Highgate tortoise who defied Hitler comes back from the dead

15:59 18 April 2013

72-year-old Adolf the tortoise and his German war helmet. Picture: Polly Hancock

72-year-old Adolf the tortoise and his German war helmet. Picture: Polly Hancock


A tortoise who survived a Nazi bomb and bonfires was feared to have met his match and been killed by this year’s snow – until he made a miraculous recovery.

Carey Miller with Adolf the tortoise, who has finally come out of hibernation. Picture: Polly HancockCarey Miller with Adolf the tortoise, who has finally come out of hibernation. Picture: Polly Hancock

Carey and David Miller believed their beloved pet Adolf was dead after he was caught outside in a late snowfall in their Highgate garden while they visited their son in New York.

His inert shell was discovered and taken inside by grandson Jake, eight, where it remained without a hint of life for a month.

Then last Sunday, just as they were about to give up hope, the Millers took Adolf outside their home in Woodside Avenue into the sunshine to see if the warmth might revive him.

“We thought he was dead,” said Mrs Miller, a children’s author and former headteacher of St Mary and St Pancras Primary in Camden.

Tortoise facts

* Tortoises have no teeth

* Male tortoises have longer tails than female tortoises

* The world’s fastest tortoise was recorded moving at 5mph...

* ...but the average speed of the huge Galapagos tortoise is just 0.2mph

* The world’s oldest tortoise is thought to be between 176 and 178

* Tortoises can vary in size from a few centimetres to two metres across

* Tortoises are found on every continent on earth except Antarctica

* There are about 40 different species in the world

“He was inert. We thought that was it. It was only on Sunday we took him out of the box and his head gradually came out. We were ecstatic!”

It is the latest in a long line of remarkable brushes with death for the tortoise whose actual age is unknown, but he is at least 70.

His current owners were told that he was discovered crawling in a crater caused by a parachute mine which had destroyed three houses along Woodside Avenue in 1942.

He was adopted by the neighbours and named William, remaining happily with them until the Millers bought the house 35 years ago.

They renamed him Adolf, in honour of surviving the Nazi attack, and he became a much-loved family pet.

However, it seems Adolf was not destined to live a quiet life. He has gone missing from the garden four or five times, giving the family a fright.

Then there was the time Adolf thought he had found a good place for a nap – only to be woken up as the bonfire above him was lit.

“My husband set fire to him accidentally – he lost a huge lump from his shell,” said Mrs Miller.

Luckily, his shell grew back, and Adolf is set to enjoy many more years of adventures.


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