Torty survives shell shock in WWI

  • 09/09/2014

New Zealand's last living survivor of World War I died 11 years ago. But last year Campbell Live heard a rumour that there was a naturalised Kiwi who lived through that era, and in 1916, came back with wounded soldiers from Gallipoli on the troop ship Marama. 

We tracked the survivor down to a rest home in the Hawke's Bay. 

A tortoise. 

That's right; our last survivor is a female Greek tortoise, nicknamed 'Torty', picked up by Beth Little's father-in-law just after Gallipoli in Salonica. 

In 1914 Ms Little's father-in-law Stuart Little left his home town of Dunedin for the desert, where he was a stretcher bearer at Gallipoli and accompanied the many wounded to hospital. 

"One day, Stuart saw this tortoise walking around [where] they took the wounded from Gallipoli and then immediately this terrible thing happened," says Ms Little. 

As it turns out, Torty was run over by a French gun carriage and when Mr Little picked her up, there was the large dent in the shell - her own war wound - and the dent is still there. 

A chuck of her shell was broken off and she also lost a few toes. Mr Little asked some of the locals in Salonica how old they thought Torty was, to which they replied, give or take around 100 years old.  

That would make Torty around 200 years old. 

Maybe not tortoises, but animals played a crucial role in World War I - a means of transport, message carriers and as comforters for the soldiers as mascots and pets.

Watch the full report from Whena Owen.