Posts Tagged ‘zoo history’

Belfast Zoo and the Belfast Blitz 19 April 1941

April 16, 2016

Belfast Zoo in the Belfast Blitz  75 years ago 19 April 1941 …

“During World War II, the Ministry of Public Security said we must destroy 33 animals for public safety in case they escaped when the zoo was damaged by air raids.

On 19th April 1941, Mr A McClean MRCVS, head of the Air Raid Protection section, enlisted the help of Constable Ward from the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Sergeant E U Murray of the Home Guard to shoot these animals.

The animals included 9 lions (including cubs), 1 hyena, 6 wolves, 1 puma, 1 tiger, 1 ‘black’ bear, 2 brown bears, 2 polar bears, 1 lynx, 2 racoons, 1 vulture, and 1 ‘giant rat’ that is presumed to be a Coypu (a large rodent creature).”

In the account in Juliet Gardner’s The Blitz, the Head Keeper is recorded as having been in tears as he watched.

Similarly, Japanese zoo staff were traumatised by carrying out official orders (from higher military or government authority) the ‘disposal’ of ‘dangerous animals’ in Japanese zoos, due to the threat of air raids, an event described in great detail in  Japanese Wartime Zoo Policy: The Silent Victims of World War II by Mayumi Itoh (Palgrave, 2010).

Lest we forget the sacrifices of staff and animals of zoos in wartime.

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These are some of the previously unpublished memories I have been sent by Peter and his sister Wendy, along with the story of Derek Witney, wartime Chessington and Paignton Zoo staff child.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


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

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.”

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!


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 ( 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.

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.

Remembering H. Mulroy, Belle Vue Zoo, died Ypres 16 August 1915

August 16, 2015

H. Mulroy's headstone, Ridge Wood Military Cemetery (source: International Wargraves Photographic Project)

H. Mulroy’s headstone, Ridge Wood Military Cemetery (source: International War Graves Photographic Project)

Private H. Mulroy or Mullroy is one of the vanished Belle Vue Zoo (Manchester) staff who died on active service during the First World War.

Current research believes that he died aged 21 serving as a Private 23516 with the 12th  (Service) Battalion, Manchester Regiment near Ypres on 16 August 1915.

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

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

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

Mullroy or Mulroy’s name picked out on the Belle Vue Zoo’s now vandalised war memorial – luckily the names, although hard to read, are inscribed in stone as the brass statue has been stolen. (Image:

His name appears on the sadly vandalised Belle Vue Zoo staff war memorial in Gorton Cemetery. It appears to have been spelt with a double LL as Mullroy. There is no casualty listed on CWGC with that unusual double L spelling.

Current research believes that H (Henry? Harry?) Mulroy died serving with the 12th Manchester Regiment at Ypres on 16 August 1915. Mulroy is buried in Ridge Wood Military Cemetery near Dickebush and Ypres in Flanders, Belgium. There is no family information or inscription on his headstone or CWGC Cemetery entry.


Henry or Harry Mulroy  was born and enlisted in Manchester. He entered active service in France and Flanders with his regiment on 16 July 1915 and was killed a month later after only sixteen days in the trenches near Ypres. He was awarded the 1915 star, British War and Victory Medal.

His Manchester born mother Mary Jane Mulroy seems to have been his sole legatee for his final effects and war bonus / salary. His father Thomas Mulroy (born in Ireland) appears to have died at 31 Harvest Street in 1907, after working in textiles, as a  fustian and “calico dresser”.

Harry was the youngest of his family of 6 brothers and sisters (4 others died young) and was working as a shop assistant in the 1911 Census, the family living at 24 Oak Street, Gorton, Manchester. His older brother ‘Willie’ or James William (a calico dresser like his father) appears in service records later in the war as a partly deaf 31 year old conscripted into the Labour Corps on home service (from 1917 to 1919). An older sister Susan (b. 1891) was involved with Textiles / sewing, his oldest brother Thomas (b. 1879) involved in the fruit market and green grocery.  Brother Richard  b. 1888 was also involved in the local textile trade  (Cloth worker, weaving mill).

Interestingly in the 1911 Census return, his brother John (b. 1890, machine man, iron planer) spells the family name Mulroy but on the census summary return the census enumerator spells it as what appears to be  “Mullroy”.

Harry Mulroy’s War

There is an excellent website that outlines the history of the 12th Manchester  (Service ) Battalion as part of K2, Kitchener’s Army of volunteers.

The  whole battalion only landed in France on 16 July 1915 and their war diary has been transcribed here:

After training in Britain, embarking for France and then marching and further training and troop “trench  instruction” They moved into the Southern Ypres salient for trench familiarisation and then took over the the front lines in that area. Harry’s regiment arrived in the trenches on 1st August 1915.

The War Diary, transcribed by Myles Francis, states:

July 1915

[Battalion comprised 30 officers and 975 rank and file]
Entrained at Winchester for Service with Expeditionary Force in France.
12 noon  Embarked at FOLKESTONE … [for Boulogne].

Proceeded by march route to White Chateau 3 miles west of HOOGE and bivouaced 48 hours.

Relieved 1st Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers. Relief completed by 3AM of the 2nd inst without incident.

Quiet day.

Quiet day but for a few whiz bangs.

Rather quiet with a little artillery activity.

Quiet day.

Our artillery more active than usual. Enemy shelled us with whiz bangs doing little damage.

The Battalion began digging a V shaped ditch for barricade in front of our barbed wire and assembly posts near SNIPERS BARN. No attempt made by enemy to intefere. Hear that new troops have taken over enemy trenches.

Very quiet day.

2.15am Our artillery opened heavy bombardment on our sectors directed on a frontage of 500 yards. Ordered to cause diversion while 6th Division attacked at HOOGE. Reports from Patrols were that the enemy were seen leaving trenches on our front and making for BOIS QUARANTE.
9am Heard the attack by 6th Division was successful.

Quiet day.

Very quiet day.

Normal. Small amount of shelling on both sides.

Quiet day.

Quiet with the exception of a few heavy shells which fell well behind the reserve trenches.

Quiet day; Some artillery activity in afternoon on both sides. Heavy rifle and machine gun fire during the night.

Enemy fired rifle grenades on trench No 5.

Very quiet day. Were relieved by the 9th Bn Duke of Wellington Regt. Relief commenced at 8.0pm but did not complete until 4.30am of the 18th inst owing to furious bombardment by the enemy.


So it seems unfortunate that Harry Mulroy, shop assistant and probable employee at Belle Vue Zoo, was killed on a quiet day in a quietish sector. He is buried next to another Manchester Regiment casualty of the same day, Private Mullen.

