Sir Gerrard Tyrwhitt-Drake, 1917, Royal Veterinary Corps.

Sir Gerrard was an ‘amateur’ menagerie owner, circus hobbyist and friend (especially the Hoffmanns) as well as a politician. At the outbreak of the war he had a large collection of animals in his private zoo at his home in Maidstone. The Narrative here is extracted from his books and memoires. Including: Ref: T-D G (1) – My Life with animals and other reminiscences, Blake and Sons ltd, 1939; Ref: T-D G (2) – Reminiscences of showlife: Beasts and Circuses. Arrowsmith, 1936; Ref: T-D G (3) – The Engish Circus and Fairground. Methuen and Co. Ltd. 1946. Also newspaper articles from The World’s Fair, the Showland newspaper held on microfiles at the National Fairground and Circus Archive, University of Sheffield. 


c. AUG 1914


   We have regrettably closed the Zoo, which we only just opened up this year. I started as a showman when I took my collection to Edinburgh to start the Zoological Society of Scotland’s Zoo Park in early 1913. In October of that year I decided to start Zoo Inn, in Maidstone, this year, 1914. The venture was a success. With weekday takings covering costs and Sunday, which is by far the best day from an attendance point of view, ensuring dividends, then the war broke out and we are now in the general opinion that no one would ever, even if they could afford it, go to entertainments. Hopefully the war will not be too long and we will open it again once hostilities have ceased and the appetite for amusements has returned.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: T-D G (1)


c. FEB 1915


 I’ve had a hellish time getting the menagerie back home to Maidstone from the World’s Fair at Islington. We pulled out at 4pm on Sunday and got no further than New Cross when it began to snow. We reached Faringdon at 8pm the snow was so thick the hills were becoming impassable for the lorries. We got bread from a local village to feed the bears and other animals and waited for morning, it was no better. It took us to 6pm to get to the top of the hill, and then another 2 hours to get the lion wagon out of a bank it had slid into, it had overpowered the lorry. We eventually arrived home at 2 am – taking thirty-four hours to cover thirty-four miles.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: T-D G (3)





Anyone setting up a private menagerie just now would encounter difficulties not only in the matter of prices, but through the shortage of supplies.

   Mr. G. Tyrwhitt-Drake, F.Z.S., Hon. Secretary and Treasurer of the Amateur Menagerie Club, Cobtree Manor, Maidstone, who is an expert on the subject, explained to a “Star” representative some of the difficulties and the reasons.


   “One dealer one day,” he said, “says stock is cheap on account of the war, and another the next day says animals are scarce, hence dear.

   To a certain extent,” Mr. Tyrwhitt-Drake proceeded, “both are undoubtedly right. Lions, leopards, camels, etc., unless exceptional specimens, are cheap, not, of course, because they are plentiful.

12/6/1915 The World’s Fair


c. SEPT 1915


This summer my animals have succeeded in accomplishing that difficult feat of “eating their heads off”, or in other words costing a lot to keep and not bringing in a penny piece. This is one side effect of the general “pinch” of the war. Another is that I have also lost all my keepers and am reduced to an old ex-carter, aged seventy-three (who unconcernedly left his team and took care of the lions) and a Belgian woman wild animal trainer.

   Having decided to reduce my stock, and continental markets closed, with all other people here in the same boat, I turned to America, and have offered a mixed collection to Dr. Hornaday, director of the Bronx Zoo Park, New York. A deal was soon struck and 50 animals and birds were to be prepared to be shipped including, a lioness, guanaco, reed buck, eight giant rats, british wild cat, monkeys and four greater birds of paradise. I decided to take them myself.

   On 15th June I left Cobtree Manor, Maidstone, in a motor lorry for Tilbury to embark on the Atlantic Transport’s S.S.. Minnehaha with all packed up in crates and their food. I planned to supply fresh horse meat for the carnivores, but the steamships agent insisted that nothing but the best beef could go into the refrigerators, I could not find no affordable best beef, so I bought 2 or 3 dead donkeys and had the carcases dressed out like beef, and in they went to the refrigerators to the satisfaction of all.

