Simon the Cat

After the end of World War II, a conflict was brewing in China. The HMS Amethyst, an armed frigate in the British Navy was sent to patrol the Yangtze River, offering to help keep the peace as the communist revolution unfolded.

Stopping at a port in Hong Kong, 17-year-old Geroge Hickinbottom spotted a weak and malnourished kitty. Simon couldn’t have been more than a year old, and likely wouldn’t survive on his own, so Hickinbottom smuggled Simon aboard.

HMS Amethyst

The HMS Amethyst

The crew’s affection for Simon grew quickly as the now vital cat hunted rats aboard the ship, and got into all kinds of entertaining mischief. Simon liked to leave rats he’d killed in sailors’ bunks and often slept in the captain’s hat. Lieutenant Commander Bernard Skinner, the ship’s captain, took an immediate liking to Simon, who would lounge in the captain’s cabin, jumping up to take naps on the commander’s open maps.

Yangtze Incident

On a mission to relieve the HMS Consort of its duty in the north Yangtze, the HMS Amethyst came under attack from Chinese Liberation Army gun batteries. One of the very first shots tore through the captain’s cabin, gravely injuring Simon, and killing Lieutenant Commander Skinner. The ship scrambled to send peace calls, but the newly formed People’s Republic of China considered the treaties signed with the British invalid, as they were negotiated by the old government.

Almost everyone aboard the bridge was injured, and as crewmen were being attended to in the infirmary, it too was struck by enemy shells. The Amethyst was held under enemy shelling for 10 days, with rescue attempts by other ships proving too dangerous. A small force was able to escape to shore, narrowly avoiding enemy fire.

Simon crawled his way on deck and was taken to the medical bay by the crew. They removed the shrapnel and treated his burn, but did not expect him to make it through the night. During the ten-day siege, Simon recovered, and returned to work catching rats, helping raise crew morale as repeated attempts at rescue ended in failure.

The ship eventually managed to re-float itself by using hammocks and bedding to fill holes below the water line. The ship slipped downriver under a cover of darkness. As news reached the United Kingdom of the ship’s escape, Simon became an instant celebrity. He received thousands of letters and was even issued a “cat officer” to handle his mail. The Navy awarded him several medals, including the Dickin Medal, the highest award offered to service animals!

dickins medal