Whilst we currently have no perfect fit and definite proof that the Belle Vue Zoo H. Mullroy or Mulroy on the war memorial  is the same man as Harry Mulroy of the 12th Manchesters, by the misspelling of the name on several occasions and the family location, it is certainly highly possible they are the same man.

Latest Research

I first worked on the Belle Vue war memorial names in 2010, building on some earlier work by Stephen Cocks.

There is now a whole new section on the Manchester & Salford family history forum website at covering current research by local historians on the names on the memorial. Fascinating site and a real labour of love …

Private Harry Mulroy, Remembered.

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

The World War Zoo Gardens Project in graphic form

August 16, 2015

World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

A few close ups of the lovely World War Zoo Garden sign / graphic (c. 2011) designed by Stewart Muir and myself (Mark Norris) at Newquay Zoo in Cornwall working with graphic designer Michelle Turton (Studio 71).

As I can’t spend all day chatting over the garden fence to visitors about this project, Stewart Muir  (Director of Living Collections – plants and animals at Living Coasts, Paignton & Newquay Zoos) thought that a simple sign should tell the recreated allotment garden’s story. We wanted a sign that would all year round, in all weathers,  tell the story behind the wartime garden project to our visitors. Its prime spot on a bashed old lawn corner next to our African Lion Enclosure means it gets lots of footfall and comment.

One design idea was to use scanned ‘evacuee tags’  (obtainable from any office supplier) for caption backgrounds.

World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

All the images are from items in Newquay Zoo’s wartime life collection and a few from Mark’s family archive!

World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

The allotment is a real talking point – and a smelly, tactile multi-sensory exhibit that grows valuable fresh enrichment veg, fruit, flowers and herbs for keepers to use with animals.

We wanted to pick out some of the contemporary parallels between the 1940s and the present and future – recycling, food imports  …

World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

Rationing and resource shortages was one major stimulus to developing the wartime garden project – how did the animals survive in wartime zoos without ration books?

World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

Fabulous pictures here (below bottom three) from a 1939 Zoo and Animal Magazine showing London Zoo and Whipsnade’s wartime preparations, (top right) my  junkshop photo / postcard find of a very well dressed and proud dig for victory garden effort ‘somewhere in Britain’ and (top left) one of my family photos with my child evacuee mum (left) haymaking in Sussex for the war effort.

Shortly after the picture was taken my mum  was strafed or machine-gunned  by a ‘tip and run’ German aircraft, surviving like the other children by diving into the haystack behind them!

World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

The link between our wartime sister zoo at Paignton and Chessington Zoo is briefly mentioned on the Evacuation section.

An Old Maid / Happy Families Wartime card game image of a WLA Land Girl adds period detail.

World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

World War Zoo Gardens sign, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

Critically Endangered Sulawesi Black crested macaque monkey photographed by zoo volunteer Jackie Noble, showing him ‘podding’ and eating broad beans fresh from our wartime garden produce

(below) two baby warty piglets and mum, the world’s rarest wild pigs, Visayan Warty Pigs from the Philippines (also Critically Endangered) tucking into fresh leeks from our wartime garden allotment.


Summarising our whole project onto seven short ‘evacuee’ tag captions was difficult.

We also use other simpler temporary A4 signs to highlight different or topical aspects of the garden, such as its memorial function for zoo staff of all nations …

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

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


Two simple A4 trail signs placed around the zoo and in the small wartime garden plot, part of a visitor and schools trail mounted for special occasions and ‘wartime zoo’ primary school history workshops.


.A ‘barn find’ rusting but still serviceable wartime Stirrup or fire pump (based on prewar garden sprayer designs and snapped up as wartime surplus postwar by gardeners) amid this year’s centennial poppies.

More poppies in the World War Zoo Gardens Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

More poppies in the World War Zoo Gardens Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, U

World War Zoo Gardens  Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

Getting ready for winter and 2016 planting in the World War Zoo Gardens plot, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK

Some of the images and scanned objects on our graphics sign are on temporary and changing display in our Tropical House display cabinet about the wartime garden project and wartime life in both WW1 and WW2.

Display case of wartime memorabilia, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo

A small selection of WW1 items on display alongside our usual WW2 material, display case, Tropical House, Newquay Zoo.

A small selection of WW1 items on display alongside our usual WW2 material, display case, Tropical House, Newquay Zoo.

Matthew James Walton DSM of Belle Vue Zoo, fireworks and the Battle of the Falklands 8 December 1914.

December 6, 2014

The 8th December 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the 1914 Naval Battle of the Falklands.

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

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

At the base of the battered Belle Vue Zoo staff war memorial in Gorton Cemetery, Manchester under the section ‘Died From Effects of War Service’ is  an interesting link to this far off naval battle, the name Petty Officer Matthew James Walton DSM.

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

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

Walton  died in the same year that the Belle Vue Zoo staff war memorial was erected in November 1926: the service was attended by former colleagues and managers  including the “Seawolves of Birkenhead, the latter in honour of Boatswain Walton, who fought at the Falkland Islands and died later.” I’m not sure who the Seawolves of Birkenhead were, possibly sea scouts?

The Battle of the Falklands 1914

The Falklands 1914 was an early British victory after the naval defeat at the Battle of the Coronel in the Western Pacific near South America weeks earlier on 1st November 1914. Two old British naval ships HMS Monmouth and HMS Good Hope were surprised and  sunk by German Admiral Graf Von Spee’s squadron of warships with the loss of 1570 British sailors. No survivors could be picked up with the threat of the other German ships around.

HMS Kent 1901-1920 Source: Wikipedia

HMS Kent 1901-1920 Source: Wikipedia

Walton won his Distinguished Service Medal on board HMS Kent, a Monmouth Class Armoured Cruiser which successfully pursued and  sank one of the German ships from the Coronel battle, the cruiser Nurnberg.

Five survivors from the Nurnberg’s crew of 332 were rescued and eight British sailors and marines were killed. Their memorial is appropriately for HMS Kent in Canterbury Cathedral and the ship’s bell will be rung at a memorial service at 11 a.m. on the 8th December 2014. For more details of this service, an exhibition  and the battle, see

By the end of the Battle of The Falklands 1914, two of the eight German ships had escaped, the Seydlitz and the Dresden. 1871 German sailors including Admiral Spee and his two sons. 215 German sailors survived from the sunken ships.

The Dresden did not survive for long, as Walton was on HMS Kent when it sank the Dresden at the Battle of Mas A Tierra on 14 March 1915.

