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We have previously written about Simon, the ship’s cat on board HMS Amethyst, and the only feline holder of the Dickin medal – the animal’s VC.  However, there is another cat who was decorated for her courage… 

Faith was the tabby and white coloured church cat of St Faith & St Augustine, Watling Street, just to the east of St Paul’s Cathedral.  In September 1940 she became restless and insistent on finding a sheltered place for her single kitten, eventually settling in the basement.  Three days later the rectory was demolished in a bombing raid.  Faith remained guarding her kitten until they were rescued from the rubble of the burning building.

She was later nominated for a PDSA award but did not qualify – as a civilian – for the Dickin medal, so Mrs Dickin caused a special silver medal to be struck and this was awarded in 1945.

Little remained of the church except the tower, the lower part of which was turned into a chapel.  A photograph of Faith with a caption praising the ‘bravest cat in the world‘ and certificates from the PDSA and the Greenwich Village Humane League Inc. of New York were placed in the chapel, but it is not known if they are lost, as the church was closed around 1960 and the tower has been incorporated into St Paul’s Cathedral Choir School.  Faith’s death, peacefully in her sleep, in September 1948 was reported in The Times (1 Oct. 1948 p. 2) and she was buried in the churchyard.

Mrs Day and her cat 'Little One', London 1941This photograph shows another cat from the Second World War, ‘Little One’ and his owner, Mrs Day.  ‘Little One’ is wearing a NARPAC collar.

According to the original Ministry of Information caption, the National Air Raid Precautions for Animals Committee was ‘an animal lover’s voluntary wartime organisation that ensures that, should he stray in blitz or black-out, he will be returned safely to his owner’.

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An unusual memorial service took place yesterday at the PDSA animal cemetery in Ilford, Essex, which is the burial place of twelve recipients of the Dickin Medal (the animal’s Victoria Cross).   Among them are Simon, ship’s cat on HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident, whom we’ve written about before.  Read more about Dickin Medal winner, Simon

The service was attended by living Dickin Medal winners, such as Sadie, a black labrador explosives search dog who worked in Afghanistan.  The cemetery itself has recently been refurbished with the help of a lottery fund grant.

Read more about the service from BBC NEWS

We currently list 23 war memorials to animals in the UK.

Browse list of animal war memorials

Richard, one of our volunteers, has been looking into war memorials to cats.

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Animals such as horses and elephants have been pressed into military service since classical times, and also used have been dogs, camels, oxen, mules, donkeys, pigeons and various other ‘humble beasts ‘.

Of the animal memorials on the UKNIWM database, those to horses, as might have been expected, lead by a short head over all other species put together. Cats by comparison do not feature large in military history, although there is a relief of one on the Animals in War memorial in London. One reason is that the territorial nature of these enigmatic creatures does not lend itself to life with an army on the move: the English nurse Elsie Knocker had a cat in the front line in Belgium in the First World War, but they stayed in the same place, while the tabby Crimean Tom, rescued from the ruins of Sevastapol and brought to England does not seem to have joined the military. Attempts by the American military in Vietnam to use the ability of cats to see in the dark were a predictable failure owing to their inclination to follow their own concerns rather than anyone else’s.

Diesel and Garfield, ship's cats, HMS BelfastAlthough cats generally are not keen on water, they have made ships their territory for centuries, and in times of conflict their service with the Royal Navy was especially valuable both for their ancient role of rodent control and as a contributor to the morale of the crews. However in 1975 because of fears about rabies the Admiralty banned cats on RN vessels, although some were allowed to continue their service ashore.

The most notable naval cat was Simon, wounded several times during the Yangtse Incident in 1949, while serving on HMS Amethyst. He became the only feline recipient of the Dickin Medal (the animals’ VC), but died before it could be bestowed, weakened by his injuries, while in quarantine at Hackbridge later in the year. In April the following year Lieutenant Geoffrey Weston, RN, unveiled a tablet  at the PDSA Veterinary Centre, Plymouth, with a relief of a cat’s head and the following inscription.

 ‘SIMON, D.M./ 31st JULY 1949/ H.M.S. AMETHYST/ THROUGHOUT THE/ YANGTSE INCIDENT/ HIS BEHAVIOUR WAS OF THE/ HIGHEST ORDER ‘.

Lt Weston had himself been wounded in the Incident and had commanded the vessel following the death of its Captain until the arrival of Commander Kerans, who effected its escape to freedom. Simon was buried at the PDSA Animal Cemetery at Ilford (recently awarded a National  Lottery grant of £49000 for refurbishment) and his headstone has a similar inscription. 

Recently it has been found that there is another memorial to Simon at the China Fleet Country Club at Saltash in Cornwall.