A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to author Roby Sweet. Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Simon of the Amethyst and the Yangtze Incident

Cats in history badge


The events we describe in this post occurred in 1949 on China’s Yangtze River. China was in the midst of a civil war between the Nationalists, under Chiang Kai-Shek, and the Communists. At the time of the Yangtze Incident (also called the Amethyst Incident), the British Embassy was located in Nanking (Nanjing), on the lower Yangtze River. The embassy was protected by a Royal Navy ship. An attempt to relieve the ship on duty there would lead to an international incident that would make one cat famous.

Simon becomes a ship’s cat

The black-and-white cat the world would come to know as Simon was born in Hong Kong after World War II. The young tom was probably about a year old when he was found in Hong Kong’s dockyards in 1948 by Ordinary Seaman George Hickinbottom of HMS Amethyst. Hickinbottom snuck the cat onto the ship, where young Simon soon went to work hunting the pesky rodents that were aboard.

The cat became a favorite of the ship’s captain, even sleeping in the captain’s hat (when the captain wasn’t wearing it, of course). When a new captain, Lieutenant Commander Bernard Skinner, took over, Simon was allowed to stay.

HMS Amethyst during World War II. Public domain.
HMS Amethyst during World War II.
By Royal Navy official photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Up the Yangtze, the Amethyst is attacked

In spring of 1949, Amethyst was ordered to sail up the Yangtze to relieve the HMS Consort at Nanking. It was just after 8:30 a.m. on April 20 and the frigate was about 60 miles from its destination when it was first fired upon from shore. The small-arms fire fell short, and Amethyst continued on, but an hour later she was shelled from another shore battery. This time the ship was hit and damaged. Lieutenant Commander Skinner was mortally wounded in a direct hit on the bridge, and all other bridge personnel were disabled. In all, twenty-two men were killed and 31 wounded. Arrangements were made to evacuate the wounded, leaving aboard about 60 unwounded men.

During the attack, Simon was so badly wounded by facial burns and shrapnel, the crew feared he would not survive. Nevertheless, he was tended to by the medical officer like any other crew member.

The Amethyst becomes a captive, and Simon resumes his duties

Able Seacat Simon, cover
Simon's story has inspired several books.
The Amethyst itself was also hurt—grounded on a sandbar, its steering mechanism damaged. Communist snipers continued to fire at anyone who moved on deck. The ship was successfully refloated on April 21, and three days after the attack, military attaché Commander John Kerans arrived to take command. The dead were buried at sea. Still the Amethyst was unable to move without being fired on. The ship sat there for months.

Simon was recovering, and he resumed his duties of catching rodents. The crew’s morale improved a bit after he caught his first rat. Unfortunately, the new captain didn’t like cats, and Simon had a hard time making friends with him. Kerans wasn’t quite won over when Simon presented him with a dead rat, but when the cat tended to the commander as he recovered from an illness, the ice between them thawed.

The cat caught at least a rat per day, helping to protect the precious food stores and keeping the rodents out of the crew’s living quarters. He also visited with crewmen who’d been traumatized by the ordeal they were living through. He even killed the enormous, aggressive rat the crew had named Mao Tse-tung. That action earned him a promotion to the rank of “Able Seacat.”

Escape!

By the end of July, with their supplies running low, Commander Kerans knew that they would have to try to escape. So, on the night July 30, Amethyst raised its anchor and started downstream, following in the wake of a passenger steamer that happened by at just the right moment. The steamer provided a distraction, so when the shore battery opened fire, the gunners aimed not for the Amethyst but for the steamer, which was sunk.

The Amethyst, meanwhile, proceeded downriver, escaping to free waters. On August 1, the crew, Simon included, were awarded the Amethyst campaign ribbon. After undergoing repairs, the ship returned to Britain in October and was greeted jubilantly, as seen in this clip from British Pathé (Simon is seen briefly at the 2:17 point):


A gallant cat meets his end

Simon’s story had become quite well known, and word was out that he was to receive the Dickin Medal, awarded by the UK to animals for gallantry. Unfortunately, the cat was put into quarantine upon his return to Britain and while there, he became ill with a virus. Although Simon was young and received treatment for his illness, he had a weak heart, which made it harder for him to recover. He died on November 28, 1949. His Dickin Medal was awarded posthumously. He is the only cat ever to be awarded this medal.

Simon was buried with honors in the PDSA animal cemetery in Ilford. Today, a stone monument marks his resting place.

Burial place of Simon, cat of the Amethyst, in PDSA animal cemetery, Ilford
The monument marking Simon's resting place in
Ilford Animal Cemetery.
Photo by Acabashi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Dickin Medal, awarded to animals for gallantry in war
The Dickin Medal, awarded by the UK
to animals for gallantry in war.
Simon is the only cat to
have received the medal.
Unfortunately, his was awarded
posthumously.
Photo by Andrew69. (own work)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 

Sources

“Amethyst Incident,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amethyst_Incident.

“Simon of the Amethyst,” chapter 8 in Silent Heroes: the Bravery & Devotion of Animals in War, by Evelyn Le Chêne (London: Souvenir Press, 2009 [paperback ed.]).


 “Simon, of HMS Amethyst,” Purr ’n’ Fur, http://www.purr-n-fur.org.uk/famous/simon.html. (Includes the most detailed version of Simon’s story we’ve found online, as well as several photographs of Simon.)


4 comments:

  1. Wow! RIP Angel Simon, knowing that you did a great job! Putting this book on my 'to read' list.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh my Cod what an amazing story! I knew about about Simon before this. Right in the middle of reading your post I went to Amazon...the book you pictured is on sale for only $2.99 and I downloaded it already!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Simon was a special cat, how sad that he died young.

    ReplyDelete