|Turpitz onboad HMS Glasgow|
By The Hodge
‘Would any regiment like as a gift from a lady a little tame white pig for a mascot? Two months old; hand fed; very affectionate.’
From The Times, 8th January 1916
Last month, I distinctly recall saying that I wouldn’t burden readers – that’s you and possibly one other – with tales about pigs. Now, that was my best intention but having been involved with the commemoration of the end of World War I last month, I was reminded of an unlikely tale that I thought I might share and, no, it is not from the book which is currently eating most of my time.
‘Tirpitz’was the name given to this heroic hog from the First World War. Tirpitz was awarded an Iron Cross, albeit by sailors on a Royal Naval vessel, survived indescribable red tape in order to enter the British Isles and then raised firstly £200 and then £400 in aid of the British Red Cross before slipping into obscurity.
Tirpitz was a ’pet’ pig or mascot kept on board the Dresden. During the Falkland Islands battle, the Dresden sank apparently having been scuttled by her crew, on March 14th 1915. They escaped leaving Tirpitz as the only crew member not to abandon ship. HMS Glasgow arrived on the scene and brought Tirpitz aboard, the crew awarding him the Iron Cross for his devotion to duty.
The Petty Officer who had first spotted the pig swimming around the stricken Dresden, claimed ownership and the Glasgow eventually returned to Portsmouth some eighteen months later. The ship’s captain signalled the Commander-in-Chief requesting permission to land the pig but the matter was referred to The Admiralty and on to the Ministry of Agriculture before a decision could be made.
Eventually, temporary accommodation was built on Portsmouth jetty to house the pig whilst he underwent the quarantine demanded by the men from the ministry. But the jetty at Portsmouth was not the ideal place in wartime and plans were eventually agreed to transfer Tirpitz to a piggery on nearby Whale Island. This too did not pass off without incident. The Royal Navy’s finest loaded the pig onto a cutter and secured him in place with a net but the cutter broke free from its tow just as a sea fog blew up and Tirpitz was left drifting in the waters off the south coast of England while search parties were scrambled to find him.
Eventually he arrived and dwelt with the other pigs at Whale Island until one day the Petty Officer turned up there demanding his spoils of war. Tirpitz was duly handed over and was taken back to the sailor’s home in Yorkshire. In due course, the Petty Officer was again called up to re-join the fleet and he decided to raffle the now famous Tirpitz to raise funds for the Red Cross which he did, raising over £200.
A newspaper report shows that Tirpitz was (again) raffled in Wiltshire in aid of the British Red Cross on the instructions of Commodore Luce (late Captain of HMS Glasgow) by Messrs Knight Frank and Rutley in December 1917. The sale took place at Malmesbury and raised 400 guineas so Tirpitz truly helped the British war effort. In honouring this unlikely hero, when he died – or more likely was turned into sausages – his head was preserved and mounted. A display is on show at the Imperial War Museum.