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Friday, April 6, 2018

Simon the heroic puss in boats

Intrigued by my post on Siwash the fighting duck, Robert Cockburn kindly sent me a link to a press item about a heroic cat's medal being auctioned.

A Medal? For a Cat?

And yes indeed, there is a medal for animal bravery, and the medalist was a black and white moggy called Simon, who was a crew member of HMS Amethyst on the Yangtze River.

According to the UK Express this moggy "defied the odds to survive brutal shellfire, and received a medal and a hero's welcome."

Simon started out as the captain's pet.  Lieutenant-Commander Bernard Skinner had picked him up in the dockyards of Hong Kong, and had brought him on board.  They maintained a close friendship, it seems, the cat requisitioning the captain's cap as his favorite bed, and delighting in a trick of scooping the ice cubes out of his water glass, but Simon was soon part of the crew, the pet of them all.  

In April 1949, when HMS Amethyst was working up the River Yangtze to Nanking (now Nanjing), on the way to to relieve HMS Consort as a guard ship for the British Embassy, she was attacked by Chinese Communist forces. 

Simon, snug in the captain’s cabin, was horribly injured, and, sadly, Captain Skinner died in the attack, as did 46 British sailors.  The shellfire only stopped when communication with the Communists was established, and the bargaining for passage up the river began.

For a long while, Simon was forgotten, but then he was found and remembered.  A doctor looked at his wounds, and prophesied that he would recover, which was what happily happened.  The singed fur grew back, and as he regained his strength he returned to his job of clearing the ship of rats with even more diligence than before.  And it was an essential job, too, as supplies were so limited.

Back in Hong Kong, it was decided that these efforts should be rewarded.  And, forthwith, he was awarded the Dickin Medal, which is the Victoria Cross for animals in war.

Which brings us to a Reuters press release, dated September 1993, in London

                   Heroic Cat's Medal Sold for More Than $44,000

A medal awarded to a ship's cat wounded in action during a 1949 clash
between a British warship and Chinese Communists was sold at auction
yesterday for more than $44,000.

"The bidding was thick and fast," Iona Sale of London auctioneers Spink and
Son said, adding that the medal was sold to British film distribution
company Eaton Films.

Simon, a black-and-white tomcat, never left his post aboard HMS Amethyst
when the frigate came under fire from followers of Chinese Communist leader
Mao Tseutung as it sailed up the Yangtze River to deliver food and supplies
to Britain's embassy in Nanking on April 20, 1949.

The cat, singed and wounded by a blast from Chinese artillery, carried on
catching rats and protecting the ship's food supplies to win the Dickin
Medal, the animal equivalent to Britain's highest military honour, the
Victoria Cross.

Simon survived the action but never wore the medal. He died in quarantine
shortly after he was was brought back to England.  

And yes, a film has been made about the story.  It is called "The Yangtse Incident," and stars Richard Todd and a black and white cat. 


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