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

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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

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