“Nurnberg finishing off of Kent’s sister ship the Monmouth had been avenged” as it is deftly put in Adrian Beaumont’s book.

HMS Kent sustained some damage including damage to gun turrets and the ship’s wireless and signals room. The Imperial War Museum holds diaries or accounts of the battle  from a fellow Petty Officer  P.O. H.S.Welch and also Lieutenant V.H. Danckwerts from HMS Kent. There is much more in Adrian Beaumont’s excellent booklet which can be downloaded from the Canterbury Cathedral website.


Matthew Walton is one of the older  sailors somewhere amongst HMS Kent ship's company photo, taken during refit late 1915 after the Battle of the Falklands (Photo from Adrian Beaumont)

Matthew Walton is one of the older sailors somewhere amongst HMS Kent ship’s company photo, taken during refit late 1915 after the Battle of the Falklands (Photo from Adrian Beaumont)

Clues to Matthew Walton’s naval career

In the National Roll of The Great War XI Manchester, Walton has his wartime naval service summarised thus:

“Walton, M.J. DSM P.O. 1st Class, Royal Navy mobilised at the commencement of hostilities, he was posted to HMS Kent and proceeded to the South Atlantic, was in action at the Battle of the Falkand Islands. He was awarded the DSM for gallantry and devotion to duty and also took part in the sinking of the Dresden off Juan Fernandez Islands.

In January 1917 he returned home and until 1919 was engaged as Captain’s Coxswain of the Signal School Boat and then was sent to Russia where he saw much service.

Returning home he was demobilised in March 1920, and in addition to  the DSM, holds the 1914-15 star, the General Service and Victory Medals.  His address was listed as 9 William Street, West Gorton Manchester.”

His Distinguished Service Medal was gazetted on 3 March 1915 and in the Royal Medal Index 118358, RFR A1756, DSM 29087, Navy 29087 – more can be found on It would be interesting to know exactly what it was awarded for.

Histories of HMS Kent suggest that after Falklands and Mas a Tierra, she returned to the China Station in March / April 2015, then back to the UK in May 1915. She was involved in convoy escort duties and the China Station until July 1918. Walton left the ship to serve on HMS Victory I from 1917 to 1919.

In January  1919 HMS Kent was in Vladivostok to support American and Japanese Forces against the Bolsheviks.By this time Walton had moved ship again to HMS Fox, which was also involved in the Russian Campaign against the Bolsheviks. You can read more about this and HMS Fox at:

More clues from Matthew James Walton’s naval records

From what I have deciphered of his Royal Navy Ratings Service record, held in the National Archives ADM/188/151, Matthew James Walton was born in Rotherham, Yorkshire on 12 November 1866. He appears to have joined the Royal Navy around January 1882 where his eyes and hair are recorded as brown. He was recorded as having scanty hair when he was mobilised again in 1914!

With good or very good conduct throughout, Walton (Navy number 118358) worked from his  home port of Portsmouth  on an impressive number of ships in the late Victorian and Edwardian Royal Navy. From 1882 to 1901 he served on the Impregnable, Northumberland, Royal Adelaide, Iron Duke, Sultan, Duke of Wellington, Raleigh, Victory I, Vernon, Boscawen, Howe, Minotaur, Excellent, Penelope, Revenge, Trafalgar and Royal Sovereign.

By 1898 he had been promoted to Leading Seaman and shortly afterwards to Petty Officer. Between 1901 and 1905 when he retired for the first time on pension, he served on Resolution, Formidable, Implacable, FireQueen? and Victory I again.

He may well have been maintained as a naval reservist as his records state that he joined the RFR Ports[mouth?] A 1756 on 13 December 1905.(Walton’s records stretch to two pages, including additions on a conveniently almost empty page of another sailor’s short naval career record). You can read more about the Royal Fleet Reserve here in an original leaflet.

On the outbreak of war 2 August 1914 as a naval reservist or former sailor, he was mobilised as a Petty Officer 2nd Class onto Victory I again until deploying to HMS Kent on 3 October 1914 until 11 January 1917. He achieved Petty Officer 1st Class on 16 September 1916.

After two years on Victory I again from 12 January 1917 to 25 April 1919, he moved to HMS Fox until 31 October 1919 on the Russian campaign against the Bolsheviks. He completed his service on Victory I on 29 March 1920 when he left the Navy. By this time HMS Fox and HMS Kent after Russian campaign service were destined for the scrapyard.

According to Wikipedia’s entry on HMS Victory, Walton may not have been always at sea when listed as part of the Victory I crew, as a “legacy of naval legislation that all naval ratings and officers must be assigned to a ship (which may include a shore establishment – still regarded as Her Majesty’s Ships by the navy). Any navy person allocated to work in a non HMS location (such as the Ministry of Defence in London) is recorded as being a member of the crew of HMS Victory!” This may cover Walton’s time as Boatswain or “Captain’s Coxswain of the Signal School Boat”. There is an interesting WW1 painting in the IWM collection Art.IWM ART 2620 of WRENS valve testing radios in the signal school at Portsmouth 1919.

His Belle Vue Zoo service would appear to have been either from somewhere between 1905 to 1914 or from 1920 to 1926 when he was living in West Gorton. There is mention of the M.Of.P Manchester (Ministry of Pensions?) on 19/8/1924 suggesting he was in this area till he died in Bucklow Cheshire aged 59 c. June 1926.

Walton and The Belle Vue Staff War Memorial

The Belle Vue Staff War Memorial entry on the UKNIWM UK National Inventory of War Memorials  suggests that Walton’s role at Belle Vue was not on the zoo keeping or gardening  side but on one of the many other trades at this early theme park. It is suggested on the UKNIWM site that Walton coordinated or orchestrated the Belle Vue fireworks displays: “The name of Matthew James Walton is commemorated. Walton orchestrated the Belle Vue fireworks displays and was complimented for them by Prince Louis of Battenberg.”

Maybe his naval experience as a Petty Officer allowed him the skill to command the pyrotechnics and the large cast with blank firing rifles that took part in these spectacles?

Under the headline  Fireworks to Firearms, the Liverpool Echo  of Thursday 11 March 1915 reports that Petty Officer Walton “of William Street, West Gorton has been awarded the DSM for naval bravery. The nature of his deed has not yet been disclosed. He was on HMS Kent in the Falkland action. Before the War he was gunner or manipulator of the Belle Vue Gardens war fireworks.”

