National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

The Gallipoli Turtle

This amazing artefact comes from a turtle who was a good mate to a Kiwi soldier during the infamous campaign at Gallipoli. Thomas O’Connor was taking cover in a trench one night during the battle when a turtle toppled over the edge and dropped on top of him; almost scaring him half to death. After getting over his shock he saw the poor animal couldn’t get out of the trench and so made a small ramp for it. The little turtle duly climbed up the ramp and headed for the sea, but much to O’Connor’s surprise it came back that night and from then on was a regular visitor.

O’Connor was an animal lover and became very attached to his little friend, and used to look forward to its visits. However, like the battle, this story has a tragic end. O’Connor was a strecher bearer and had to leave his trench for a time, and when he returned his spot had been occupied by Indian troops who had sadly turned his friend into soup. O’Connor was so upset that he rescued his little mate’s shell and carried it with him for the rest of the war. In later years it was hung pride of place on O’Connor’s lounge wall as a kind of memorial for the small animal who had been a good friend during a terrible time.

This remarkable artefact has recently been on display as part of the Peek at the Peculiar: Strange Stuff from the Backroom exhibition currently on display in the Hassett Gallery.