   Because of the loss of the Lusitania in May there were 8 first class passengers instead of the usual 250. We zigzagged down the Channel to avoid submarines, but once past the Scilly Isles we were safe, the submarines do not hunt so far. The only things that happened after that included: one giant rat killed and eaten by his friends, one loose reed buck, one scratched hand belonging to a curious sailor experimenting with the lioness’s reach.

When we all reached land the local press set about concocting stories based on the interview with Wilfred Wozzel one of the hostlers on board the Minnehaha. And the Captain Frank F. H. Claret also waxed lyrical about the only pink wang-soko in captivity from Formosa too. While to another he speculated about the red eyed guianaco.

   While in New York I was the guest of the New York Zoological Society and was able also to visit the Zoological Gardens in Philadelphia. On the ninth day after my arrival I re-embarked on the S.S. Laplan, a Red Star boat sailing for the White Star line. I had under my charge this time three sea-lions and a quantity of birds. And again we had a very empty ship, 23 first class passengers in accommodation for 350. Landing in Liverpool I was fortunate to only have lost 2 small birds.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: T-D G (1 & 2)

c. OCT 1915


I have just spent two weeks with my friend Lord George Sanger touring with his Lord John Sanger Show. I “messed” with the Hoffman’s, doored the menagerie, and helped in anyway I could. Mrs Hoffman is Sanger’s sister, Mr Hoffman, her husband, trains all their horses, and is a fine rider.

   Also I am “booked” into being Mayor of Maidstone in November.

I use my 25.98 Talbot car much less now due to the war. She did 101 miles per hour in her trials in 1913, but she is rather thirsty 16miles to the gallon, and petrol is hard to get. So I use motor-cycles now.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: T-D, G (1)


c. NOV 1915



Mr T. E. Read, lessee of the Agricultural Hall, Islington has asked me to supply a menagerie for the Christmas Fun Fair and Circus, this in place of E.H Bostock’s Menagerie, Robert Fossett is supplying the circus as usual. I have supplied ten wagon cages each 15 feet to 20 feet long full of animals, besides monkeys and camels &c. I hired traction engines and lorries to haul them. I am working as head keeper myself assisted by young and inexperienced would-be animal keepers. Islington is quite rough, but for an admission starting at sixpence the public can enter the Hall, enjoy one and a half to two hours of circus, and the menagerie. This is a funny season altogether as we have had frequent and exciting raids by sergeants and police rounding up Army dodgers. Still the British people are sports when they are “had” at the side shows, instead of abusing the proprietor or trying to break up the “joint” they laugh heartily and advise their friends to go in and see the wonderful show, getting some of their monies worth by laughing at them when they come out! Inspired by the papers being full of the doings of the Kaiser & Crown Prince and new side show has popped up “Come and See Big and Little Willies”, Inside was a very large and forlorn Spanish Donkey and an equally miserable-looking Irish one.

   I am living in the hall and my living wagon is close up against the beast waggons. It is a delight to many friends and a few of the nobility, to entertain with cocktails in a wagon.  

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: T-D G (1 & 3)



   I am in the lowest medical category owing to a certain trouble for which the Army would not operate, so I have been a liaison officer as my public and national work. I enlisted voluntarily, one of the round pegs in a square hole that are among the vast numbers of enlisted men, a misfit, or to use a horsy expression there are many thoroughbreds pulling carts and cart horses trying to gallop. I undertake the work without a wage and have employed and pay my own secretary. I am tasked to liaise between the farmers of the district and the O.C.s of four Labour Corps consisting of 1000 men, with some knowledge of agriculture who are let out on farms for food production.

I have taken part in a motor-cycle race in Southampton where I have brought my menagerie , matched against the roller-skating instructor of the Kursaal, two miles round the rink. I won, not because I think I was the faster, but because the unfortunate skater was in such a blue funk that I should have a side slip and fall on him, that he was too busy watching what I was up to that he was not going all out himself. I am bound to say it was not an easy ride.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: T-D G (1&3))



c. OCT 1916



   The French Red Cross in Paris has offered up for auction a medium sized lion cub in order to raise funds. He is from a travelling menagerie in France. Someone bought him for 10,000 francs. He offered the cub as a mascot to an English Division. The lion, now christened “Poliu”, was accepted by General Tom Bridges and is the mascot of the 19th Division of the English Army, which he commanded to the Western Front.