One of Walton’s zoo colleagues present at the war memorial dedication  was Bernard Hastain, formerly of the Rifle Brigade and Drury Lane Theatre. Hastain painted the massive backdrops for these firework and mass theatrical spectaculars, often with a topical wartime or patriotic battle theme. Hastain’s name was the last name added in 1933 to the memorial section of staff who “Died From The Effects of War Service.”

Further material on has press cuttings about the dedication of the war memorial, where speeches by Angelo Jennison mention that Walton “went off to distinguish himself at the Falklands”, also suggesting his Belle Vue service was pre-WW1. Jennison was one of the owner directors who lost a son and a nephew in the First World War; both their names are on the staff war memorial.

I have previously written a short biography about each of the Belle Vue Zoo casualties, based partly on work by Stephen Cocks. I will shortly be posting an updated blog post about these Belle Vue men with updated information from newly online records.

There is more to be researched and discovered about each of these men, as well as the Belle Vue Zoo service and wartime career of Matthew James Walton.

Family life – a few clues
Matthew James Walton was born in Rotherham, Yorkshire (some records suggest Pontefract). It appears that Matthew James Walton’s father, also Matthew Walton (born 1846, Bockleton, Yorkshire) was a basket maker working in Birmingham when he died young in his late 20s or early 30s between 1871 and 1881. This left his wife Hellenor or Ellen (born Cheltenham, 1838) to make a living with her teenage son Matthew James both as hawkers (1881 census) living in Cheapside, St. Martin’s, Birmingham; Matthew is recorded as ‘James’ in this census entry, as probably Matthew was how his father was regularly known. By the following January 1882, he had joined the Royal Navy.

Matthew James Walton got married in Cheltenham c. July 1900 to an Agnes Philips (b. 1869, also like Matthew’s mother born in Cheltenham) . They had three children by the time of the 1911 census when a Matthew J Walton is listed as a sailor, visiting with an Agnes Walton in Central Drive , Blackpool – was this a holiday? One son James Albert Walton had been born by 1901 when Agnes was living back in Cheltenham with her Philips family – presumably Matthew was at sea or serving away with the Royal Navy.

Belle Vue Zoo itself closed around 1977/8 and the site has now been redeveloped. Many of its records are now held in the Chetham’s Library collections in Manchester.

The Belle Vue Zoo staff memorial is noted as being in poor condition. The HMS Kent memorial is well cared for, despite the ship’s flags having been damaged following an air raid in WW2.

When the HMS Kent ship’s bell rings out at “six bells” or 11a.m. during the centenary memorial service, remember Matthew Walton, his shipmates and all the sailors involved on all sides in the Battle of the Falklands on 8th December 1914.

Any further information about Walton’s life, naval service or Belle Vue Zoo career would be welcome – contact me via the comments page.
Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo


How botanic gardens and zoos survived wartime – talk at Kew Gardens 20/10/14

October 15, 2014

Preparing for my talk:

“How  botanic gardens and zoos survived wartime”  Mark Norris, Newquay  Zoo / World War Zoo Gardens project

Monday 20th October  6pm, Jodrell Lecture Theatre, RBG Kew. £2 entry. Please arrive by 5:45pm.

For more details and to see the other talks this coming year see


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

October 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reared in Chester Zoorearedinchesterzooback

Our Zoo: Chester Zoo and the drama of zoo history

September 5, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chester Zoo history symposium 20 May 2011 from the SHNH website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chester Zoo history timeline banners, Chester Zoo, 2011

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

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

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

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

Inside June’s Pavilion, Chester Zoo May 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC clip about June at wartime Chester Zoo:

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

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

Digging into Bristol Zoo’s wartime garden past – mystery photograph solved!

July 31, 2014

The mystery garden supplying Bristol Zoo Gardens pictured in The Bristol Post Jan 1946 (Source: Bristol Zoo gardens archive / Bristol Post)

The mystery garden supplying Bristol Zoo Gardens pictured in The Bristol Post Jan 1946 (Source: Bristol Zoo gardens archive / Bristol Post)

I was recently sent an intriguing photo of ‘Jan 1946 Dig for Victory’ or ‘Dig for Plenty’ efforts somewhere in Bristol, connected to feeding the animals, staff and visitors of Bristol Zoo. It had turned up towards the end of  the writing of Alan Ashby, Tim Brown and Christoph Schwitzer’s ‘s excellent recent history of Bristol Zoo gardens as part of their 175th birthday anniversary (available through their webshop.)

The photograph had come to light or not been included as the location was unattributed until after the book was published, despite work by PhD students Sarah-Joy Maddeaus, Andy Flack and John Partridge on the Bristol Zoo staff. This was the case with several other wartime episodes that Alan and I had uncovered after publication.

Did I know where this productive garden was?

Could I find out with help from appeals through Bristol Newspapers, Bristol museums or zoo archives?

The answer turned out to be surprisingly close to home, Alan told me on his recent visit to Newquay Zoo’s wartime garden   with another fellow Bartlett Society for Zoo History research member Rob Vaughan. We were busy looking at Newquay Zoo’s enclosures, old and very new like the new Macaw Flight aviary.

Alan accidentally answered his own question on a trip to Wild Place, Bristol Zoo’s long established outstation on the old Hollyhill Wood or  ‘Hollywood Towers’ estate near Cribbs Causeway motorway interchange at Bristol, which recently opened to the public in summer 2013. (See their Wild Place  facebook page too). You can read about its garden history and tower here and about its development on its Wild Place Wikipedia page

68 years later, the other side of the garden wall today, Wild Place, Bristol, 2014  (Picture: Alan Ashby)

68 years later, the other side of the garden wall today, Wild Place, Bristol, 2014 (Picture: Alan Ashby)


Even more surprisingly, Alan found nearby another familiar structure from wartime gardens, what looked like a tool shed but originally the garden’s air raid shelter! The building with the chimneys over the garden wall  is still standing, another object that helped Alan Ashby  place the picture.

What could well be the original air raid shelter, now Wild Place, Bristol, 2014 (Photo: Alan Ashby)

The original air raid shelter, Sanctuary Garden,now Wild Place, Bristol, 2014 (Photo: Alan Ashby)

This shelter in their Sanctuary Garden is also pictured on their Wild Place project Facebook page entry for Remembrance Sunday last year 2013.

Wild Place project Facebook photos Sanctuary Garden wartime shelters, covered in edible nasturtiums!

Wild Place project Facebook photos Sanctuary Garden wartime shelters, covered in edible nasturtiums!

