I have to mention Herman the US Coast Guard mouser cat who was issued with a passport during World War II. He was officially commissioned into the service in 1943. His task as stated was to control the rodent population. He was a celebrity ship’s cat as he made the news at the time. His official title was ‘Expert Mouser’.
It was all very tongue-in-cheek serious which indicates that they had some fun. Herman was a kind of mascot it seems to me and probably helped to keep up morale.
His passport details were:
Herman the Cat, occupation: EXPERT MOUSER, age: 8 months, height: 15 inches, weight: 11 pounds, eyes: GREEN, color hair: GRAY, issued on Jan. 12, 1943.
US Coast Guard
His pawprint substituted a right-hand index finger fingerprint.
There have been some famous ship’s cats and they invariably achieved their fame during the war. The UK’s famous wartime ship’s cat was Simon. He was awarded the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross (VC) Dickin Medal. The VC is the highest decoration a British soldier can achieve for valour
This photo from WW2 of a ship’s cat in a custom made hammock reminds me of the most famous cat of that era, Simon. He was also a black-and-white moggy and he was awarded the VC for animals, the Dickin Medal. Simon survived the war but died after he returned home to Britain because of the cold. He was ship’s cat in the Far East where it gets much hotter. I don’t know anything about the cat in the photo except what I can glean from looking at it. The sailors look genuinely interested in the cat. They look fond of him especially the guy sitting next to him. I expect that he made the hammock and is rightly rather proud of his work. The cat looks comfortable.
You wonder how cats survived these warships. What if the cat fell ill? There’d be no vet onboard. I guess the medic dealt with it but it wouldn’t be great. And neither would the food. Back in those days cats got kitchen scraps. Cat food existed, of course, but it was no where near as sophisticated as today’s. I can see ships’ cats getting ill quite frequently and dying. They did a good job of keeping mice infestations down and entertaining the sailors who like cats.
You may know that going further back in time when the first settlers travelled to America they believed that polydactyl cats were better ‘sailors’ as they had one extra toe to keep then steady on deck. This is why the Hemingway cats were often polydactyl. They are the descendents of the original ships’ cats.
The Dickin Medal is named after Maria Dickin, the founder of the The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals in the UK. She was remarkable woman. She cared for animal welfare at a time (1917) when relatively few did.
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Zappa is a grey, tabby-and-white domestic cat. His home is in Belfast, N. Ireland. His human companion is Julie Blair. She works at the Irish dog rescue centre Cavaliers in Need.
Zappa went missing 18 months ago. Julie thought he had died; killed by a fox or shot by a hunter. Then she got a telephone call from Nancy Lindsay of Garston Animal Rescue in Liverpool. Fortunately Zappa had been microchipped indicating that he was registered in Belfast. Nancy telephoned Julie and asked her a few questions and emailed her photographs of Zappa which showed a distinguishing mark under his chin. This confirmed that the cat was Zappa.
What Julie found rather strange was that Nancy’s accident was English so she asked Nancy where she lived. Her response was “Liverpool”. Julie thought she meant Liverpool Street in Belfast but eventually the conversation turned around to the fact that Nancy was calling from Liverpool in England and that Zappa had been found in Speke Hall Road, Liverpool, Merseyside, across the Irish Sea from Northern Ireland. Zappa had been spotted eating from takeaway rubish bins.
Neither Nancy nor Julie have any idea how Zappa ended up in Liverpool except the obvious, namely that he wandered onto a boat and then meandered off it when it docked at Liverpool. For a short while he was the ship’s cat.
Julie travelled to Liverpool, quite possibly on the same boat that Zappa had travelled on to be reunited with her cat.
“I had no hesitation to come and get him because I had bottle-fed him since he was an abandoned kitten and our family have his brothers and sisters. It was an emotional reunion and he was a bit cautious at first, especially being around the other cats, but he definitely recognise me and he wouldn’t stop meowing all the way home.”
Nancy Lindsay said:
“In all our 30 years of running a rescue, we’ve never had a cat that crossed the sea like this.”
If you’re a cat owner living near docks…think again.
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Eighty-seven percent (87%) of people would prefer to sale around the world with their cat companion according to a large poll of 7912 voters.
It made me think. It has a very romantic feel to it. As Liz Clark is actually living the dream and sailing around the world with her cat as I write this it proves that cats can live on smallish boats (40 foot) for a long time and be safe even when in the middle of an ocean.
