“For Gallantry. We Also Serve,” Reads the Dickin Medal, a medallion awarded to the work of animals in wartime. The medallion was created by Maria Dickin in 1943 to honor the work and often, sacrifice, of animals in World War II.
The only cat to receive a Dickin Medal is Simon, the ship’s cat about the HMS Amethyst, for his heroism in the line of duty and the disposal of many ship rats despite injury.
While cats might not immediately stand out as brave military animals, the fluffy little felines served an important role in the lives of soldiers, serving as mousers and ratters to protect vital food stores and prevent the spread of disease.
But perhaps more importantly, cats often served as a morale boost for soldiers. Many cats were adopted as “mascots” whether it was in the trenches of WWI, aboard battleships, planes or tanks.
Aboard the HMAS Nizam, the ship’s cats have a custom made cat hammock to themselves.
“Portrait of Company O’Connor Men and Cat.”
Ensconced in an opening in a sandbagged dugout, a cat, probably a regimental mascot, looks up expectantly at the approach of an unidentified soldier.
US Coast Guard mascot “Bilgewater” ensuring the quality of a new cadet uniform is up to cat comfort-level standards.
British soldier playing with mascot cat. [Illustrated War News, Vol. 7, London, 1918]
Studio portrait of J G Harrison, holding a kitten.
A gunner with the regimental cat in a trench. Cambrin, France, February 6th, 1918.
“Pincher,” the mascot of the HMS Vindex, sitting on the propeller of one of the seaplanes carried by ship.
A feline mascot named “Spark Plug.”
Ship’s cat strutting along the barrel of a 15-inch gun on the deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Gallipoli Peninsula, 1915.
Sailor on board the HMAS Melbourne holding two ship’s cats. 1917.
Commander Clarence Orville Taff is shown with Yardbird, the black cat mascot of the Black Cat Squadron.
Yardbird on patrol.
Two men of the 9th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders (15th Division) with their pet cat. “Martinpuich,” August 25th, 1916.
A very young cat called “Aircrew”, the mascot of the Cressy Royal Australian Air Force flying school.
British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, making the acquaintance of Blackie, the bushy-tailed mascot of HMS Prince of Wales.
“Pitouchi” (photo below) was born in the trenches, and would later go on to save his partner’s life.
Pitouchi’s mother was killed when he was a kitten. He was adopted and nursed back to health by a Lt. Lekeux of the Belgian Army.
As recounted in the book Soldiers in Fur and Feathers by Susan Bulanda, Pitouchi followed Lekeux wherever he went and reportedly went on to one day save Lekeux’s life:
“As Lekeux reached a spot near the German lines, he saw that they were digging a new trench. He hid himself in a shell hole nearby to make a sketch of the German works. He was so absorbed in his sketch that he did not notice approaching German soldiers on patrol. When he finally realized his situation, it was too late to run.
He decided to lie very still, hoping that the Germans would not see him, but unfortunately he heard one soldier say, “He’s in the hole,” so he knew he had been seen.
When Pitouchi heard the German say that, he jumped out of the hole onto a piece of timber. The Germans were startled and fired two shots at Pitouchi. However, as frightened as he was, Pitouchi was not hit, and he jumped back into the hole with his beloved Lekeux.
The Germans laughed and joked that they had mistaken a cat for a man and left. Lekeux finished his drawings and returned to the Belgian lines with Pitouchi on his shoulders.”