   “Poliu” was at the time the size of a retriever, he was transported in a lorry and when they stopped for a few days they let him out to exercise in a portable run of wire netting. He is regularly allowed to go for a walk right up to the front line trenches. He can cope with all the sounds of War, but hates the roar of a passing lorry.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: T-D G (2)


c. JUNE 1917


   A couple of months back I was re-examined by a Medical Board, for the fourth time, and passed B2, so the lowest category – fit for labour. So I left my liaison job and was immediately replaced by a younger waged man!

   I cannot get myself a commission, so I am placed in a rather difficult position because I am only eligible for “Labour Corps”. I’ve therefore reported to the local recruiting officer in the local barracks and said I wanted to enlist in the Army Veterinary Corps.

   Having been kept sitting on a bench in the barracks square for about two hours I was handed a pass for Woolwich, where the A.V.C. Depot is, so that I would not abscond with the the pass I was escorted to the railway station though it was only a few hundred yards away and I was va voluntarily enlisted man, not a conscript! Getting my uniform and boots I was recognised by the man issuing them. “I used to make your boots.” said he.

   My first job was weeding the C.O.s front drive; no doubt very useful, but to me seemed a waste of my time. The second job was with another new recruit – a master saddler who had to leave his business – and two old soldiers, to cut green fodder in a chaff-cutting machine. We worked at a very leisurely pace, and when I suggested we could easily finish it all by 6pm I was at once addressed by one of the old soldiers. ” You b– fool, those are going to last us all day tomorrow”, and so they did. The method of which was to set a bundle ready to cut, and one of us in turn on the look out for anyone in authority, when the three others sat about. It was my first lesson in the army to which I have had to be acclimatised. I hope I can remember to pick up the pace of work when I return to civilian life.

   I was only at the Woolwich depot for 4 days and when I then went onto the A.V.C. Unit at Aylesford, coinciding with a German daylight air raid. It was about noon when we saw a lot of aeroplanes – I should say twenty or thirty – coming over. We all thought they were ours, but in a few moments everyone was ordered undercover. I don’t think anything was dropped.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: T-D G (1)


c. AUG 1917


   Now I have been posted to the operating lines – stables to which all the horses that had undergone operations were at once sent. This entailed attending operations, my particular job being to hold the patient’s tongue while It was under anaesthetic to prevent it “swallowing” it and choking. I also have to keep my finger on it’s pulse – under the cheek bone – and at once report if it flagged so that the chloroform bag could be eased off the animal’s nose. We usually have three or four operations a day. Once the patients returns to the lines my real work begins.

    How we loath cases that entail slings, a sort of harness with a wide supporting belt under the stomach, the whole hooked on to a beam above so that the horse can stand or if it wishes, or should it tire or be taken very ill the sling supports and saves it from falling. From my experience very few sling cases recover and more often than not when we come in at 6am we find the poor brute hanging in a grotesque attitude dead as mutton. The other reason we hate sling cases is because in addition to the extra attention of the patient required the d—- slings have to be taken off daily and throughly cleaned – not a great job in itself. From 6am to 6pm we in that unit work nonstop except for meals. It is difficult for me not used to manual work, especially when the hay comes in, each weighing 1 cwt.

   After a few weeks I received my first stripe and am now Lance-Corporal Tyrwhitt-Drake, but in this unit the N.C.O.s have to take off their tunics and work as hard as the men troopers. Our O.C. is not popular, and to our great regret was returned to England from the Horse Guards at the beginning of the war having been blown off his horse by a shell. One time he called me in and asked for me to find the nearest Justice of the Peace to witness a document. I replied “I am a J.P., sir.” ( I am also the Deputy Mayor of Maidstone) “You won’t do.”