There is a brief history of the Hollywood Tower estate (which survived intact into the 1950s/60s) on the Parks and Gardens site with information from the Avon Gardens Trust.

Bristol Zoo Gardens as its name suggests is famous for its gardens, lawns to lounge on and floral displays, transformed in wartime into vegetable beds much to the dismay of its gardens staff. This tradition lives on with gardens used to transform old enclosures and enrich animal lives, much as we do with plants at Newquay Zoo. The Bristol Zoo Edible Garden is one such very successful gardens project at Bristol Zoo set up by Head Gardener Eddie Mole and team.

I love walled gardens and this walled garden reminds me very strongly of the garden restoration at Heligan in Cornwall but also the wartime garden restoration at Trengwainton (National Trust) Garden in Cornwall, where we took our World War Zoo Gardens travelling display along to their wartime garden recent 40s event, pictured here.

Another interesting wartime zoo garden mystery solved and another interesting set of gardens and amazing animals to go and see!

More on Bristol Zoo’s archives, recent 175th anniversary and history including WW1 pictures here along with interviews with John Partridge some fabulous film footage of Bristol Zoos’s gardens including the gardens with uniformed visitors  in the 1940s (with elephants!)

Happy National Allotment Week 4 – 10 August 2014 – see also our previous post on this event.

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo

Remembering lost wartime staff of ZSL London Zoo in WW1

November 4, 2013


Remembrance Sunday, poppies and Armistice Day

Updating our post (March 2014) “LOST IN THE GARDEN OF THE SONS OF TIME” from November 2010/11

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


Frustratingly few war memorial or roll of honour records for zoos survive in a publicly accessible form. I have been researching the wartime effects on a few typical British zoos operational in the First World War and what that generation learnt in preparation for surviving the Second world war (when our wartime dig for victory garden project at Newquay Zoo is set). The few staff casualty records I have found so far must stand in for a whole generation and zoos across the world.

Spare a thought for the keepers and zoo staff remembered on the ZSL war memorial at London Zoo. 12 names are listed from the staff  out of 54 or more (some accounts say 90) who served in the forces or munitions work in the First World War out of a staff of 150.

An exhibition at ZSL London Zoo  from 4 August to 30 September 2014 The Zoo at War tells the story of the men on the war memorial and their colleagues who survived

Names of the fallen ZSL staff from the First World War, ZSL war memorial, London Zoo, 2010

Names of the fallen ZSL staff from the First World War, ZSL war memorial, London Zoo, 2010

Poppies are laid by ZSL staff and union members each Remembrance Sunday at the ZSL War Memorial, a Portland Stone memorial designed  by architect John James Joass in 1919, based on a medieval Lanterne des Morts memorial  to the dead at La Souterraine,  Creuse Valley, France. The memorial was moved from the main gate area in 1952 after the 1939-45 names were added and is now near to the Three Island Pond area. New metal panel engravings of the 12 staff names have been prepared in time to mark the centenary to replace the original ones (pictured here), as they were almost illegible in places.

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

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

Reading the names means these men are not forgotten.

Researching and reading a few of these background stories puts a more personal face on the scale of the losses, especially in the First World War, adding to what is on the site.  Many thanks to Kate Oliver at ZSL who photographed the very well polished brass name plates.

ZSL London Zoo is working on an exhibition about these men and ‘The Zoo’ in WW1 to mark the 1914-18 centenary.

ZSL London Zoo war memorial

 The Zoological Society of London

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

Casualties are listed on the plaque in order of date of death and /or using the plaque details.

29.9.1915 Henry D Munro 4 Middlesex Regt   ZSL Keeper

The unnamed “Keeper with The King Penguin”.

On the CWGC site and UK Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919 database (1921), ZSL Keeper Henry or Harry Munro is registered as born in the St. Pancras Middlesex area and enlisting in the Army in Camden Town, Middlesex (the area near Regent’s Park Zoo).

Quite old in military terms, he appears to have volunteered or enlisted most likely in the early months of the war in Autumn / Winter 1914; conscription was only introduced in 1916. Munro served as Private G/2197 with the local regiment, 4th Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own).

Henry (Albert) Munro served in France and Flanders from 3rd January 1915 and was killed aged 39 in action on 29th September 1915. He has no known grave, being remembered on panel 49-51 amongst the 54,000 Commonwealth casualties of 1914 to 1917 on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Flanders, Belgium. His death occurred a few days after September 25th saw the British first use of poison gas during the Battle of Loos after the first German use in April. The Battle of Loos took place alongside the French and Allied offensive in Artois and Champagne, followed the Second Battle of Ypres (22 April to May 5th 1915 onwards).

 The Ypres Memorial (Menin Gate). Image: CWGC website

The Ypres Memorial (Menin Gate). Image: CWGC website

Henry Munro served from 31 August 1914 to 5 January 1915 in Britain, and then with the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) from the 6th January 1915 in France until his death on 29th September 1915 (Military History Sheet, Army Service Papers (“Burnt Documents”). This early service gained him the 1915 star, along with the standard Victory and British medal.

‘Harry’ Munro is listed in Golden Days, an old book of London Zoo photographs (ZSL image C-38771X?) as being involved in “the army, airships and anti-submarine patrols”. Nothing more appears on his service papers about this air and sea activity. I have little more information on this intriguing entry at present but the London Zoo typed staff lists of men of active service list him as ‘missing’ well into their 1917 Daily Occurence Book records. Many of the identifications of staff in the photographs in Golden Days will be from the memory of long retired staff.

Harry Munro is pictured with a King penguin but is listed on his staff record card as a keeper of sea lions. Intriguingly, several London Zoo histories list secret and unsuccessful attempts made early in the war to track submarines using trained seals or sealions. Airships were also used for U-boat spotting. I wonder if and how Harry was involved?

On the Mary Evans Picture blog “London Zoo at War” there features an interesting reprinted picture from the Mary Evans archive: “In March 1915, The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News featured this picture, showing a zookeeper in khaki, returning to his place of work while on leave to visit the seals, and to feed them some fish in what would be a rather charming publicity photograph.” This soldier, according to Adrian Taylor at ZSL, who worked on the London Zoo WW1 centenary exhibition, is George Graves, one of Munro’s keeper colleagues in khaki who survived the war and returned to work at London Zoo.

henry munro

Henry Munro Panel section by Adrian Taylor from The Zoo At War exhibition at ZSL London Zoo, WW1 centenary 2014.

