Belfast elephant kept as pet during blitz.

Discussion in 'United Kingdom' started by Peter Clare, Mar 23, 2009.

  1. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    Baby elephant kept as pet to save her from WW2 blitz - Telegraph

    A kind-hearted homeowner kept a baby elephant in her back yard for months during the Second World War because zookeepers feared the animal would be killed in a bombing raid, it has been revealed.

    By Stephen Adams
    Last Updated: 9:16PM GMT 23 Mar 2009


    Belfast zoo launched a search Monday for a mystery woman who sheltered an unusual evacuee during World War II: a baby elephant named Sheila. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

    Sheila lived at Belfast Zoo until she was moved to her unusual home in 1941 as the city underwent the so-called Belfast Blitz.
    She was one of the lucky ones at the zoo, in the north of the city.

    Many animals were killed because of public safety fears of an escape during the bombing.
    The Ministry of Public Security ordered 23 zoo animals to be killed in case they got free and attacked people, including a tiger, a black bear, a lynx, a hyena, two polar bears and six wolves.
    But instead of meeting the same fate, Sheila was walked down the road by keepers to a red-brick house on the Whitewell Road where a woman gave her sanctuary in her back yard for several months until the bombing was over.

    Now, as part of the zoo's 75th anniversary, managers are trying to identify the woman who gave the elephant its wartime sanctuary, known only as "the elephant angel".
    All it has to go on are a couple of grainy black and white photographs of two women sitting on a garden seat watching Sheila drinking out of a tin bucket beside the back door of the house.

    Zoo manager Mark Challis said: "The care provided by our mystery lady is unique to zoo history and we would like to make contact with her family and properly document this gap in our past."
    Happily Sheila went on to survive the war, living another 25 years until her death at the zoo in 1966.
    James S likes this.
  2. Passchendaele_Baby

    Passchendaele_Baby Grandads Little Girl

    awh! thats so sweet!
  3. Recce_Mitch

    Recce_Mitch Very Senior Member

    A good news story from the war. They should be able to find her relatives. Will watch thread with interest.

  4. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    What a wonderful story.

  5. marcus69x

    marcus69x I love WW2 meah!!!

    A brilliant story indeed.

    I would have thought the story would have been passed down through family generations, so somebody out there should recognise that it was their gran who looked after a baby elephant during the blitz.

    Maybe the zoo should put out an appeal on TV or in the paper.
  6. Steve G

    Steve G Senior Member

    Sweet story, right enough. But a crying shame about the poor creatures executed 'in case' :(
  7. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    Sweet story, right enough. But a crying shame about the poor creatures executed 'in case' :(

    True enough, very sad.

    The Elephant theme reminded me of the old film Hanibal Jones with Oliver Reed as the POW working at the Zoo.

  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Update to Peter's story

    BBC NEWS | Northern Ireland | Zoo finds WW2 'elephant angel'

    The Second World War 'elephant angel' of Belfast Zoo has been found.
    During the Second World War, some of the zoo's more dangerous animals were killed in case the site was bombed and the animals escaped.

    Sheila the elephant escaped the order and found her way to the backgarden of Denise Austin, one of the first female keepers at the zoo.

    Ms Austin's cousin David Ramsey came forward after the zoo launched an appeal to find their 'elephant angel'.

    <!-- E SF -->"Denise was eccentric and lived in a rather exotic home in North Belfast called Loughview House," he said.

    Sheila was only a night time visitor to Loughview House, during the day she stayed at the zoo under the guardianship of Head Keeper Dick Foster.

    "Denise took Sheila from her enclosure, walked her a short distance to her house at 278 Whitewell Road, and walked her back up to the zoo in the morning," said Mr Ramsey.

    It seemed zoo staff did not know about Sheila's second home until she chased after a dog into a neighbours garden, breaking the fence.

    When neighbours brought the incident to the attention of the head zookeeper Sheila remained in the zoo overnight.

    Denise's fondness for Sheila continued as she visited her in the zoo, particularly at night during the air raids where she rubbed her ears to keep her calm.

    Ms Austin died in 1997. Mr Ramsay said "she would be tickled pink with all the attention".

    From Irish Times, Monday, April 21, 1941:
  9. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Is it true that the first bomb dropped on Berlin hit the zoo and killed their Elephant?

    Seems to get cited a lot and I sometimes wonder how much Dr Goebbels had a hand in the reporting of it - I'd have thought 'Terror Bombers kill much-loved animal' was quite the sort of headline he'd like for the pages of Signal etc.
  10. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    Fascinating story DBF! Well done on unearthing this story.

    Adam, as regards Berlin Zoo I cant confirm that particular story but the fate of the zoo is alluded to in Conrelius Ryan's "The Last Battle". Most of the Animals were killed in air Raids before the Battle for Berlin started but Ryan refers to a zoo keeper who took one of the rare birds and kept it in his apartment during the battle. I think it survived.
  11. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

  12. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    Thanks for the update Diane

  13. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Belfast Blitz elephant hits the big screen
    The film, which premieres in Belfast on Tuesday, was inspired by the real life story of Belfast woman Denise Austin.

    She took a baby elephant named Sheila home everyday from Belfast Zoo to keep it from being destroyed during the Belfast Blitz, when German bombers devastated the city.

    The authorities feared that bomb damage could allow the zoo's dangerous creatures to go on the rampage and ordered them put down, but Sheila was spared and went on to become a symbol of hope.

    The Belfast Blitz
    The Belfast Blitz devastated a city that up until 1941 had remained unscathed during World War Two.

    About 1,000 people were killed and bombs hit half of the houses in the city, leaving 100,000 people homeless.

    Belfast was largely unprepared for an attack on such a scale, as 200 German bombers shelled the city on 15 April 1941.

    Many in Northern Ireland thought that Belfast was outside the range of the Luftwaffe.

    The Germans, however, saw Belfast as a legitimate target due to the shipyards in the city that were contributing to Britain's war efforts.

    Poor visibility on the night meant the accuracy of the bombers was hampered and the explosives were dropped on densely-populated areas of Belfast.

    It was the worst wartime raid outside of London in the UK.

    The real life Belfast Blitz elephant was called Sheila

    Denise Austin took Sheila from the zoo each night to keep her safe at home

    'Elephant' roams Belfast back gardens

    How did an elephant beat the Belfast Blitz?
    Chris C, 4jonboy, CL1 and 2 others like this.

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