 2011: World War Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo

World War Zoo Garden, Summer 2011: World War Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo

Taste is a tricky sense to safely build into a workshop, what with modern concerns over food allergies (did they exist during rationing?) However our fabulous Cafe Lemur staff help introduce workshops in the quieter times of the year by cooking up batches of fresh and reasonably edible potato biscuits (recipe below) for students to try, taken from some wartime recipe sheets we have for visitors to take away. It’s always interesting to watch the facial expressions of students as they risk the first bite. Only a few aren’t eaten!

Primary history source material -  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)

Primary history source material – 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)

Sound is an important part of the workshop ranging from learning the meaning of the sharp blasts of my ARP whistle to the different sound of air raid sirens – warning and all clear – keyed in from sound effects, as the real hand-cranked sirens are deafening in small spaces and we don’t want to accidentally evacuate the zoo. The gas warning rattle, beloved of football crowds in the past, is a popular and noisy thing to try at the workshop’s end.

Apart from looking at the display and trying on some of the headgear, another popular activity at the end of a workshop is a quick demonstration outside of ‘fire bomb drill’ that older children and zoo families would have learnt on firewatch or fire guard duty using our battered leaky but still working original stirrup pumps. Young arms soon tire from pumping these and thankfully there’s no fire involved but it’s a chance to soak your friends! Many gardeners made use of civil defence ‘war surplus’ stirrup pumps after the war as handy garden sprayers.

If we’re in luck, one of our older zoo volunteers pops in to answer questions about wartime childhood and even bring in their original ration books and identity cards. Sometimes our volunteers and our staff (including me!) dress up as characters using original and replica uniforms showing jobs that zoo staff would have done, often  after  a day’s work ranging from Fire Watch, Fire Service, Air Raid Precautions or Home Guard. There are a few of my family photographs of air raid shelters, harvest and garden work and stories from my evacuee parents that I retell in the talk too!

Paper pot maker in the wartime zoo garden, Newquay Zoo, 2010

Paper pot maker in the wartime zoo garden, Newquay Zoo, 2010

Wartime gardening and schools gardening

In summer we finish off our wartime zoo schools workshops with  making of newspaper pots and potting up of sunflower seeds (good source of animal food in wartime and very wildlife friendly today) for students to take home.  It’s good to hear from children and teachers that school gardens are thriving again as part of  Growing Schools Gardens, one practical follow-up to the ‘Dig For Victory’ history topic and zoo visit.

There is an excellent RHS / IWM Dig For Victory schools pack available online as a pdf   It’s good to see this growing area of the  Learning Outside the Classroom manifesto and network, something  which we’re proudly part of at Newquay Zoo as an accredited or quality learning venue since 2009.

Now that World War Two  is staying in modified form in the new ‘Gove’ 2014 primary school history national curriculum, we look forward to running many more schools WW2 workshops about this remarkable period in zoo and botanic garden history. I’m sure many teachers have enjoyed teaching the old Home Front primary history curriculum elements  and will adapt elements from units like the evacuees.

Each workshop throws up interesting new questions to answer or investigate. “What happened in zoos and associated botanic gardens in World War 1?” is one recent question we’ve been asked and are looking at, ahead of the 1914 centenary. We’ve already blogposted about the war memorials at Kew Gardens and London Zoo – see previous posts. We will be researching a WW1 version of the workshop in 2015.

The next big job is editing some of our research and collection of wartime diaries or letters into a resource pack, something we’re working on throughout 2014.  Some of our North-East wartime farmer’s diaries are on loan to Beamish museum for their new Wartime Farm.

We also run similar history sessions for secondary schools at Newquay Zoo and our sister Zoo Paignton Zoo in Devon. Herbert Whitley’s Paignton Zoo was operational in wartime as a camp site for D-Day US troops and had some strange wartime tales. Paignton also  hosted evacuee staff and animals from the bombed and blitzed Chessington Zoo.

You can find out more about the World War Zoo Gardens project, schools workshops and local offsite talks and our contact details on our schools webpage

——————————————————————————————————————————————-

Wartime Savoury Potato Biscuit recipe – cooked up  on World War Zoo Gardens workshop days 

* N.B. Leave out cheese if you have dairy allergy, the pepper is enough to make the taste ‘interesting’.

