According to the traditional Chinese calendar, today we welcome in the year of the pig. To mark the occasion, we are throwing the spotlight on an unlikely naval talisman from the First World War.
Clashes erupted in the sea between British and German ships near the Falkland Islands in 1914. The German light cruiser SMS Dresden escaped the skirmishes, but was pursued by Royal Navy vessels over a period of several months.
The British finally closed in in March 1915 off the coast of Chile. Realising the danger, SMS Dresden’s crew scuttled the ship to avoid capture – sending it to the bottom of the Pacific.
Sailors noticed something unusual in the subsequent flotsam. Edward Pullen, a member of the crew of HMS Glasgow, recalled, ‘a pig was aboard her, and it swam to our ship! …it was only a small pig – they’d captured it from somewhere, see’.
The female pig was hoisted from the cold pacific waters, and became an unlikely mascot on board HMS Glasgow.
Daks Over Duxford
Join us for a special one off event from 4 - 5 June, with mass parachute jumps, flight displays and on the ground activities that will bring the extraordinary story of D-Day to life. Part of IWM's D-Day 75 anniversary week of events.
The sailors named the pig Tirpitz, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the head of the German Navy: Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz.
Tirpitz would grow to a healthy size. Sailors on board described her as ‘as fit as anything’ and ‘a great pet’. The pig was bathed every day, and each Sunday a mock Iron Cross was placed round her neck – a nod to the foremost German military decoration.
When HMS Glasgow returned to British shores, Tirpitz found a temporary new home at the Whale Island Gunnery School in Portsmouth.
The pig was subsequently put up for auction several times, with proceeds donated to charities. The Red Cross alone received a £2,000 donation for Tirpitz from one buyer.
Following an extraordinary life, Tirpitz died in 1919. As a lasting tribute, her final owner – the 6th Duke of Portland - had the pig’s head stuffed and mounted.
Tirpitz’ head was donated to Imperial War Museums, as were a carving knife and fork with handles made from her trotters.
The stuffed head was on display when King George V opened the museum to visitors for the first time on 9 June 1920. Today you can see it for yourself in IWM London’s First World War Galleries.
What's on this Half Term?
We've a whole host of activities at IWM Duxford this Half Term! Meet veterans and eyewitness, become an Aeroplane Investigator or take part in our paper plane challenge!