My heart was broken this week by a weathered, whiskery old Sailor. His name was Simon, and served gallantly aboard the HMS Amethyst at times under heavy fire in turbulent seas during World War II.
Regarded as very lucky by sailors, cats were welcomed on board many early ships for their rat hunting skills as well as their cute faces (I may be slightly paraphrasing here). Simon was picked up off the Hong Kong docks by a drunken sailor, the young black and white moggy took to life a sea like the proverbial duck to water. Hunting rats, improving morale and performing tricks (when he felt like it, cat’s perogative of course) he was incredibly popular amongst the hard-bitten sea men.
Badly injured by shrapnel during an attack on the ship that became known as the Yangtze Incident, killing the captain and 15 sailors, Simon recovered and carried on with his role as a ratter, killing the rats who were eating and befouling vital rations whilst comforting the sailors who survived.
Are you crying yet?
After a few years at sea scooping ice cubes out of water jogs, sleeping curled up in the captain’s hat and running a tight ship accompanied by the captain’s dog, Simon was brought back to the UK to recover and rediscover his love of rolling meadows – rather than bouncing foredecks. He became so infamous one of the ship’s crew was appointed to deal with the resulting mail for him.
Sadly a few months into his quarantine Simon succumbed to the rampages of a viral infection, and was honoured with a full military burial in the Illford PDSA pet cemetary. Many of the ship’s crew turned out to say goodbye to their feline companion.
Posthumously Simon was awarded the PDSA’s Dicken Medal, the pet world’s Victoria Cross for boosting the morale of stranded shipmen under fire. Of only 53 animals in the world, Simon is the only feline to receive this honour for displaying “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty.”
50 years later, almost to the day of his passing (unintentionally) we made our way through London through the grizzly grey Saturday to remember this little fellow who made such a mark on so many lives, so many years before.
But what really broke my heart? Someone had taken the time earlier in the month to leave a wreath on his tiny grave, to mark another fallen warrior on Remembrance Day. 50 years later, and people still think of this small black and white cat.
Call me a softy, I don’t care.