Tirpitz knew how to hog the limelight
In this 100th anniversary of the First World War, Laura Brown, an auxiliary veterinary nurse at Barnfield House Veterinary Centre writes a series of articles remembering animal helpers, heroes and victims of the war
DURING the battle of the Falkland Islands on December 8, 1914, the cruiser HMS Glasgow helped to sink the German cruiser SMS Dresden. As the ship went down, an officer on the Glasgow noticed something swimming in the water. A closer look revealed the swimmer to be an enormous pig.
Two sailors dived in and brought the pig on board the Glasgow, where the crew named her Tirpitz, after the German admiral, Alfred von Tirpitz.
Tirpitz’s original fate had been to provide fresh meat for the Dresden’s crew, but she now found herself in happier circumstances. The Glasgow’s crew awarded her an ‘Iron Cross’ for staying on board her ship while the human sailors had deserted it, and she served as their mascot for the rest of the war.
After the war, the officer who had first spotted Tirpitz took her to live at the Whale Island Gunnery School in Portsmouth. However, when she kept breaking into the chicken coop there, the school sent her to live with the Glasgow’s former commander, John Luce, at a navy flight training centre in Lincolnshire that was to become RAF Cranwell.
Sadly, Tirpitz’s destiny still took her to the dinner table. She was auctioned off for pork to raise money for the Red Cross, and was slaughtered in 1919.
Her head was stuffed and donated to the Imperial War Museum, while her trotters were made into a pair of carvers for a new HMS Glasgow, which saw action in the Second World War. When that ship was decommissioned, the carvers, too, were given to the Imperial War Museum. Tirpitz’s stuffed head is currently featured in the Museum’s First World War centenary exhibition. Right, Tirpitz the pig was rescued from the sinking German cruiser Dresden by British sailors from HMS Glasgow, and became the Royal Navy ship’s mascot until the end of the First World War Below, Tirpitz was not the only unusual animal to become a pet of as this photo of a British soldier with his pet goat shows
Animal mascots like Tirpitz were extremely common during the war. Some of the animals we have discussed in this series, such as Winnipeg the bear, Sergeant Stubby the dog and Jackie the baboon, served as mascots in addition to their other functions.
Other mascots did not play such a prominent part in the fighting, but nonetheless helped their human comrades by providing comfort, companionship and amusement. Pictures from the front show soldiers playing with a wide variety of animals – cats and dogs – but also rabbits, goats, ducks and even foxes! Most mascots were local strays or farm animals that had been left behind when their owners fled, but a few soldiers brought their own pets from home. After a battle, soldiers on both sides would frequently adopt pets that had belonged to the enemy.
We know from soldiers’ recollections that the comfort the animals provided was very real. And it was not just those who fought who benefited from animal companionship. When German citizens who had been living in the UK at the outbreak of war were interned on the Isle of Man, they were permitted to keep pets. This was considered an important way to make their situation more bearable.
Next month: When the circus came to town – and to the farm