Birdwatching in WW2

Discussion in 'General' started by Owen, Nov 22, 2006.

  1. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    A Bird in the Bush A Social History of Birdwatching by Stephen Moss has a good chapter on birding during WW2.

    Mention is made of POWs that spent their long years in POW Camps bird-watching.
    Perhaps thinking wistfully that the birds could fly away but they were stuck there.
    One chap John Buxton decided to study the Redstart which he saw by a Bavarian river in the summer of 1940.
    He organised his team to regularly watch the Redstarts. they started in April 1941 and took up nearly all their spare time.
    In three months from April to June he and his team clocked up 850 hours watching a single pair of Redstarts.
    After the war he published his finding in a book.

    Another birder at Eichstatt was Peter Conder (later Director of RSPB ).
    He was captured at St Valery June 1940.
    Whilst birding in the camp the guards became used to his activities he made a good lookout during escape attempts.
    He made detailed observations on Goldfinches on whatever paper was available, including toilet roll.
    He used the opportunity of being on mainland Europe to study Crested larks which don't appear very often in Britain.
    Frustratingly they always bred outside the wire, so he couldn't get views of them.
    Lots of his notes didn't survive the last winter of the war and some of the long marches .
    Some of his notes taken in WW2 can be found here.

    Attached Files:

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  2. Kyt

    Kyt Very Senior Member

    Thanks Owen. Do you still have the book handy? Does it say anything about birdwatching in Britain during that time - any stories about birdwatchers being accussed of spying etc during the invasion fears (I'm sure anyone with binoculars would have been seen suspiciously).

    I wonder how many other POWs used their time to write or research material for things that they became famous for after the war - off the top of my head I can only think of Sartre who developed his ideas for Being and Nothingness in his prison notebooks.
  3. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Nothing about Birders being accused of spying.
    Does mention most sites out of bounds.
    Makes a big point about the opportunities for Foreign travel and broadening ones horizons post-war and breaking down of social barriers to allow birding to be mass participation hobby.
    The stay at home birders had to make do with their local patches such as vegtable plots.
  4. DaveWalters

    DaveWalters Junior Member

    Oh wow - very interesting. When I was active in the birding world I remember one or two soldiers being around and interested but on the whole it was a tiny percentage. Also remember having a snot nose pte move his gun slowly in my direction whilst laughing and extremely impolitely telling us to leave when we mistakenly wandered to the borders of military land in West Sussex whilst birding. Seems like an excellent activity for a POW but surely you need to be a senior NCO or above otherwise the ribbing from your fellow prisoners may take some of the enjoyment out of it.
  5. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Senior NCO and above indeed ;).
  6. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    In World War 2, as Brigadier, he commanded 1st tank brigade and, subsequently, 42 nd Lancashire Infantry division when it converted to tanks. Later, he was ADC to Field Marshal (afterwards Lord) Alan Brooke. The latter’s published War Diaries contain numerous references to “Rollie” Charrington, occasionally in connection with shared bird-watching expeditions. A DSO was added to the Brigadier’s WW1 Military Cross.

    Birthday present

    The Chief of General Staff, General Sir Alan Brooke at his desk in the War Office in London........calling Dave Gosney at Birdguides to hear news of the latest rarity. :)

  7. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Another (in)famous birder was Joachim Peiper believe it or not.
    Well he was in his retirement.
    From After The Battle Issue 40 page 51.
  8. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    7 Papers relating to Brooke's post-war life and career, 1927-1968:
    ALANBROOKE: 7/25-38</REF> <SUMM>Papers relating to his ornithological activities, 1952-1963, dated 1944-1968</SUMM>


    <REF>ALANBROOKE: 7/25</REF> <DATE>[1952]-1963</DATE> <SUMM>Correspondence relating to Wildfowl Trust and World Wildlife Fund, mainly Wildfowl Trust publicity brochure, [1952]; letters to Brooke from Peter Markham Scott, Honorary Director of the Wildfowl Trust, 1958-1961, and Chairman of World Wildlife Fund (British National Appeal), 1962; correspondence concerning press treatment of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, President of World Wildlife Fund (British National Appeal), 1962; World Wildlife Fund press releases, 1963. 1 file</SUMM>

    <REF>ALANBROOKE: 7/26</REF> <DATE>1944-1945,1958-1963</DATE> <SUMM>Papers relating to various ornithological and wildlife organisations, mainly correspondence and printed pamphlets relating to Hampshire and Isle of Wight Naturalists' Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, British Trust for Ornithology, Norfolk Wildlife Park and Ornamental Pheasant Trust, British Ornithologists' Union, Council for Nature, Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, and Army Bird-Watching Society. 1 file </SUMM>