Henry Munro was born in Clerkenwell, in 1876, not far from Regent’s Park zoo (London 1891 census RG12/377) and may have worked initially as a Farrier / Smith, aged 15. His family of father William J Munro, a Southwark born Printer aged 42 and mother Eliza aged 43 (born Clerkenwell) were living in 3 Lucey Road, (Bermondsey, St James, Southwark?)

Private Henry or Harry Munro was 39 when he died, married with children. He had married (Ada) Florence Edge on 20th November 1899. They had three children, born or registered in Camden Town near the zoo) by the time he was killed on active service. Hilda was 13 (born 29th March 1901), Albert Charles was 9 (born 5th June 1906) and Elsie, 7 (born 17 August 1908), all living at 113 Huddleston Road, Tufnell Park to the north of the zoo in London in 1915. Interestingly, maps list Regent’s Park as having a barracks on Albany street (A4201).

We covered more of Munro’s story on the centenary of his death 29 September 2015:

William Bodman is listed on the Loos Memorial (Image: CWGC website)

Loos Memorial
(Image: CWGC website)

18.03.1916  William Bodman 6th Btn, East Kent Regt, Private ZSL Helper.       

Helpers were the most junior in the keeper ranks, new or younger staff who had not attained full keeper rank.

Private L/7736 William Bodman 6th Btn, East Kent Regt (Buffs) ZSL Helper, aged 29 (born c. 1887)is commemorated on the Loos Memorial, panel 15 to 19, having no known grave, one of over 20,000 men recorded on this memorial to the missing in this area.

Currently no Army Service or Pension records have so far been found but his medal records show that in addition to the standard Victory and British war medal he earned a 1914 star, entering service / theatre of war 7th September 1914. Born in Clerkenwell (Middlesex, London ), William was normally resident in St. John’s Wood (Middlesex, London) not far from Regent’s Park. He enlisted in Stratford, (Essex, London) and may well have been a former soldier or Territorial Army to have entered overseas service so quickly.

Conscription, Lord Derby and Knowsley

In March 1916, conscription came into force in Britain. The first Military Service Bill was passed in Britain on January 25th , introducing conscription for single men between 18 to 41 with effect from March. On May 16th, the Second Military Service Bill was passed in Britain, extending conscription to married men over 18 to 41; this age range was later extended.

Previously volunteering in 1914 and 1915 had brought enough recruits. From 1915, Lord Derby’s scheme encouraged men to ‘attest’ their willingness to serve when the appropriate time came. Several of the London Zoo staff have these Derby Scheme papers in their National Archives entries. Lord Derby was part of the Stanley family, the owners of Knowsley Hall, home to a famous Victorian menagerie painted by Edward Lear as old as London Zoo itself. Knowsley has run the Knowsley Safari Park on its estate since 1971. Lord Derby encouraged his gardens staff to enlist and set up the Derby Scheme, becoming Secretary of State for War from 1916-18. But that is another story for a different blog post.

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

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

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

Several ZSL staff with no known grave are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial (Image: CWGC website)

Several ZSL staff with no known grave are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial
(Image: CWGC website)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whybrow is one of the 101 men identified in an individual grave 1A.A.10” title=”A G Whybrow headstone picture” target=”_blank”> at London Cemetery and Extension, Longueval. High Wood was fiercely fought over during the Battle of the Somme until cleared by 47th (London) Division on 15 September 1916 when Whybrow was killed. The original ‘London’ Cemetery at High Wood was begun when 47 men of the 47th Division were buried in a large shell hole on 18 and 21 September 1916. Other burials were added later, mainly of officers and men of the 47th Division who died like Arthur Whybrow on 15 September 1916. His gravestone looks slightly more squeezed in next to others than normal as if this is a mass grave.

A G Whybrow lies buried with many others of his London Regiment who died on the same day. Source: CWGC

A G Whybrow lies buried with many others of his London Regiment who died on the same day. Source: CWGC

Whybrow's grave lies in a short row (I think) just behind the Special white central memorial stone near the entrance, London Cemetery , Longueval. Image: website

Whybrow’s grave lies in a short row (I think) just behind the Special white central memorial stone near the entrance, London Cemetery , Longueval. Image: website

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

The flat landscape and scale of the Somme cemeteries around Longueval can clearly be seen here. Image: London Cemetery, Longueval website

The flat landscape and scale of the Somme cemeteries around Longueval can clearly be seen here. Image: London Cemetery, Longueval website

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZSL Helper G.P. Patterson's grave lies amongst those to the right of the Cross of Sacrifice, Connaught Cemetery, Thiepval, Somme. Image: website

ZSL Helper G.P. Patterson’s grave lies amongst those to the right of the Cross of Sacrifice, Connaught Cemetery, Thiepval, Somme. Image: website

Patterson is listed on the ZSL memorial plaque as 19th County of London Regiment; along with several other ZSL staff he enlisted locally in Camden Town, Middlesex, close to the London Zoo. Later he must have transferred to his County regiment the Norfolks as he was born in Great Yarmouth like his parents and siblings. His father was a school attendance officer and Patterson was the youngest of 7 brothers and sisters, all born in Great Yarmouth. On leaving school, the 1911 census lists him as an Auctioneer’s Articled Pupil, before becoming a ZSL Helper (a junior or trainee keeper rank).

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

23.10.1916      William Dexter  Kings Royal Rifles, Rifleman    ZSL Keeper 

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

Dexter is buried in the rows of graves to the left of the Cross of Sacrifice at Bienvillers Military Cemetery. Image

Dexter is buried in the rows of graves to the left of the Cross of Sacrifice at Bienvillers Military Cemetery. Image

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

Burial details of how William Dexter was identified. Source: CWGC

Burial details of how William Dexter was identified from the regimental number on his boot . Source: CWGC

William Dexter was listed on his Army Medical Form as a “Keeper at Zoo”, 5 foot 5 ½ inches, Physical development ‘Good’. His father Robert Dexter had been employed at the zoo from the 1860s onwards. After working as a labourer and painter, William obtained employment ‘as worth keeping’ in 1908, rising to Junior Keeper of Ostriches in 1913 before joining up. The 31-year-old father of four children, enlisted in the Rifle Brigade in December 1915.

A portion of boot with his numbering appears to be all that helped identify William Dexter and prevent him being buried like all the others as

A portion of boot with his numbering appears to be all that helped identify William Dexter and prevent him being buried like all the others as “Unknown British Soldier”

Dexter's name amongst a row of Unknown British Soldiers. Source: CWGC

Dexter’s name amongst a row of Unknown British Soldiers. Source: CWGC

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

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

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

It is quite rare amongst the photographs in zoo archives such as ZSL London Zoo to find the name of the staff alongside the animal pictured. A photo exists in the ZSL archives of Keeper William Dexter with an Ostrich cart giving rides in 1913, pictured in John Edwards’ book of London Zoo in Old Photographs, now in a new larger 2nd edition.  I was lucky enough to meet Dexter’s  granddaughter Nova Jones at the London Zoo War memorial,  when she dropped of this photo of William Dexter in uniform for the  London Zoo’s WW1 exhibition.

