In the midst of WWII, British P.M. Winston Churchill, decided he would like to have – a live platypus! 😨
After Australia’s Prime Minister John Curtin gave his assent, naturalist David Fleay was given the task of preparing a young male and organizing its voyage to England (Fleay was from the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary in Victoria). Requirements included a suitable shipboard tank, plus an enormous supply of the animal’s favourite foods; earthworms and chafer grubs. Duly named Winston (Well, what else?), the platypus was put aboard the MV Port Phillip in September 1943. An 18 year old sea cadet was given some hasty instruction and became its keeper….hardly ideal.
No-one in Australia had a chance to speak out against the plan. Conveniently, there was wartime blanket of secrecy regarding the movement of ships and cargo.
However, Churchill was kept up-to-date with his namesake’s progress. The following telegram was sent by Brendan Bracken, Minister of Information and close confident of the Prime Minister. Note that Bracken mentions 50,000 worms. How on earth did they collect them?
All went smoothly on the risky journey from Melbourne to Liverpool via the Panama Canal and across the Atlantic Ocean. However, it took longer than anticipated and Winston’s worm stocks began to run low. He was placed on rations.
WINSTON UNDER ENEMY FIRE
Just days before the ship’s arrival in Liverpool, a German submarine attacked MV Port Phillip, which responded by releasing its own depth charges. Now a platypus has an extraordinarily sensitive bill, which allows it to detect minute vibrations from prey via electro-sensory receptors. Ironically, it works rather like a depth charge zeroing in on a target. Unfortunately an overload of vibrations can be fatal, and soon afterwards Winston was found dead in his tank.
In a letter to Churchill’s Private Secretary, an official from Australia House seemed to think that the creature’s restricted diet was more to blame than the depth charges. It was probably a combination of both.
Winston’s body was preserved and Churchill later arranged for it to be stuffed and presented to the Royal College of Surgeons. The College’s original specimen had been destroyed during the Blitz.
The full story did not come out until the war ended in 1945. It was reported as a rather humorous example of Churchill’s eccentricity. In reality it was a sad and shameful example of the way Australia’s unique native creatures were treated.
To hear more about the crazy project via a podcast by the Herald Sun, CLICK HERE
AND HERE IS ANOTHER STORY RELATING TO CHURCHILL AND A PLATYPUS
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