You may have heard of Simon. He is the only cat to have won the PDSA Dickin Medial, the animal’s equivalent of the human’s Victoria Cross (VC). He won it as a ship’s cat on HMS Amethyst fighting the Chinese communists in 1949. Simon is the world’s most highly decorated cat.
The ship was stranded on the Yangtze River for 101 days by communist forces who refused to grant permission for safe passage. Previously the ship had been under fire during which Simon was struck by shrapnel. Simon survived and proved to be a valuable ship’s cat in boosting the crew’s morale. He was also a classic rat catcher.
Simon become the celebrity cat of the era. They are commonplace nowadays with the internet but he was almost unique in his era. Simon received a lot of correspondence (letters) and money and food. As a result the navy appointed Lieutenant Stewart Hett as ‘cat officer’ to act as Simon’s ‘agent’.
Simon was 18-months-of-age at the time of his heroics; a young cat with his life of fame ahead of him. He died young. It was reported that he died of his injuries sustained on the Yangtze.
However, Commonader Hett (as he became) reported when he was 92 that the official story of Simon’s death is incorrect. He said:
“I would have thought it was more likely the climate in England – coming here in November from Hong Kong. We were mainly down in tropical climates. That’s what he had become used to.”
Simon died in quarantine in England. You can imagine what it was like. Very basic and cold in winter. This was 1949 when the attitude by the British towards domestic cats was not what it is today. The old adage to put the cat out at night gives you the clue as to attitudes.
Simon died a very premature death.
Commander Hett continues in an interview with the Times newspaper:
“Because of the medal we had to bring him back. He was a kitten in 1948 so by 1949 he was about one and a half year old.”
Simon’s medal lead to his premature death because if he had not received it he would not have been sent to the UK and into quarantine but would have remained in Asia as an unknown ship’s cat.