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Simon (Able Seacat)

While doing some research I came across an interesting story about a cat that went to sea!

Simon joined HMS Amethyst, which was a British warship in early 1948 when the ship docked at Stonecutters Island, Hong Kong for supplies. Simon was found on the dockyard by a seaman who thinking that Simon needed a good meal smuggled him onto the ship and hid him in his cabin.  Simon was only about a year old and being a curious cat was unhappy at being confined to the small cabin and soon began to explore.  The captain of the ship was also a cat lover and Simon soon followed the captain on regular inspections, it did not take Simon long to win over the rest of the crew.Rats were a big problem on the ship and created havoc among the food supplies; it was soon found that Simon was in fact a very skilled rat catcher.  Simon was that good at his job that the crew considered him more of a fellow crewman than a passenger.

In April 1949 the Amethyst was ordered to relieve HMS Consort which was guarding the British Embassy.  The communists were about to capture the town of Nanking and the personnel may have to be evacuated. The HMS Amethyst had sailed about 100 up the Yangtze River when the ship was attacked by heavy gunfire, the ship became ground on a mud bank and suffered heavy casualties.

Simon was among the injured having been hit by shrapnel. As cats do Simon crawled into one of the ship’s crannies to hide.  A few days later, probable driven by hunger, he emerged from his hidey-hole very ill and week. As most of the injured crew had been evacuated to land to be treated the ship’s doctor was able to take the time to attend to Simon’s injuries and to feed him, although he didn’t think that he would survive. Simon did survive and he was soon back on his rat-catching duties despite his injuries. Simon was doing an essential job, the ship was still stranded and food supplies were running low and none spare for the rats.  Simon caught a least one rat a day, often more, and this proved to be a boost to the morale of the crew.

Simon’s rank was now upgraded to Able Seacat Simon and he now had another duty to perform.  As the injured sailor returned to the ship the doctor thought that having Simon to keep them company would help the men’s recovery and morale.  Simon divided his duty by spending time on the bunks of injured crewmen where he was a comforting presence and catching rats.
Eventually after 101 days the ship was repaired enough to sail again, and with no further possibility of rescue it was decided to make a run for it.  On 30th July 1949 under the cover of darkness and after a brisk firefight the ship made it to open sea.

In August a special presentation was held to acknowledge the brave crew and also honoured was Able Seacat Simon who received the Amethyst campaign ribbon. Simon’s contribution was also rewarded by the PDSA who cave him the PDSA Dickin Medal.  The Dickin Medal is the most famous of the charity awards, it was started in 1943 by the founder Maria Dickin to acknowledge outstanding acts of bravery by animals serving with the Armed Forces or Civil Defence units in any war, worldwide.  The Medal is recognised as ‘The animals’ Victoria Cross’ for animal bravery in military conflicts.

On Simon’s return to England he still had to be confined to quarantine for six months, but he was probably the most pampered animal there. Simon received a lot of attention from the quarantine staff as well as having frequent visitors from his crew friends.
The PDSA Dickin Medal was due to be presented to Simon on 11th December but sadly three weeks after his arrival in England he became very ill with a viral infection and as he had been weakened by his war injuries his system could not cope with this new disease and he sadly died on 28th November 1949.  Simon is buried in the PDSA’s animal cemetery at Ilford, London.

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