If you were asked to think of the year 1941 in European history, you would probably be picturing the midst of the Second World War, with images of the Blitz, the front line, and soldiers. What you are most likely not picturing is a reindeer living on a submarine. But this was in fact the life of Pollyanna, a reindeer on board the HMS Trident. So how did this strange set of circumstances come into being?

HMS Trident entering dock during the Second World War. WikiCommons.

Construction of HMS Trident began in Birkenhead in Cheshire, England a few years before the outbreak of the Second World War, and so it was ready for being placed into action on 1st October 1939 just after Britain joined the war. Her first few years of action took place in the North Sea and near the Scandinavian coast where she sank numerous German vessels. In summer 1941, HMS Trident docked at base in Polyarnoe in Russia – then the Soviet Union. Hitler had just launched an invasion against the Soviet Union, and so the Russians quickly became allied with Britain. The Russians were keen to show their appreciation to the British, and so in August the crew of the HMS Trident received a gift from a Soviet admiral; a reindeer.

The unusual choice of gift comes through a story that the British captain of the ship had been talking to a Russian admiral when he mentioned that his wife had difficulty pushing her pram through the snow in England. The admiral exclaimed in response, “what you need is a reindeer!” and thus he procured one for the captain. The British did not wish to refuse a gift from their allies, and so they took the female reindeer into their care, naming her Pollyanna after their base.

Captain of the HMS Trident, Commander Geoffrey Slaydon, with Pollyanna, The National Museum of the Royal Navy.

Getting a reindeer onto a submarine is no easy feat, and Pollyanna was lowered into the vessel via the torpedo tube. The Russians also provided a barrel of moss to feed her during the voyage. It was initially thought that Pollyanna could be kept in the torpedo and food store, but trying to tell a reindeer what to do proved futile. In the end, she chose to sleep underneath the captain’s bed.

The HMS Trident was required to stay at sea for 6 weeks to patrol the sea off Norway following rumours that the German fleet was on the move. Pollyanna quickly became a member of the team, with crewmates later recalling fond memories of her time with them. There were 56 crew on board and as Pollyanna soon ate the stores of moss, the crew would feed her with their leftover vegetables and cans of condensed milk. This was not always enough for the reindeer, and there were stories of her eating a navigation chart!

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Pollyanna certainly ruled the submarine, and whenever the boat would surface for air she would barge through the corridors to make sure she was one of the first ones at the main hatch where she could breathe some fresh air. Finally, the submarine returned to England and docked at Blyth in Northumberland. Pollyanna could finally be free of her metal home – but all the food the crew had given her meant that she had put on weight. They could not fit her out in the torpedo tube, and so a dockside winch had to be used to squeeze her out of the main hatch.

Pollyanna with some of her crewmates. NMRN via BBC News.

In the end, Pollyanna did not pull the pram of the captain’s wife. She was gifted to Regents Park Zoo in London where she lived out the rest of her life. She died in 1946 within a week of HMS Trident being decommissioned and scrapped, in a poetic end to the story. She had lived an experience very few reindeer could claim to have, and had raised the morale of a British submarine crew during a time of war. It is for that that she is still remembered by us today.

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