    <REF>ALANBROOKE: 7/27</REF> <DATE>1964-1968</DATE> <SUMM>Letters to Brooke's wife, Benita Blanche Brooke, from various ornithological and wildlife organisations, mainly thanking her for her subscriptions. 1 file</SUMM>

    <REF>ALANBROOKE: 7/28-38</REF> <DATE>1955-1963</DATE> <SUMM>Papers relating to bird-watching expeditions, notably correspondence, 1955-1958, concerning expedition by Brooke and others to Coto Doñana, Spain, Apr-May 1956 and May-Jun 1957; report on Coto Doñana trip, 1956, compiled by I J Ferguson-Lees, [1957]; correspondence relating to Brooke's bird-watching vacations in the Netherlands, 1956-1961; correspondence, 1957-1958, relating to première of Wild Spain, Eric (John) Hosking's film of the [1956 and 1957] Coto Doñana expeditions, 1958; letters to Brooke from fellow ornithologists, 1958-1963, notably Hoskings, G K C Van Tienhoven and Maj Anthony Buxton. 11 files </SUMM>
  9. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Coto Doñana expedition photo from A Bird In the Bush.

    Attached Files:

  10. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Read this today and thought I'd share.
    From ROME '44 by Raleigh Trevelyan.Pages 249 & 250.

    There were said to be three hundred deserters , both British and American, at large on the Beachhead. At first nobody made out where they could hide themselves in such a small area. John Hope , the British Guards Officer at VI Corps, used sometimes to take time off bird-watching in deserted gardens to the east of Nettuno, making his way along a very deeply dug ditch.
    'Once I saw some washing hanging out, which I thought was odd. Then I saw something shining beneath a lot of old sticks. I kicked at it and found a large cache of new tins.
    I thought: "My God, those deserter bastards must be in the wood there." I turned a corner and was confronted by two unshaven GIs, one with a red beard, with rifles. I knew it was touch and go.
    "What are you doing here?" one of them asked.
    I showed him my British badges , and when I said I was bird-watching they burst out laughing. They pretended they were just back from the front.'

    As soon as he got back, Hope reported the affair to the American Provost.
    After some difficulty , it was agreed to send a jeep. Hope, to his alarm, was asked to sit on the bonnet.
    'As we approached the ditch , Red Beard and his companion jumped up and ran like hell into a tabacco field; the men in the jeep belted off into the crops . God knows whether any were killed. No expedition was organised to go into the bushes to find out who was there. Men just couldn't be spared.'
    Hope was delighted one day to see a pair of Bee-eaters , which appeared to be nesting in the German lines.
    He also saw several Golden Orioles.
    In the front line you might hear a cuckoo at dawn.
    Nightingales sang by day and night, and people complained they were becoming bird-happy. The more the Nightingales were frightened by two inch mortars or volleys of grenades , the more they sang- and the more this so-called music of the moon seemed callous to those who crouched in shallow fox-holes and who saw their comrades die.
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  11. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    From The Fortress by Raleigh Trevelyan.

    The birds seem strangely indifferent to the general racket.
    A wren is constantly flitting about in the bush behind us, and nightinglaes sing both day and night.
    At dawn we hear a cuckoo.

    I shall never again be able to listen to nightingales with pleasure.
    They will always remind me of the Fortress.
    Little did Keats know how the meaning of his words could be applied:

    Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
    What thou among the leaves hast never known,
    The weariness, the fever, and the fret
    Here, where men sit and hear each other groan.

    Darkling I listen; and for many a time
    I have been half in love with easeful Death-

    This is Keats coutry without a doubt. Verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

    Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
    To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
    While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
    In such an ecstasy!

    But however much these blasted birds trirrup and gurgle, they'll never make me fell that it will be rich to die in the Fossa della Cogna, pain or no pain.
    Nightingales are supposed to sing when alarmed; the cock bird is trying to attract intruders away from the nest.
    Certainly the noiser things are here, the more they sing.
    At first we were entranced by them, but now they MADDEN us.....
  12. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  13. idler

    idler GeneralList Patron

    Tactical application of twitching:
    "Vic, the irreverent bricklayer from Leeds, regarded Lt. E, his commander, as a bit of a nit and a pansy. Remonstrating with him one dayabout driving so gaily down a small valley, he was quietly informed that there were snipe feeding at the bottom by the stream and that they wouldn't be there if there were men about. Vic was generous about his mistake." Peter Roach, The 8.15 to War.