Does the poll tell us that a lot of people are dissatisfied with their lot? People dream about “getting out” of their mundane rut which is often unsatisfying.
Liz Clark lives on board her boat “Swell” with Amelia, a calico (tortoiseshell-and-white) cat. Amelia adapted to life on the seas:
“She has adapted to living surrounded by water. She’s learned to trust that she will be safe with me.”
Liz Clark starting dreaming about sailing around the world when she was a child. Liz comes from San Diego.
Together they have travelled 18,000 miles. The journey started from California in 2006!
Amelia likes to fish from the boat. Liz puts out a “soft top surfboard” attached to the boat which she uses as a platform to fish from.
When they hit land they do hiking together. I have seen this before: cats who go on long walks with their owner. It seems to work well. There must have been some worries initially though. Liz says:
“She has to go out of a cat comfort zone often…But I think she now understands that I will keep her safe and she will have a lot of fun in the end. She makes Swell feel much more like a home.”
Would you like to do something like this? Do you hanker after breaking out of your rut. And would you go with your cat?
This is a cute, loving cat story and to me it brings to mind the spread of the domestic cat many hundreds of years ago from the Middle East, and subsequently other countries, to all corners of the globe.
A ginger, tabby and white female cat, who was pregnant, was probably seeking a den and food at the docks at Algeciras, Spain, a port city.
She got into a pallet of food and other supplies which was loaded onto a launch boat for a larger vessel which was about to set sail for Houston, USA. She ended up sailing to Houston on the 13th March. She got lucky because the crew discovered her and America is by and large a good place for a domestic cat to be.
She was first spotted on the deck of the ship soaked to the skin. A crew member picked her up and dried her off. She gave birth soon after. The crew decided to check for other kittens and found three. They named them after radio tag signals: Bravo, India, Juliette and Zulu.
When the ship arrived at Houston on 2nd April, more luck was in store for mom and her kittens. The ship’s American agent happened to be a volunteer for a rescue organisation: League City Animal Shelter. So, the ship’s crew had a first rate contact in America to help them through the lengthy process of enabling mom cat and her offspring to become US citizens and to find new homes.
Naturally there were a lot of boxes to be ticked and vet checks to be done including the obligatory quarantine. They sailed through all the hurdles!
We have to thank the ship’s crew, The Friends of League City Animal Shelter and the volunteer rescue worker/ship’s agent and the others who played their part in making this informal immigration successful.
At the time of writing I understand they are in quarantine and when the period has concluded they’ll be adopted into new homes. The names are to be retained.
Perhaps this is exactly how many domestic cats were introduced to new countries from the Middle East during the early years of the domestication of the cat.
Of course there were other ways such as ship’s cats and overland routes but I sense that semi-feral cats not infrequently ended up onboard ships because docks are places where there is food and often community cat colonies form up at docks for that reason.
Sir Ernest Shackleton (15 February 1874 – 5 January 1922) was a famous polar explorer. He led three British expeditions to the Antarctic. He failed to become the first to reach the south pole. That honour went to Amundsen a Norwegian who used dogs in 1911. Shackleton was knighted for getting to within 112 miles of the south pole in 19092.
Shackleton returned to Antarctica to try and cross it from sea to sea via the pole (1914-1917). Unfortunately, he lost his ship, Endurance, in pack ice. The ship was crushed. He appears to have been less successful and less heroic than we are led to believe.
Apparently, this icon of British heroism was an appalling commander1. Firstly, he lost his ship, destroyed by the ice, as mentioned. He watched his ship “reduced to matchwood”1. For a captain to lose his ship this way was an embarrassment.
He then proceeded to personally “murder” the ship’s cat, Mrs Chippy, because there was not enough food for the cat and the sailors. Mrs Chippy was actually a tomcat. His owner was the ship’s carpenter, Harry McNish who argued with Shakleton over the order to shot all the dogs and Mrs Chippy before embarking on the rescue mission.
McNish was denied the Polar Medal on his arrival back home in England. In lieu of the medal a bronze statue of Mrs Chippy was placed on McNish’s grave as a recognition of all he did to get the crew home and the sacrifices that he made as a carpenter.