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: T-D G (1)


 c. DEC 1917


   I have been promoted now to a full-paid corporal and was put in charge of the mule stables. I never have liked mules; I like them even less now! About forty percent of them are vicious and in a few cases worse than wild animals. To obviate as many kicks as we could we stable two decent ones against every bad one, and to get the bad ones we passed up between the good ones, and get under the head or shoulder of the bad one in this way.

   In November 1917 our unit was shifted from Aylesford to Trawsfynydd, North Wales. This is a beastly isolated and windy place, at least in winter. It was originally a summer artillery camp. The Canadians who were here before us, arriving in September 1917 refused to stay here. We, I must say, are most uncomfortable and so are our poor patients.  

   Before we had been twenty-four hours in the camp the Command had sent us 600 of the most disgusting and advanced cases of mangy horses and mules – the sweepings from several boats from Liverpool. Many had no hair at all, and their skins were in folds like a rhino with sores at the bottom of each fold. These brutes are stabled in lines with only a corrugated roof over them. We are only a unit of 200 men, including all ranks, cooks and orderly room staff, hopelessly understaffed for such a crowd of bad cases.

   The O.C. requested more men, and received 100 men from the Labour Corps, some old soldiers and men wounded and back from the front, as well as low-category men who did not know one end of a horse from the other. To add to the disdain the men had for our patients the rations are very bad and short. On the first morning 99 of the 100 reported sick and did nothing until they could be examined by the M.O. We do not have an M.O. Only a local doctor. Dr Evans was not used to dealing with people who are sick only to avoid doing work. In 4 days only one man worked because he liked horses, we was the only one to work for the next six. He was not allowed to stay, despite his requests, when the transfer came, because the Army could not clear their own red-tape to get him into the A.V.C. from the Labour Corps.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: T-D G (1)


c. JAN 1918


   We had a mild mutiny at a particularly atrocious dinner, I had to agree with the men, when the O.C. harangued them and appealed to me for support to agree with him that everything was lovely. I am in charge of thirty men in my hut. I expect my stripes will now remain stationary. Since then I have been posted to the dispensary, being the only man in the camp who was supposed to know a smattering of Latin. As the dispensary has a small tortoise stove, I am in clover! I have never in my life once made up a prescription. I now make up all for those left of the original 600 (horses), I may not have cured any but I have not yet killed any. I make mange dressing up by the barrel. I’m also in charge of the dead-house where the carcasses of all that have died are skinned and dressed, and even have to make water-colour drawings of the most interesting cases to send up to the A.V.C. headquarters.

   I am also now medical orderly to Dr. Evans. Meanwhile the O.C is getting s bit tired of being so many men short due to “sickness”. One day the doctor said to me, apropos of an old ruffian who was going sick 4 times a week: “Corporal, what shall we do with this man?” I at once replied: “Give him a No. 9 (strong pill) to-day, sir and two the next time he comes in.” With much pleasure I gave him the pill, for I do not like malingerers. Knowing my man I watched him as he went out, and sure enough as soon as he was out of the door he spat the No. 9 out. At which point I called him back and told the M.O. The next pill was supplied with a whole pint of cold water. He did not trouble us any more, and the new treatment having been noised about, our “patients” dropped off considerably.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: T-D G (1)


c. JULY 1918


   I have not been able to get myself a commission. But I have been transferred away from Wales and the horses and have managed to transfer into the Labour Corps engaged on farms. First I was sent to Canterbury to drive a tractor and from there I got promoted as chauffeur to the civilian supervisor in charge of some 10 units of tractors, all driven by soldiers.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: T-D G (1)


11 NOV 1918


   I was in Faversham visiting one of my units when news of the Armistice reached me. I hurriedly drove my van back to Canterbury, and what a pandemonium is here. Army Lorries by the dozen are parading up and down the narrow High Street, full of Tommies inside and out with four or five astride the bonnet of each. They must have found it a warm seat. I’m celebrating now with champagne at one of the best hotels.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: T-D G (1)


c. JAN 1919


20th January: I am pleased to say that, after 12 weeks, I have just been discharged from hospital. As the day after the armistice I was taken ill, not from champagne but with the flu.