    Lt E was Lt Elgar, 1 R Tks, later killed in Normandy.
    Owen likes this.
  14. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    Man can always learn a thing or two from nature.:D

  15. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

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  16. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  17. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Read this in the latest RSPB Birds magazine page 53

    Poems recovered from the concentration camp of Terezin in the Czech Republic show how a Blackbird's song gave real comfort to one of the 15,000 children imprisoned there during the Second World War.
    "A blackbird sings upon a bush/ To great the dawning after night/ Then I know how fine it is to live." Whether the young person who wrote this , an extract from a piece known simply as Poem 8 , was one of the just 132 children to survive is unknown.
  18. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    From The Times of My Life, Gorman:

    No. 2 Squadron, for some reason ... had nicknames for all its Officers ... Hugh Dormer was "The Birdman". The most unusual was that of Tony Dorman, known as "Dipper". He was a keen naturalist and had started studying for the Veterinary Service; after the war he attained the post of Head Vet of the United Nations. Fishing in the Wiltshire River Nadder he was disappointed not to observe dippers, and wrote a letter to Country Life in which he said that it was his observation that dippers were never to be found on chalk-stream rivers. This caused a flood of letters to Country Life, such as, "I have fished the Nadder for 50 years and have never failed to see dippers," signed Col. Retd. After a few issues there was the notice "This correspondence will now cease, Signed Editor."

    Hugh Dormer, "The Birdman", was our Squadron hero.

    From Hugh Dormer's Diary: [June 44]With field-glasses one could pick out the ruined outline and staring windows of the houses on the edge [of Normandy coastline] Wrecked tanks and landing craft were stranded on the beach and behind them up in the fields poppies stood out in great patches of read. With the parallel of Flanders, the poppies seemed a very appropriate sight to greet the eyes of the next generation.

    That night we drove into the harbour area, where the battalion lay up round a cornfield for the next two weeks [St Martin les Entrees]. This was a real gipsy life that suited me down to the ground, and to have the opportunity of being both a guardsman and a gipsy was surely an ideal combination. It was a splended life to sleep out in the open under the sky and to be woken by the chill of the dawn and the cooing of pigeons in the trees above, as years ago in my childhood they used to coo under my window in Kenya...

    Captain HUGH EVERARD JOSEPH DORMER, D.S.O., 104106, 2nd Bn., Irish Guards who died age 25 on 01 August 1944
    Son of Capt. Kenelm Dormer, and of Josephine Dormer, of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
    Remembered with honour ST. CHARLES DE PERCY WAR CEMETERY
    CWGC :: Casualty Details

    I can't quite find the exact references I remember reading about the above men, but when I do I will add them here.

    My father recalled sleeping in a trench close to a German position in nearby woods. He awoke he said, not knowing what time it was, but the birds were singing and that was always a good sign.
  19. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    From The Times, Feb 17, 1940:

    A record of all unusual events among the bird population of the London area is kept by the ornithological section of the London Natural History Society, of which Mr. R.S.R. Fitter is recorder. Periods of exceptional cold usually provide the most interesting observations, and the artic weather of last month was no exception.

    The most remarkable of the birds then recorded by the society was, not inappropriately, an Iceland gull, the first of its species ever to be seen in Middlesex, and only the second see in the London area as a whole. This rare visitor frequented Staines reservoirs for some weeks, patrolling up and down the causeway and alighting in the water close enough for its distinguishing features to be seen clearly with the naked eye. Being immature, its plumage was mottled and vermiculated with brownish-grey, but the absence of dark wing-tips, and the distinctly long wings, marked it off at once from the many young herring gulls about the reservoirs at the time.

    Other unusual visitors to the Staines district during the cold spell were a small gaggle of white-fronted geese, which wre seen in the meadows by the River Colne. That a considerable movement of white-fronted geese was taking place is suggested from the fact that a flock of 250 flew over Oxford at about the same time. Geese also visited the London area in the cold spell of last winter, but there were then two kinds - brent and pink-footed.

    The most marked feature of this winter's cold spell has been the fact that the freezing over of the reservoirs has driven many of the waterfowl to the River Thames, much to the satisfaction of London bird-watchers, for most of the reservoirs hav been closed to them since the outbreak of war. The Thames tideway from Putney to Richmond is now patrolled regularly by watchers armed with field-glasses and telescopes and during the cold spell six or more species of duck could frequently be seen in a Sunday afternoon's walk. Widgeon, goldeneye, goosander, godwall, and, on one occasion, as many as 52 smew were all recorded. Farther downstream, near Waterloo Bridge, a meticulous observer counted 122 tufted duck and 17 pochard on one day in mid-January. As in last winter, the cold weather again brought a number of dunlin from norther estuaries to the neighbourhood of Hammersmith Bridge.

    In the winter of 1938-39 there was a spectacular movement of skylarks across London, many thousands of them flying westwards from the cold and many dropping exhausted in London streets and gardens. This year scarcely any have been reported, except one which was seen in St. James' Park.
    Owen likes this.
  20. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

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