Water Life Magazine: Part 13. 1939: War

Water Life magazine in 1939 makes sad reading. War loomed and then came on 3 September. The magazine carried on as normal until September. For example, W.Christian* described how to make a tropical aquarium heater (paraffin flame under an asbestos sheet beneath the aquarium) in the issue of 29 August. Then the issue of 12 September contained an Editorial beginning:

     It has been our belief in the trying times through which we have been passing, when newspapers and magazines oozed with rumours of war, when everyone spoke of war, and when it was impossible to walk down the street without seeing evidence of warlike preparations, that when the aquarist turned to his peaceful hobby he wanted to forget for a while the troubles of the outside world. We have therefore carefully avoided all mention of current world affairs. We still believe in this policy, but events have unfortunately made it necessary for us to break this rule for once.

The Editorial continued to say that wild stories had circulated in the first few days of the war of fish being sold off for a fraction of their value, of aquariums being thrown in the dustbin and dealers’ shops being closed. It continued on a ‘change is opportunity’ note: no fish food from Germany would mean a greater opportunity for British manufacturers. It finished ‘…it is foolish to pretend that things are worse than they really are. Our hobby has been built up by hard work, by courage, and by perseverance; we are not going to give it up without a struggle.

But things did get worse, much worse as rationing came in and within months, Water Life itself was a casualty. But before the first German air attack on 16 October 1939 in the Firth of Forth (during which my neighbour and former colleague was with his mother in a railway carriage on the Forth Bridge) there were a number of false alarms in the south of England. A Mr H. Robertson of Twickenham wrote to the Editor:

     …I am writing to say that on the morning of Monday, September 4, at the grim hour of 4 a.m., a hearty vote of thanks was proposed to WATER LIFE, and passed unanimously! By a lucky chance the room in which we—self, wife, two children, nurse, cook-general, and two neighbours—were sitting waiting for bombs contained an aquarium. A pair of Panchax blockii, the male in his vivid breeding colours, decided to begin spawning. This magnificent gesture—a fishy coacking a snook to Hitler—engaged the attention of all to such an extent that the outside world was almost forgotten (completely forgotten by the children), and the “All Clear” signal quite ignored for a bit.  As it was a chance copy of WATER LIFE which led to the buying of the aquarium, the vote of thanks was then suggested and passed.

Advertising fell away rapidly and on 21 November the publishers had to announce that instead of weekly, the magazine would appear monthly. The 28 November issue was the final appearance of the weekly. The issue for the whole of December 1939 was larger than the weekly version but although it was not known at the time, it was the final appearance of Water Life in its pre-war format.


The final issue of 1939 contained the following advertisement:

gas mask

The hope of monthly issues in 1940 was not realised. From March, Water Life was incorporated into Zoo and Animal Magazine. That part of the story has to wait for another day.


* This, as judged from other articles in the magazine be the W. Christian who, in the 1950s , had a shop on Bridlesmith Gate, Nottingham. Later he moved, I think to newly-built shops on Maid Marian’s Way.

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