Whipsnade Zoo Keeper ploughing paddocks with Dixie the elephant, 1940. Source: Zoo and Animal Magazine, 1939/40.
However, the outbreak of the war in September 1939 changed everything for 11-year-old Lucy. London Zoo in Regent’s Park evacuated many of their animals to Whipsnade, including two Giant Pandas who joined ‘Ming’, the first Giant Panda ever seen in Europe; and five elephants who joined Dixie, the retired circus elephant.
When the Black bear from London Zoo escaped for the third time, Lucy’s father laid a trail of treacle into the ladies’ lavatories and waited in bushes nearby. ‘At long last the bear appeared and started licking the step,’ said Lucy. Her father followed the bear into the lavatories. ‘Father triumphantly slammed the door on it.'
|The 1st Whipsnade Guide Company , run by Mrs Beal. Credit Lucy Pendar.|
|Keeper Billett, father of Girl Guide Mary, of Whipsnade Zoo , November 1939.|
The ‘Whipsnade Lion’, carved on a chalky Chiltern hill, made a perfect landmark for enemy planes to navigate to the armament factories in nearby Luton, so the Guides helped to camouflaged it with brushwood and manure.
A colony of bright green, noisy Quaker parakeets, originally from South America, lived in a huge communal nest overhanging the zoo’s main gate. ‘When they ventured down the hill and stripped Mrs Hain’s orchard, she was furious. The following year they were kept in a cage until the apples had been harvested. ‘By the next spring they had flown, their fate a mystery.’
Whipsnade Park had originally been a farm, and now even the parkland and cricket pitch were ploughed up. With no combine harvesters, and most of the keepers called- up, the Guides helped gather in the harvest. ‘With British Double Summer Time we could work even longer hours than normal,’ said Lucy. ‘June saw hay-making. The sheep were sheared, then dipped in July. Grass was scythed again in August. And then the wheat harvest. My back was aching, and my arms sore from scratches, as we gathered up the sheaves and stacked them in stooks.’ Filling sacks of grain for hours was rewarded with a ride on the truck to the barn. ‘The joy,’ she remembered, ‘standing like Boadicea, leaning on the cab as we sped down Bison Hill with the wind in my face. We brought back rough loaves of oaten bread, which had normally been fed to animals.’
|The Girl Guides’ war work included mucking out and riding the Shetland and rare Iceland ponies. Lucy Pendar was one of the first people to experience their unusual tölt, a running walk, and the flugskeid - a flying pace.|
|The Giant Pandas returned to London in 1942.|
Janie Hampton, How the Girl Guides won the war, Harper Press, 2010.
Interview with Lucy Pendar, 12 November, 2008