Chessington In Wartime

Chessington in Wartime. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 brought about a series of challenges and changes for Chessington Zoo. Marking a period of both disruption and resilience. The government implemented restrictions to prevent large crowds from gathering at entertainment venues. Chessington Zoo, like many others, faced a temporary closure at the onset of the war.

In a pivotal move to safeguard the animals. Reginald Goddard, the guiding force behind Chessington, forged a partnership with Herbert Whitley, owner of Primley Zoo in Paignton. Recognizing the potential risks in London. They decided to temporarily move many of the zoo’s inhabitants to the safety of Primley Zoo. This relocation, though a necessity, marked a poignant chapter in Chessington’s history and that of Primley Zoo.

The war years were not without their trials. The grounds witnessed the harsh realities of conflict, with three lives lost and 21 bombs falling on Chessington Zoo. In a particularly dramatic incident, a doodlebug exploded in a tree above Jack, the polar bear’s cage. The blast thrust him against the cage, rendering him silent for days. Miraculously, Jack recovered. A testament to the resilience of the animal.

A tragedy unfolded, causing the destruction of a penguin enclosure and severing an ostrich’s leg in separate blasts. This led to the heartbreaking decision to euthanize the injured animal. Moreover, a monkey cage exploded, freeing the agile inhabitants briefly before authorities recaptured them.

The wartime exile persisted until 1946 when the conflict subsided. Reginald Goddard returned to Chessington with his cherished stock. Reginald’s passing on Christmas Day 1946 tempered the joy of the reunion with sorrow. Amidst these challenges, the company officially registered itself, serving as a poignant symbol of continuity. A fitting tribute to the indomitable spirit that carried Chessington through the trials of wartime.