Gallipoli tortoise Great War Story

During her time working at the Aotea Convalescent Home in Cairo (1915-1919), New Zealand nurse Nora Hughes was given a tortoise by a wounded soldier who said he had found in the trenches at Gallipoli in 1915. When Sister Hughes returned to New Zealand in 1920 she brought the tortoise with her. Peter, as the tortoise became known, was a beloved family pet until his death in 1994. He is now immortalised in a children’s book written by Nurse Hughes’s great-great-niece Shona Riddell.

Peter wasn’t the only tortoise New Zealanders bought home from the war. In 1916 a female Greek tortoise, unimaginatively nicknamed ‘Torty’, came to New Zealand on board the hospital ship Marama. She even had war wounds, having been picked up by a member of the ship’s crew, Stuart Little, in Salonika after she was run over by a gun carriage.

Tortoises like Peter and Torty were a fairly common sight for soldiers serving in the Middle East. Gunner Kirk wrote home from Gallipoli in June 1915:

We had a most divine tortoise for a while, but he escaped out of our ammunition pit. We called him Horace Senior… Tortoises are quite tame round here, and they’ll even let you stroke them, but it is not a very pleasant operation.[1]

Not everyone saw tortoises as potential pets. Private Thomas O’Connor could only bring home the shell of the tortoise he had befriended in a trench at Gallipoli - Indian troops turned the rest of him into soup while O’Connor was elsewhere. As well as ‘turtle soup’ soldiers also used tortoise eggs to make omelettes.

Soldiers encountered many other animals at the front. Some served as mascots or became pets. Read more in our military mascots feature:

Primary Sources

Further Information


[1] Evening Post, 13 August 1915, p.4

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