Later in the ZSL photo archive, his own son Edward William appears as ‘Reptile Keeper Dexter’ in a 1930s photograph. Private William Dexter’s son, ‘Ted’ was born in 1914, the year that the First World War broke out. According to his granddaughter after serving in Civil Defence, training men as stretcher bearers at a St. Pancras ARP depot, he served in the Royal Fusiliers fighting in Italy in World War Two. After the war Ted became Head Reptile Keeper, only to die trying to save two contractors from a carbon dioxide filled pit at the zoo in a tragic accident at the zoo in December 1960. A posthumous award of gallantry was added to the other Dexter family medals.

According to Soldiers Died in the Great War listing, William Dexter was born and resident in Regent’s Park. According to his WW1 Descriptive Report on Enlistment (Army Service Papers / Army Pension records, Burnt Documents), William Dexter married Sarah Elizabeth Dexter (nee Snuggs) in South Hampstead on 9th September 1909.

CWGC listing: Son of Robert and Mary Ann Dexter; husband of Sarah Elizabeth Dexter, of 12, Manley St., Regent’s Park, London.

They had four children born in St. Pancras by the time William was killed in October 1916: Ena Mary, 6 (born 2nd October 1910), Dora Florence, aged 4 (born 20th March 1912), the future zoo keeper Edward William, aged 2 (born 12 February 1914) and Joan Elsie, aged 1 (born 5th October 1915).

The inscription chosen by Dexters wife and family. Source: CWGC

The inscription chosen by Dexters wife and family. Source: CWGC

The inscription on Dexter’s headstone reads: “Always living in the hearts of those who loved him” and the headstone can be seen on the TWGPP website.

09.04.1917      Robert Jones            9 Royal Fusiliers       ZSL Gardener

There are two current possibilities for this name,awaiting research:

Private GS/60595 Robert Jones, 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers was born in Islington or Highgate, Middlesex around 1881 and was married to Bertha Lewin of Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon around 1905 / 1906 in Camden / Highgate. He was formerly listed as 23358 6th Middlesex Regiment, having enlisted in Harringay and been resident in Highgate. On the 1901 census he is listed as a Gardener (not domestic) and in 1911 as a Nursery Gardener.

R Jones Faubourg

On the CWGC website he is listed as the husband of Bertha Jones of 22 Caxton Street, Little Bowden, Market Harborough. This Robert Jones died of wounds on 7 April 1917 (two days different from the ZSL dates on the war memorial plaque) and is buried in Faubourg D’Amiens cemetery in Arras. His headstone (photographed on the TWGPP website) bears the family inscription from his wife reads: “Thou art not far from us who love thee well”

The other possibility with the same date as the ZSL war memorial plaque is 472712, 1st / 12th Btn. London Regiment (The Rangers), aged 31 buried in Individual grave A2 ,  Gouy-en Artois Cemetery, killed or died of wounds on the first day of the Battle of Arras 1917. The CWGC lists him as the brother of Mrs. Clara Shafer, of 37, Cornwallis Rd., Walthamstow, London. He was born in 1886 in Grays, Essex and enlisted in Plaistow. He appears on the 1911 census not to have been a gardener but a coal porter in a gas works.

This coal porter seems less likely to be the ‘Robert Jones ZSL gardener’ but without surviving service or pension papers for either one that I have found so far, even his ZSL staff record cards give few clues as to which one is the ZSL Gardener. Both deserve to be remembered.

472712 Private Robert Jones' gravestone is just behind the Cross of Sacrifice in this picture of the tiny Gouy en Artois Cemetery near Arras. Image:

472712 Private Robert Jones’ gravestone is just behind the Cross of Sacrifice in this picture of the tiny Gouy en Artois Cemetery near Arras. Image:

Gouy-en-Artois where one Robert Jones is buried is a village 15 kilometres south-west of Arras. The cemetery extension was made in April 1917 at the time of the Allied advance from Arras. It contains 44 Commonwealth burials of the First World War.

ZSL librarian H G J Peavot is remembered on the Arras Memorial (Image: CWGC website)

ZSL librarian H G J Peavot is remembered on the Arras Memorial
(Image: CWGC website)

21.4.1917        Henry George Jesse Peavot      Honourable Artillery   Co       ZSL Librarian  

B Co. 1st Btn, aged 35.  Killed during Battle of Arras period, No known grave, listed on Arras Memorial. Married.

Henry George Jesse Peavot, a 35 year old ZSL Librarian  served in B Company, 1st Battalion, Honourable Artillery Company and  died on  21st April 1917. He has no known grave and his name is listed amongst the 35,000 missing men listed on the Arras Memorial alone.

Like many of these zoo staff, Peavot was married; his widow Maud or Maude Pravot as far as I can discover never remarried and lived to mourn his loss for almost seven decades until 1985. They had one child. Previously a ZSL typist, Maude kept in touch with ZSL for many years, a file of personal correspondence in the ZSL Archive appears to continue from 1917 to about 1932 and is likely to be pension related. The legacy of absence and injury from both world wars is still ongoing or at least within our working and living memory, in families and professions such as zoo keeping across Europe.

A former colleague of Peavot from the ZSL Library, Edwin Ephraim Riseley was also killed a few months later in August 1917, commemorated at the Linnean Society Library where he worked after leaving London Zoo – see our Linnean Society Roll of Honour blog post.

ZSL gardener Albert Staniford would no doubt in life have appreciated the efforts of the Commonwealth War Graves gardeners in this beautifully maintained cemetery where he lies buried, Maroc Cemetery, Grenay, France. Image: website

ZSL gardener Albert Staniford would no doubt in life have appreciated the efforts of the Commonwealth War Graves gardeners in this beautifully maintained cemetery where he lies buried, Maroc Cemetery, Grenay, France. Image: website

23.9.1917        Albert Staniford            Royal Field / Garrison Artillery  ZSL Gardener 

174234 216 Siege Battery. RGA   Individual grave, Maroc British cemetery, Grenay, France.  Period of Third Battle of Ypres / Passchendaele, July to November 1917.

