Cats, in service on sailing ships,
helped keep mice and rats out of food stores
and, in an era when life and death
meant strong ropes and sound canvas,
it was vital to control rodents who chewed even the wood.
Ancient Egyptian shippers trading along
the Nile River may also have kept cats aboard.
And, it may even be true that cats were
mandatory on ships of the French Navy
under Louis XIV in the Seventeenth Century.
However, dogs get all the notice as warrior animals whereas — cats only get mentioned in the footnotes!
Cats at Sea
Crimean Tom was adopted as a mascot by grateful English soldiers for his actions in 1854. Russian troops had hidden food caches beneath rubble and Tom helped the English and French troops find these food sources.
Tiddles, a black maritime cat, served as the official Captain’s Cat on the HMS Victorious in the early 1940s. Traveling over 30,000 miles during his naval service, he is one of the reasons the black cat is considered a symbol of luck in Great Britain.
Able Seacat Simon of the Royal Navy’s HMS Amethyst began his career in 1948 as the Amethyst’s formal ratter, put on board to protect the food stores. Simon performed his duties so well that he was bestowed two awards in 1949, including the Dickin Medal for animal gallantry. Simon is the only cat to have received the Dickin Medal, and when he died, he was buried with full naval honors.
Pfc. Hammer proved his mettle in 2004 when he moved in with a U.S. Army unit in Iraq, killing and chasing away mice that would have devoured or contaminated the soldiers’ food stores. The men were so grateful for Hammer’s hard work and affection that they made him an honorary member of their unit and rallied the support of Alley Cat Allies and Military Mascots to bring Hammer home to America after their deployment. Hammer now lives in Colorado with his comrade, a Staff Sgt.