All Cats on Deck

SimonWhile docked in Hong Kong harbour in 1948, ordinary Seaman George Hickinbottom heard the cries of a cat along the quayside. On investigation he discovered a dishevelled and undernourished young cat. The sailor smuggled the cat on board his ship, HMS Amethyst and named the feline Simon. The cat was nursed back to health and soon ingratiated himself amongst the crew as he was a keen rat catcher, clearing the lower decks of the vermin. He settled in amongst the officers and men of the ship’s company and became known for his cheekiness, often leaving presents of dead rats in the sailor’s bunks and sleeping in the captain’s cap.

Simon the cat was seen as a lucky mascot amongst the crew, and when the ship’s commander, Ian Griffith left the ship in late 1948, he left the cat for his successor, Lieutenant Commander Bernard Skinner.

The ship was detailed to travel up the Yangtze River and take over from the duty ship, HMS Consort which was stationed at Nanjing. As the ship sailed up the river Chinese Communist artillery units stationed along the banks opened fire on the frigate. Shells tore into the ship, fatally wounding Lieutenant Commander Skinner and seriously wounding Simon. Numerous sailors were killed and seriously wounded in the initial exchanges of gunfire. The ship ran aground and its guns were knocked out of action. Simon was taken to the sick bay where the ships medical staff worked on the cat, cleaning his burns and removing four pieces of shrapnel.

HMS Amethyst

HMS Amethyst

However, due to his wounds the feline was not expected to last the night. To everyone’s surprise, Simon, having rested off duty for a period, was back on the frontline, ridding the ship of a rat infestation. He patrolled the upper and lower decks of the frigate, chasing and catching rats, improving the morale of the sailors. The standoff between the two sides continued for three months before the ship was re-floated and slipped away under the Chinese guns.

Following the ships dramatic escape from the Yangtze, the story of Simon the cat became known throughout the world. For his actions he was awarded the “Animal Victoria Cross”, the Dickin Medal. He also received the Blue Cross medal, the Amethyst campaign medal and received the title of “Able Seacat.”

Simon was lauded every where he went and a naval lieutenant was appointed “cat officer” in order to deal with fan mail that the cat received.

GraveWhen the ship returned to Plymouth, England, in November 1949, Simon like all animals entering Britain was subject to a period in quarantine. Here he contracted a virus and with complications from his war injuries died on the 28th November 1949.

Hundreds of mourners attended his funeral as did the entire crew of HMS Amethyst, as he was interred at the Ilford Animal Cemetery in east London.

His headstone reads:

In memory of
Served in
HMS Amethyst
May 1948 – November 1949
Awarded Dickin Medal
August 1949
Died 28th November 1949.
Throughout the Yangtze Incident
His behaviour was of the highest order.

Throughout history animals, have served on the frontlines, braving shell and bullet. Simon the cat is one such animal, loyal and brave to the very end. A purrfect little warrior.


Post by Paul O’Brien

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jillianne hamilton headshotJillianne Hamilton is an author, history enthusiast, book lover and graphic designer. Her debut novel, Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, was shortlisted for the 2016 Prince Edward Island Book Award. Her debut non-fiction book, The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII is now available. She lives in Charlottetown on Canada's beautiful east coast.
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