Cats in the military? It is often overlooked that cats have a long standing history, dating back thousands of years, as military animals. Most of the time they are skittish and shy, so it may not seem like they would be much help during warfare, but they are natural born hunters, and stealthier than dogs.
Cats are also more versatile with their skills. They can climb, leap across buildings, and studies show that they are nine times more likely to survive than any human soldier. These skills have made them a strong asset to the military.
It is well known that Egyptians loved cats. It is likely that the ancient Egyptians were the first to use cats on ships during battles. Military cats became more popular during World Wars I and II, both on land and as shipmates. They are still used today in America and overseas. The U.S. military has used cats in the CATS (Covert Anti-Terrorism) program.
Along with providing sailors with much needed companionship and a sense of calm and comfort during long trips, cats provided protection by getting rid of rats and mice on the ships. Ships were often overrun with vermin that would eat the sailor’s food, chew through ropes, and spread disease. It became essential to have cats on board to protect the crew. Sailors would also adopt cats from the places they visited to remind them of their pets back at home and some even believed that cats brought good luck, thus bringing protection upon the ships.
Here is a story of a military cat that has definitely earn his spot within history.
Simon’s story is perhaps the most notable of all cats in the military. A tiny, undernourished cat was trying to make his way across the docks when he was spotted by a British sailor named George Hickinbottom in 1948, while he was stationed in China. Hickinbottom smuggled the cat onto the HMS Amethyst. The tiny cat became popular on the ship for his cheekiness, bringing dead mice as presents to the sailors, and sleeping in the captain’s cap. Simon had been on the ship for a year when an attack on the ship happened. A lot of soldiers were injured and even more were killed. Included with the injured was Simon. He disappeared into the depths of the ship and the crew thought him to be dead.
Eight days later, the cat emerged to the surface. He had shrapnel wounds and burns on his face. His legs were covered with dried blood, he was skittish and severely dehydrated. It took him a little while to heal from his wounds but he was thrilled to get back to hunting the rats that had been running freely through the ship during Simon’s absence. After killing a rat that had avoided traps, chewed through sealed food, and caused havoc on the ship, the crew hailed the cat as “Able Sea cat Simon”. This was the first, and so far, only military title ever given to a cat.
Befriending a Cat “Hater”
After the attack on the ship, it lay stranded for three months. During that time, the cat befriended a prolific cat hater, Lieutenant Commander John Kerans. Kerans was not impressed with the cat’s attempts to win his heart until the new Commander fell ill. He cuddled up with the Commander and they both fell asleep together. The whole crew found immense comfort in the cat’s companionship.
Once the ship was repaired enough, they set out on their journey back home. The news of the attack on the HMS Amethyst, known as the Yangtze Incident because of where the ship was located at the time, had spread. The whole crew, including Simon, were named heroes and welcomed home once the ship returned to England. Fans from all around the world sent him letters, gifts of food, and cat toys. He was photographed and received dozens of daily visits. Commander Kerans was among the many visitors, as he wanted to adopt the cat after he was released from quarantine.
On November 28th, two weeks before a ceremony to award Simon for his services was to take place, he passed away. Commander Kerans and his wife accepted the award for Simon. He was also awarded an honorary Blue Cross Medal. After his death, various printed media commemorated his legacy. He was given a funeral where his specially made casket was draped with the Union flag and he was given full honors. His tombstone reads “Throughout the Yangtze Incident, his behavior was of the highest order.”
There are many other stories of military cats, each with their own story of triumph. It proves just how tremendous cats can be during warfare. Not only are they helpful with ridding ships and trenches of vermin, they provide a sense of calm to the many soldiers who are thousands of miles away from home while they are in dangerous situations. The next time you are paying tribute and honoring the men and women fighting for their countries, remember the animals that are fighting along with them.