Update from a comment dated November 6th, 2022: “Actually, Sir Shackleton did not personally kill the ship’s cat. The sad duty was carried out by 2nd in command, Frank Wild, acting under orders. The entire crew were greatly distressed over the loss of ship’s cat and dogs. All the journals and diaries recorded by the ship’s crew bears this fact out.”
Sailors don’t like the loss of the ship’s cats because it brings bad luck. It also has an effect on morale1.
Well, as far as I am concerned, he is no hero to me, solely on the basis that he personally killed Mrs Chippy! Note: Having learned that he commanded the cat to be killed makes little difference to my opinion. It is the same difference: ordering someone to kill and doing it yourself. Certainly, in criminal law this is the case,
This is just a little snippet of cat history.
Update from the Wikipedia entry and published here under a CC license:
After the Endurance became trapped in pack ice and was destroyed, Shackleton decided that Mrs Chippy and five of the sled dogs that had been carried on board would not survive. In a diary entry dated 29 October 1915 he recorded:
This afternoon Sallie’s three youngest pups, Sue’s Sirius, and Mrs. Chippy, the carpenter’s cat, have to be shot. We could not undertake the maintenance of weaklings under the new conditions. Macklin, Crean, and the carpenter seemed to feel the loss of their friends rather badly.
P.S. Please read Andrew’s lengthy comment by clicking on this link. It is great and adds detail to this article.
Simon the cat was a ships cat on HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze incident 1949. I discuss this gorgeous little black and white cat more below but would like to clear up a Google confusion. Today, there is an extremely well known cat that features in cartoons created by an Englishman. This cartoonist’s name is Simon. The cartoons are called “Simon’s Cat”. Google gets confused between a cat called Simon and a person called Simon! Google is great but there is room for improvement. This page is called Simon the cat to try and tell Google that it is about a cat called Simon.
Simon is a standard black and white moggie mouser ships cat. No more no less. But he is the only cat to have won the animal equivalent of the human Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration for valor in the face of the enemy to members of the armed forces in the UK and commonwealth countries and territories of the British Empire. The beauty of the story is the “ordinariness” of the cat and the extraordinary behavior (in the eyes of people lets not forget).
The award Simon won is the Dickin Medal which is awarded to animals for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while serving for the armed forces. Sixty Dickin Medals have been awarded since its inception in 1943 by Maria Dickin CBE who founded the PDSA a large animal charity employing about 1500 people. The citation reads as follows:
Date of Award: awarded posthumously 1949 : “Served on HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident, disposing of many rats though wounded by shell blast. Throughout the incident his behaviour was of the highest order, although the blast was capable of making a hole over a foot in diameter in a steel plate.”2
Simon served on HMS Amethyst, a ship about the size of a destroyer as a rat catcher. He found his way on board when a member of the crew spotted him in Hong Kong. At the time he was smuggled on board he was sickly. He endeared himself to the crew and kept the rats down. He was caught up in the Yangtze incident on April 29th 1949. The Yangtze river is in China. The ship was fired on…
Because at that time the communists (and later the People’s Republic of China) did not acknowledge any treaties between the previous Chinese government and British, they insisted that it was illegal for Amethyst to cruise in the Yangtze river. And the Chinese insisted that they were fired on first (later admitted to be a fabrication)3.
The ship was bombarded by field guns on the shore that hit the ship 50 times and caused severe damage. The shelling killed 22 and and wounded 31. The award was made posthumously (after Simon’s death) and after the incident. Simon was, in fact, wounded by one of the 50 shells that hit the ship. The blast that injured him made a hole a foot diameter in steel plate. Four pieces of shrapnel were removed from him. He survived to continue his duties which included boosting the morale of the crew.
Simon was regarded as an exceptional cat because he was able to function normally under such horrendous conditions for both human and cat. But was he actually exceptional? I am sure that many a cat would behave similarly. Cats are very tolerant of pain and extremely uncomplaining.
He died shortly after returning to England as a result of an infection while in quarantine. The entire crew of HMS Amethyst turned out for the funeral and hundreds of others.
1 I argue fair use on the grounds that it is published for education and charitable purposes in small format and on the basis that the photographer or copyright holder is unknown. Also: where no free equivalent is available or could be created that would adequately give the same information it use it is argued is fair use.
2 Wikipedia® extract (modified) as allowed under their license
3 Wikipedia® extract (modified) as allowed under their license
Simon the cat, the photos of the ship and medal: this are copyrighted and published under fair use as above.