French and German burials lie amidst the British graves, Maroc Cemetery, Grenay, France. Image:

French and German burials lie amidst the British graves, Maroc Cemetery, Grenay, France. Image:

ZSL gardener Albert Staniford was born in 1893 in the Regent’s Park area, the son of Annie and Alfred, who was also a gardener. His medal record card states that he served in both the Royal Field Artillery as 17692 and 216 Siege Battery,Royal Garrison Artillery as 174234 Gunner Staniford. He embarked for France on 31 August 1915, entitling him to a 1915 star, alongside the Victory and British War Medals. He served in France for two years before his death in September 1917, only three months after his marriage in London on June 6 1917 to Esther Amelia Barrs (b. 1896).The CWGC listing has no family inscription on the headstone.


Staniford is buried in Maroc British Cemetery which is located in the village of Grenay, about 15 kilometres south-east of Bethune. During the greater part of the war it was a front-line cemetery used by fighting units and field ambulances. Plot II was begun in April 1917 by the 46th (North Midland) Division. Maroc British Cemetery now contains 1,379 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the First World War.

03.10.1917      William Perkins      Royal Garrison Artillery     ZSL Keeper

115806, Bombardier, 233rd Siege Battery. Born in 1878 in Lifton in Devon to a gardener / labourer father Thomas and Cornish mother Emma Jane. Listed as a keeper on his wedding certificate, he married Lucy Elizabeth MacGregor in London in 23 August 1914 and lived in Eton Street, NW London (near other keepers).

ZSL Keeper William Perkins is buried in Belgian Battery Corner Cemetery , Ypres, Belgium. Image: website

ZSL Keeper William Perkins is buried in Belgian Battery Corner Cemetery , Ypres, Belgium. Image: website

Perkins is buried in an individual plot, Belgian Battery Corner Cemetery, Belgium. This appropriately named cemetery for an artillery soldier occupies a site at a road junction where three batteries of Belgian artillery were positioned in 1915. The cemetery was begun by the 8th Division in June 1917 after the Battle of Messines and it was used until October 1918, largely for burials from a dressing station in a cottage near by. Almost half of the graves are of casualties who belonged, or were attached, to artillery units. The cemetery was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

19.1.1918      ?Alfred L? Day                2 Rifle Brigade                          ZSL Helper

Currently a bit of a mystery! The most likely casualty appears at first to be Alfred Lomas Day, S/20305 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade, killed 29 November 1917 and buried at individual grave 1841, Rethel French National Cemetery, Ardennes, France. Rethel was in German hands from the early days of the First World War until 6 November 1918. Rethel French National Cemetery contains the graves of almost 3,000 French soldiers. The Commonwealth Plot, in the east part of the cemetery, contains 110 graves. The French National Cemetery also contains Russian and Rumanian graves. 19.1.1918 may be a wrong date transcribed on a well polished brass plate.

Searching through the ZSL staff records cards, there is mention of an R. Day or Richard Day who died as a POW in German Hands on 19 January 1918. I have not yet located service records for this R.Day. On electoral rolls, he lived in the same road as an Alfred Lomas Day. Maybe the two men have become confused, A Day looking a little like R Day in the handwritten staff listing in the Daily Occurences Book. Maybe thy re one and the same man. Again,another one for further research.

10.9.1918        Charles William Dare  County of London Regiment              ZSL Helper,

245116, London Regt (Royal Fusiliers),  remembered on the Vis-en-Artois memorial having no known grave.

Charles Dare has no known grave and is remembered on the Vis-en-Artois memorial. Image:

Charles Dare has no known grave and is remembered on the Vis-en-Artois memorial.

This Memorial bears the names of over 9,000 men who fell in the period from 8 August 1918 to the date of the Armistice in the Advance to Victory in Picardy and Artois, between the Somme and Loos, and who have no known grave. Britain lost more men in 1918 than it did in the whole of the Second World War.

10.9.1918        Charles William Dare    County of London Regt             ZSL  Helper,

originally enlisted as 2965 or 610564  19th London Regiment, he served also as Private 245116,  2nd (City of London) Battalion  (Royal Fusiliers). He  was killed on active service,  aged 20 and is listed on the  Vis-en-Artois memorial, one of 9580 killed in this area in the “Advance to Victory”  having no known grave.

Charles Dare was killed during period of the 100 days of the  “Advance to Victory”  (August to November / Armistice  1918). August 8th marked the beginning of the Battle of Amiens was known as the ‘Black Day’ of the German Army; on the 15th, British troops crossed the Ancre river and on the 30th, the Somme river. Advances carried on throughout September. The Armistice came two months after Charles Dare’s  death on the 11th November 1918.

Charles Dare was born and lived in St. Pancras between April and June 1898 and enlisted in Camden Town. He had an older sister, Lilian E Dare, two years older, also born in St. Pancras. His father Charles J Dare was a distiller’s clerk from Hereford, aged 38 in 1901 living at 16 Eton Street, St. Pancras parish / borough (London 1901 census RG 13/133). His mother Mary A Dare, 37,  was born in Lugwardine,  Hereford.

A Helper in ZSL staff terms is a junior or trainee member of staff before they become a Junior then Senior Keeper.

Interestingly ZSL keeper William Dexter lived nearby at 9 Eton Street, Regent’s Park on enlistment. Many of the staff lived nearby each other and the Zoo on the same roads in Camden and surrounding areas. By the time his pension was awarded to his widow, Mrs. Dexter had moved to 12 Manley Street, Regent’s Park with William’s parents and his four children.



ZSL war memorial verse from James Elroy Flecker, “Burial In England”

Upadte on research March 2014

I have previously written about the WW2 casualties from London Zoo and Whipsnade on a separate blog post.

Throughout the WW1 centenary 2014 – 2019, I will be researching their backgrounds through the census, National Archives, military service records and ZSL London Zoo archive staff records. I have spoken to relatives engaged in family history research into some of these men such as William Dexter and Henry Peavot, along with former London Zoo keepers like Les Bird, who has visited many of the ZSL graves. There are still many questions to be answered.

There are in all possibility sadly many more names to add to the known wartime casualty lists from zoos, botanic gardens and aquariums worldwide as our World War Zoo gardens research project continues. I would be interested to hear of any more names or memorials you know of. I am  very interested in hearing from anyone who has further information about these men or of other wartime zoo, aquarium or botanic garden related gravestones or rolls of honour.

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

2009 first autumn of the garden project. Afternoon autumn light on the poppies, plants and sandbags of the wartime zoo keeper’s garden at Newquay Zoo

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

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