Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Ship's Cat


Tillerman's comment on my Halloween post was enigmatic: "The cat has to go." I assume he was referring to my wife's cat, which is completely useless and constantly annoys me.

Inspired to find a story of a useful cat that related to sailing, I found this story about Simon of the HMS Amethyst.
In May 1948, a gangly green-eyed black-and-white Tom cat was found wandering alone and hungry on Hong Kong's Stonecutters Island by the Amethyst's captain, Lieutenant-Commander Bernard Skinner, and so it was that two year-old Able Seacat Simon joined the ship's complement. Cats had long been popular as shipboard mascots in the Royal Navy, not least for their pest-control skills, but also because of their remarkable ability to adapt to new surroundings in a manner which will surprise only those who have never chosen to share their lives with them.
In 1949, the ship was attacked on the Yangtse River in China by communists. Simon was wounded, but not found for days. The injured sailors had been evacuated, so the ship’s doctor nursed Simon’s facial burns and shrapnel wounds. As Simon recovered he resumed rat catching, but also added the duty of visiting sick and wounded sailors. Upon return to Hong Kong, Simon was presented with a campaign ribbon and news that he would receive a Dicken Medal, an award for animal gallantry. When the Amethyst reached England, Simon had to go into quarantine. He developed an infection and died just before his planned formal medal ceremony. The veterinarian believed the young cat would have recovered if his war wounds hadn’t weakened him. Simon was buried in a specially-made casket with full naval honors.