Adapted from the original Recipe from Potatoes: Ministry of Food wartime leaflet No. 17 

Makes about 24 approx 3 inch biscuits

Ingredients

2  ounces margarine

3  ounces plain flour

3 ounces cooked mashed potato

6 tablespoons grated cheese*

1.5 teaspoons table salt

Pinch of cayenne or black pepper

Cooking instructions

1. Rub margarine into flour

2. Add potato, salt, pepper (and cheese if using*)

3. Work to a stiff dough

4. Roll out thinly and cut into shapes

5. Bake in a moderate oven, 15 to 20 minutes.

Over Here – 70th anniversary of first US troops arriving in Britain

January 26, 2012

Over Here, then off to D-Day beaches 1944: wreath at Trebah Gardens war memorial, Cornwall

Today 26th January 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of the first GI American servicemen arriving in Britain, the first  in blitzed Belfast then others through Clydeside and Bristol. By 1944, over a million US servicemen had arrived in every part of Britain from here in Cornwall, our zoo cousins at Paignton and Slapton in Devon.
 
Previous blog posts have told the story of Operation Tiger the tragic loss of life on training at Slapton Sands (our nature reserve run by FSC) and the GIs camped at Paignton Zoo’s Clennon Gorge. Many troops from the Torbay area embarked next to The Marine Spa which became in 2003 the peaceful location of Living Coasts, our sister zoo.
 
 In a rationed and blitzed Britain, Digging for Victory to feed itself, these young GIs and airmen changed not only our eating habits with gum, chocolate and unfamiliar plants like sweetcorn. They also changed our landscape and left many things behind.They left hard stuff like runways, beach ramps but also softer things – memories,  broken hearts but more positively,  many a GI bride.   
 
Many an American zoo employee was called up and served overseas, some never to return. American zoos and gardens went into a s alavge and Dig for Victory garden footing. Our World War Zoo Gardens at Newquay Zoo with its American plants like Sweetcorn / maize is a quiet memorial to zoo keepers of all nations from America to Japan, Germany to Russia, worldwide who served and suffered on the home front and the battlefield.
 
Previous blog posts (see the month by month selection) also mentioned the 1943 US Liberator crash, whose engine relics were displayed here at one of our World War Zoo garden events. Down at the bustling beaches of Watergate Bay near Newquay Zoo, home to the famous Fifteen and the Extreme Academy, look out for a simple plaque  marking the crash of a Liberator and the loss of its American crew in 1943, remembered each year by Douglas Knight , Newquay ‘boy’ now in his 80s.
Not forgotten. ‘Over here, over paid, and over sexed’ was one popular summary of the GIs in Britain, something Juliet Gardiner discusses critically in her wartime history books. The recently republished pocket advice manuals to US servicemen on life in wartime Britain  make fascinating reading about our strange British habits, cultural differences and hard wartime experiences. But we have much to remember and be thankful for … 

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

March 3, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

More about the World War Zoo project on www.newquayzoo.org.uk news sections.

Bert our Gnome Guard-ener goes AWOL and turns up at Paignton Zoo’s VertiCrop – latest

February 24, 2011

LDV gnome gone AWOL ... Bert our World War Zoo Gnome Guard-ener checks out hi-tech hyrdroponic gardening at VertiCrop, Paignton Zoo. The bearded one on the right is Kevin Frediani, Paignton Zoo's Curator of Plants and Gardens. (Image: Paignton Zoo)

Received from the Press Office,  Paignton Zoo (before the gnome went AWOL):

A garden gnome in military uniform has gone missing from Newquay Zoo in Cornwall.

And now the member of the Gnome Guard has turned up 80 miles away at Paignton Zoo in Devon!

 The gnome went missing from Newquay Zoo’s World War Zoo garden exhibit, which shows the affect of war on zoos, their animals and their staff. He has now been found inspecting Paignton Zoo’s Verticrop Facility in the company of Curator of Plants and Gardens Kevin Frediani.

 Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo Education Manager, who started the World War Zoo project, said: “I think he’s gone to find out about gardening at other zoos. US troops were stationed on land at Paignton Zoo during the war. And it’s appropriate that he stopped off to look at the VertiCrop vertical growing system, as it’s said that the American army pioneered hydroponics to help feed soldiers during the war.”

“We hope he’ll be back in time for Newquay Zoo’s wartime zoo garden week during May half term. He’s also going to Chester Zoo for a conference in May, where the Newquay Zoo education team will be giving talks on zoos and wartime garding during the war.’’

For more information on the World War Zoo garden project, and education at Newquay Zoo, please visit the official website www.newquayzoo.org.uk.

We look forward to hearing more of Bert’s exploits and to his eventual safe return …

One of our Gnome Guards is missing from Newquay Zoo …

February 21, 2011

Our Gnome Guard has gone missing and off on his travels ... here he is at Paignton Zoo's VertiCrop house , proudly wearing his LDV arm band.

Our Gnome Guard from the World War Zoo gardens project has disappeared from Newquay Zoo www.newquayzoo.org.uk last weekend …

and mysteriously appeared at Paignton Zoo ‘s VertiCrop house http://www.paigntonzoo.org.uk/botanical/verticrop.php

from where he sent this postcard! All very mysterious …

One wartime Paignton Zoo site where Newquay Zoo's wartime Gnome Guard may explore - 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)

It’s not a bad spot to visit, the 21st century update of our 1940s grow your own ‘dig for victory’ zoo keepers’ allotment producing fresh food for our zoo animals .

I saw VertiCrop in November, when visting looking at Paignton Zoo’s wartime past. Suitably for a wartime re-enactor (gnome), Paignton Zoo was operational during World War Two, and you can read more about its past in our archive of blog posts in 2010.

Undercover allotment of the future ... VertiCrop at Paignton Zoo pictured on our recent BIAZA zoo conference visit, November 2010, whilst looking for hints of the wartime Paignton Zoo

 

Who knows where he will turn up next?

 

Who knows when he will return?

(Who ever helped him travel, please return him at some point – there’s digging to be done).

Fresh faced, a white bearded Grandad's Army protects the crops at Newquay Zoo's wartime garden, summer 2010.

Without our gnome gardener / guard-ener’s help, we put our wartime variety of spuds in yesterday (Sharpe’s Express) and some of our saved broad bean seeds from last year’s crop. The rest of the broad beans proved great fresh ‘podding’  enrichment for our critically endangered ‘Yaki’ Sulawesi macaque monkeys last summer. We’ve sown some more broad beans and other things for them this year, a special year for the macaques with the launch of the Selamatkan Yaki campaign (‘save the macaques’ in the local Sulawesi /Bahasan Indonesian language) by Paignton & Newquay Zoo (part of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust) see our website www.newquayzoo.org.uk/conservation pages.   

LDV Gnome guard in his usual allotment spot in our wartime 'Dig For Victory' garden Summer at Newquay Zoo, 2010

Our Gnome Guard on his planned travels, appearing in our wartime display at Trelawney Garden Centre's wildlife gardening weekend, August 2010

If you look back through our blog posts in summer 2010 you’ll find more about our Gnome Guard, named after the LDV or Home Guard in World War 2. You’ll also find links to Twigs Way the garden writer and her superb little Shire Library series book on Garden Gnomes (There’s a great little Shire book by her on Allotments and a new book on wartime gardening by Twigs Way and Mike Brown (Sabrestorm)  http://twigsway.com/

Hopefully our Gnome Guard will be back by the May half term for our wartime displays as prt of our Wartime Zoo gardens week running alongside the BIAZA ‘Love Your Zoo’ campaign http://www.biaza.org.uk ( May 28 to June 5th 2011).

For more information about World War Zoo, visit http://www.newquayzoo.org.uk/news/world-war-zoo.htm

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

Hopefully, our missing Gnome Guard will be back from his travels soon. If he turns up next at our other sister zoo, Living Coasts www.livingcoasts.org.uk  I will suspect an ‘inside job’ in his disappearance  …

After all, wherever you wander, there’s g-no place like gnome …


%d bloggers like this: