On rare occasions, Britain’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) awards a military decoration to an animal serving with that nation’s armed forces. The Dickin Medal, as it is known, was established in 1943. At the beginning, it was mostly commonly given to pigeons that carried messages under fire. Many bomb-detecting dogs have also received this honor.
But only one cat.
That cat was Able Seacat Simon of the Royal Navy. He was the ship’s cat on board HMS Amethyst, a frigate that was trapped on the Yangtse River in China for three months of 1949 during the Chinese Civil War. Simon was responsible for killing rats on the ship and maintaining morale.
At one point, the ship had been badly damaged and taken heavy casualties from Red Chinese artillery. Despite being sorely wounded, Simon kept working:
Simon was immediately taken to the medic, stitched up, and began a long healing process — but the cat could hardly wait to get back to his military duties. The ship’s boilers and fans had shut down as a result of the onslaught, and the rats ran freely through the ventilation system; during Simon’s absence, they had infested food supplies, invaded living quarters, and made life a greater hell for surviving crew members.
Despite his injuries, Simon quickly got to business. His first night back, he had two confirmed kills, and within a few days’ time, he’d succeeded in clearing the deck of critters. But one foe remained: A gargantuan rat the crew had nicknamed “Mao Tse-tung.” For weeks, the scoundrel had avoided traps and gnawed his way through sealed food. Simon would have none of it. When the cat finally met his nemesis in the storeroom, he pounced, killed it, and proudly dropped it by the mens’ boots. From then on, the crew hailed him as “Able Seacat Simon” — the first (and so far, only) military title ever given to a feline.
When the Amethyst finally escaped to the sea, the Royal Navy awarded Simon a campaign ribbon. The PDSA bestowed a Dickin Medal on Simon. Sadly, he died before he could receive it. He was buried with full military honors at a cemetery in East London.