Thursday 16 February 2023

Imperial War Museums - One Plucky Cat



The crewmen of HMS Amethyst in 1949. The crew member in the middle of the back row is holding Simon, the ship's cat. The ship's dog Peggy is in the foreground. 
In 1949, a British ship set sail with a black and white cat on board named Simon.
HMS Amethyst was stationed in Hong Kong. The ship had been sent to the Far East to maintain order while a civil war was taking place in mainland China. Simon had been found wandering the docks by one of the crew, who decided to smuggle him onboard.

Rodents were a serious problem on ships. They spread disease and nibbled at food supplies. The hungry cat wasted no time hunting down the rats hiding onboard the Amethyst. He soon became popular with the men, who named him and taught him tricks.

In April, while on patrol along the Yangtze River, the ship came under attack from the Chinese rebel army and ran aground. After a barrage of gunfire, 17 members of the crew were killed and a further 10 wounded. Simon was missing.

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Free family activities this February half term 
Story Seekers
Adventurers wanted this half term!

IWM is packed full of stories, but we need your wits and imagination exploring our collections and finding connections.

IWM London and IWM North, daily from 11 to 19 February.
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Home Front Volunteers
What role would you have played as part of Britain’s Civil Defence during the Second World War?

Learn about jobs on the Home Front and why they were vital.

IWM London and IWM North, daily from 11 to 19 February.
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Family Activities at
HMS Belfast
Take charge of HMS Belfast in our interactive family activity Find Your Sea Legs and complete tasks around the ship.

Get to grips with the science and skills needed to survive on HMS Belfast, and discover how to keep the ship in tip top condition.

Daily from 11 to 19 February. Free with general admission. 
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Family Activities at
IWM Duxford
Travel back to D-Day, 1944 with Family Mission. Head to the American Air Museum and build your own bespoke cockpit in Cockpit Control. 

Or learn about the Cold War as you help restore our hacked system in Airforce Action Stations.

Daily from 11 to 19 February. Free with general admission. 
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When the little cat reappeared two days after the attack, he was badly injured. For the next 100 days, the Amethyst sat trapped on the riverbank. As the days wore on, it became infested with rats. The ship's crew needed Simon more than ever.

Despite his injuries, the plucky cat set to work, hunting down rodents in every corner of the ship. He soon began catching at least one a day, bringing them proudly to the captain’s feet. Sometimes, he would even leave a gruesome gift in the captain's bed.  

On top of his rat-catching duties, Simon's friendly purr also boosted the morale of the wounded men he visited in the sick bay. Soon, thanks to his heroic efforts, the rats were all but banished from the ship. The Amethyst's food supplies were safe.

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Later, when the men of the Amethyst were given awards at a special ceremony, they held Simon proudly among them. By the time the ship returned to the UK, Simon’s story had spread far and wide. People sent letters and gifts from all over the country.

In August, Simon was awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal for animal gallantry, the only one ever awarded to a cat. Sadly, Simon never received his medal. Like all animals returning to the UK, he had to stay in quarantine for six months to avoid spreading disease.

During this time, he developed an infection, most likely from his injuries on the ship. On 28 November 1949, Simon died. Hundreds of people attended his burial at Ilford Animal Cemetery in London, where there is a special monument in his memory.
Memorial to Simon at the PDSA Animal Cemetery in Ilford, London
Big Picture Show
IWM North, daily at 11am

Follow Milo the mouse and his guide Winkie the pigeon, as they discover stories of brave animals who have helped the war effort from the First World War to the present day.

Part of the Big Picture Showa thought-provoking, immersive 360-degree multimedia experience only at IWM North.
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