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Muswell Hill family shell-shocked as tortoise who defied Hitler comes back from the dead

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

Thursday, April 18, 2013
5:44 PM

A tough tortoise who survived Nazi attacks and blazing bonfire was feared to have finally met his match in this year’s snow – until he made a miraculous recovery.

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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 reptile Adolf was dead after he was caught in late snowfall in their garden in Woodside Avenue, Muswell Hill, 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 the next month.

But on Sunday, the Millers took him outside 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 School in Camden.

Ten tortoise facts

- Tortoises have no teeth

- Male tortoises have longer tails than female tortoises

- The world’s fastest tortoise was recorded 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

- Tortoise shells were used by the ancient Chinese as oracle bones to make predictions

- Polynesian warriors used tortoise tattoos to represent Tu, their god of war

- 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 when we took him out of the box that 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 is at least 71.

The Millers were told he was discovered crawling in a crater caused by a parachute mine bomb which had destroyed three houses in 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 recognition of him surviving the Nazi attack and he became a much-loved family pet – entertaining their three children and, more recently, eight grandchildren.

But 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.

On one occasion, he ended up in Highgate after a well-meaning cleaning lady decided to take him home after finding him in Fordington Road.

Mrs Miller said: “He went absolutely ballistic, bashing against the fence in Highgate, and she was quite worried about him. But we finally tracked him down.”

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 lived to enjoy further adventures.

But there is still one question the family would like answered. “We would like to know how he got into that crater,” said Mrs Miller.

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