The Zoo at War

by ZSL on

The Great War had profound and lasting effects and, while ZSL London Zoo suffered no serious damage, the lives of our staff would not remain unscathed.

We reflect on the war and how it disrupted the lives of animals and staff at the Zoo. 

War Memorial at ZSL London Zoo

All over by Christmas 

The Great War raged between 1914 and 1918. At the start of the war many people expected it all to be “over by Christmas.” Others, however, believed that the conflict would last longer, with greater consequences.

Eighteen years before the war began, ZSL Secretary Peter Chalmers-Mitchell had controversially predicted war between Britain and Germany. In an anonymous essay, ‘A Biological View of English Foreign Policy’ published in The Saturday Review, 1896, he wrote about conflict “between species that are most familiar.” Because of the similarities and competition between the two great powers, “one or the other has to go!”

During the war he was recruited to the War Office as a captain in military intelligence (MI7). By 1918 he was acting as liaison officer between the War Office and the new Department of Propaganda in the enemy countries. As part of the propaganda team, he played a part in the drafting and publicising the British peace terms. He was awarded a CBE in 1918 and a knighthood in 1929.

Duty calls 

Zoo employees were encouraged to do their bit for their country. Over the course of the war, 92 men from a total of 150 male staff volunteered or were called up for active service. The vast majority of those Zoo staff who went off to War eventually returned safely, older, wiser and chastened by their experience. Twelve men sadly did not return.

One of these men was bird keeper, Henry Munro, who enlisted at the age of 38 in August 1914. He can be seen below pictured with his favourite penguin, Billy. Sadly, within weeks of Munro's enlistment, Billy died. Munroe himself later died only a year later on the Western Front. 

The names of the twelve men who were killed in the Great War are remembered on the War Memorial located between Three Island Pond (next to our pelicans) and Butterfly Paradise.

King penguin Billy with keeper Harry Munro
King Penguin Billy with keeper Harry Munro

Women at work 

With many of the men called up, more work opportunities became available to women.

With ZSL librarian, Henry Peavot, away at the front, his wife Maud (previously a typist at the Zoo but now with a baby boy) simply took over the running of the library until the end of 1917. Sadly, Henry was killed that same year. Following this, ZSL Fellow, Mrs Wood‑Jones carried on as librarian for much of 1918.

In May 1917, Lucy Evelyn Cheesman was appointed Assistant Curator of Insects, later becoming Curator in 1920. Earlier in the war her fluent German was used to help unmask British companies friendly to the Germans.

Remembering those who lost their lives

ZSL Council decided to place a permanent war memorial at the Zoo in memory of the members of staff who had died in the war. The memorial, with a bronze tablet listing the names of those killed, was unveiled in 1919. Following the Second World War a second bronze memorial tablet was added. 

An inscription on the memorial is taken from the poem The Burial in England by James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915) and reads:

Till the red war gleam like a dim red rose
lost in the garden of the sons of time

Memorial wreaths are placed on the War Memorial each year on Remembrance Day.

Poppies at the War memorial at ZSL London Zoo

Look out for the war memorial located between Three Island Pond and Butterfly Paradise at ZSL London Zoo. 

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