The last remaining veteran of World War I may not be your average survivor - she's slower and more of a tortoise.

For a creature that eats, sleeps and walks around - very slowly - you may not think it's much of a life, but it is one that has captured the attention of many around the country, if not the world.

It is a story that begins more than a century ago when she was rescued in the Greek city of Salonika by Stewart Little, a Kiwi medic who served in the ambulance corps during WWI.

The young medic witnessed the first tortoise he had ever seen being run over by a French gun wagon. Upon seeing she survived, Stewart picked Torty up and kept her with him.


"She had a dent in her shell, lost a couple of toes on one of her behind feet and cracked a bit of the shell on the other side. So those are her war wounds," grandson Stephen Little said.

She was smuggled into New Zealand on the SS Marama, as her rescuer did not want to throw her overboard with the other exotic pets the soldiers had brought back.

It was made easier as she went into hibernation and could be tucked away into a bag.

Along with being run over and smuggled into a new country, she later was stolen and sold to a circus, nearly died in a rubbish fire, and also suffered dehydration after getting lost in the sand dunes.

When Stewart Little died in 1977, Torty went to his son Neil, who died in 1979. Neil's wife Elspeth looked after Torty in Hawke's Bay until she died in 2015. Their final days were spent together at Havelock North's Mary Doyle Lifecare Complex.

Now on to her third generation of carers, Torty spends her days munching on fruit and vegetables and hibernating for five months of the year - that is when she isn't travelling between Stewart's four grandsons in Auckland, Morrinsville, Palmerston North and Havelock North.

Grandson Gordon Little remembers pedalling on his tricycle as a toddler to his grandparents' house in Palmerston North where Torty would be in their front garden.

"She's been a part of my life as far back as I remember, and she's always been an interesting point of conversation.


"There aren't many things that have stayed constant in my life. I've changed where I live and work, and family members have passed on, but Torty has been one of the constants," Little said.

Her diet consists of fruit and vegetables including lettuce, bananas, strawberries and other plants like raraki.

A garden of lettuces was planted for her but now she prefers silverbeet, fed to her by hand so she can tear off a bite at a time, very slowly.

"We let her out of her enclosure sometimes, and she likes to plod around the garden, poking her nose under shrubs and other plants. It's surprising how quickly and quietly she gets around, so you have to keep your eye on her," Little said.

The old lady, who loves being in the company of people and having her chin tickled, is treasured by the Little family.

The story of Torty is so unique that she has inspired several children's books which celebrates her and Stewart's life together, including Torty and the Soldier.

She also features in the Gallipoli: The scale of our war exhibition at Te Papa, where a life size model was made.

Tortoises have been known to live for more than 200 years.

Torty the Tortoise's movement's so far:
1916-1977: Stewart Little brought Torty into New Zealand on 22 October 1916 when his ship returned from service in World War I. He looked after Torty for the rest of his life until 1977.
1977-1979: Neil Little then owned her until he passed away in 1979.
1979-2015: Elspeth Little then looked after Torty until Elspeth passed away in 2015.
2015 onwards: Torty is now shared between Elspeth's four sons.