Rats, Air Raids and German Occupation

Karl Gustav Anker-PetersenWelcome to another blog about Rentokil History which follows on from the previous post exploring our history throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s.

A decade after establishing British Ratin in 1927 turnover had grown from zero to £62,000 which is almost £3 million in today’s money. It seemed that nothing could prevent the expansion of the business into Europe. However, events on the continent were unfolding. By 1938 there were indications that war might be imminent. The London business community was put on red alert and lines of communication with the continental branches of British Ratin were becoming increasingly difficult. In 1938 Managing Director, Karl Anker-Petersen (right) managed to contact British accountant, George Harris, who was visiting the Amsterdam office to tell him to leave immediately. Holland was occupied shortly afterwards by the Germans.

The Danish manager of the Amsterdam office had no chance of retreat. Denmark had already been occupied. One day in 1938 two German officers entered the Dutch office and claimed to take over the business as it was a British firm. This had been forseen and the books had been altered so the name British Ratin had disappeared. An extra ten people were employed by the company as a means of saving locals from slavery in German factories. Most young Dutch men were sent to Germany to work in the factories but with a work permit from a valued business they were able to stay in Amsterdam.

Back in Britain, British Ratin Managing Director, Karl Anker-Petersen began to make preparations to ensure it was business as usual in case war was declared between the UK and Germany.  U-Boats were patrolling the North Sea, threatening to cut-off supplies of the rat poison manufactured in Denmark.  Scientists from the Bakteriologisk Laboratorium Ratin in Copenhagen travelled to the UK along with the necessary equipment to manufacture Ratin. In a short time a manufacturing plant had been established in England. The cultures required for the process were sent every fortnight from Denmark and a few months later the plant was capable of producing three or four thousand bottles of rat poison every week which were despatched by rail to local offices around Britain. Cultures continued to arrive direct from Copenhagen right up until the day the Germans occupied Denmark in April 1940 but by this point the UK manufacturing plant was self-sufficient.

The next war time problem was to keep the offices and manufacturing plant safe from Nazi bombs. The government had advised that air raids on London might occur so the head offices were relocated from London to Edenbridge in Kent. But by April 1940 the air raids never materialised and the decision was made to relocate back to 109 Kingsway in the capital. Ratin production was moved to Croydon, conveniently next to East Croydon railway station, and also close to the aerodrome, a Nazi target. The air raids almost began at once, and the production of chemicals became hazardous. The final straw came when a 500lb bomb landed outside the factory door – and failed to explode. The manufacturing equipment was dismantled and quieter and safer premises were found in a garage and stable of a private house in Finchampstead, Berkshire. It was here in October 1940 that the first British Ratin insecticide, an ant jelly, was made.

The head office staff relocated to a private house called The Grange at Ashampstead, near Reading. And it is lucky they had the foresight to escape to the country because in 1942 109 Kingsway was partially damaged in an air raid. Later, in 1944 the V-bombs pounded London leaving thousands homeless and a host of new pest problems including rat infestations and bed bugs.

  1. Michael Baron MBE

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