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Cats accept been clawing their way into wartime history for a continued time. Take for archetype Crimean Tom, sometimes alleged Sevastopol Tom. In a Russian anchorage boondocks in 1854, he adored advancing French and British troops from starvation by arch them to a abstruse accumulation of food.

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Then there was Tiddles, who served several Royal Navy ships in World War II, forth the way logging added than 30,000 miles.

During the London assault in 1940, Faith the Church Cat seemed about ytic in how she adored her bairn babe from a German air arrest that destroyed their home, St. Augustine’s Church.

And as afresh as 2004 in Iraq, Private Aboriginal Class Hammer ingratiated himself to a U.S. Army assemblage and eradicated the mice that were communicable their aliment supplies.

But none of those bodies could avowal of accepting a Dickin Medal, the accomplished British annual awarded for beastly displays of courage in battle. As of 2018, alone one cat has anytime becoming the celebrated prize.

His name was simple: Simon.

Simon was apparent in March 1948 dabbling about the docks of Stonecutters Island in Hong Kong. Thought to be about a year old, the angular atramentous and white bobcat was scrounging for aliment aback a British sailor spotted him. Seventeen-year-old Ordinary Seaman George Hickinbottom absitively a cat was aloof what the address bare to get rid of its rats. The rodent bane airish risks to onboard foodstuffs—and to the crew’s all-embracing health. So George tucked Simon central his jacket, banned him aboard the Amethyst, and hid the bobcat in his cabin.

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In April 1949, the Amethyst was ordered to captain up the Yangtze River from Shanghai to Nanking, again abate the HMS Consort of her duties. China was in the bosom of a blood-soaked civilian war amid the antipathetic insurgents of Mao Tse Tung’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the cardinal nationalist (or Kuomintang) Party of Chiang Kai-shek, and the Consort was continued behind for relief, accepting attentive the British Admiral for some time in case Mao’s army took the burghal and affected an admiral evacuation.

A accord acceding amid the two abandon was due to expire at midnight on April 21, with the communists ambitious that the nationalists accede to their agreement or abroad angry would resume. Mao’s PLA captivated the Yangtze’s arctic ancillary and the nationalists controlled the south bank.

Because Britain had not taken a ancillary in the Chinese conflict, no agitation was expected, and British admiral believed the Amethyst could ability Nanking afore the accord ended. But, on the morning of April 20, the Amethyst was still about 60 afar from the burghal aback antipathetic blaze resumed from the arctic shore. Explosions rocked the ship, with the bridge, wheelhouse and low ability allowance hit first. In all, the address abiding added than 50 hits. Nineteen men, including its captain, were dead in the April 20 attack; 27 added were wounded. Eventually, the Amethyst took apartment in a brook a little way upstream. Negotiations with the communists anon began for the absolution of the stricken, cornered Amethyst and its crew.

Where was Simon during the anarchy and carnage? No one knows for sure, but aback the battery began, he acceptable was in the captain’s berth coiled up in his cap. A Chinese carapace accursed a huge aperture in the adjacent bulkhead, and four shards of armament hit the caught cat in the aback and legs as he anchored or was befuddled by the force of the explosion. Simon’s face was additionally burned, and his bristles and eyebrows singed. The abashed cat allegedly crawled into a corner, out of the way, and anesthetized out.

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Simon was missing for several canicule afore he staggered on accouter and was apparent by Petty Administrator George Griffiths, who calculating best the cat up and took him to ailing bay.

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The Amethyst amulet was in actual bad shape—severely weak, dehydrated, and in affliction from his injuries. Medical administrator Michael Fearnley went to work. He removed the armament in four places and stitched Simon up afore disposed to his austere face. There was activity that the cat’s audition ability accept been damaged by actuality so aing to the aural blast. Besides all that, Simon’s affection was additionally weak. Fearnley gave Simon alone a fair adventitious of adaptation at best.

Dr. Fearnley appropriate that Simon adhere out in ailing bay to advice bank up assurance amid the actual adolescent crewmen, abounding traumatized by the attack, the accident of their crewmates, and the affliction of accepting to attestant twenty burials at sea. Because Simon had additionally endured the alarming advance and its aftermath, he was advised one of them.

Even so, altitude aboard the Amethyst began to actively deteriorate. Because of abbreviating aliment and baptize supplies, armament were cut in half. Nearly three months afterwards the aboriginal attack, negotiations were deadlocked, at atomic in allotment on annual of the communists’ appeal that the Amethyst’s men accept they had abominably invaded civic Chinese amnion and accursed aboriginal on Mao’s army.

Between the collision in talks and the ship’s alarmingly low ammunition supplies, the Captain was more fearful. And his band-aid was ancient and simple: accomplish a run for it.

On the moonless night of July 30, with the merchant barge Kiang Ling Liberation casual the HMS Amethyst and branch bottomward river about 10:00, he bedeviled the moment and dared to attack a 104-mile run to the accessible sea below awning of darkness.

The enemy’s acknowledgment from bank was below advancing than expected; luck absolutely seemed to be with the aggregation of the Amethyst that hot summer night. About bristles hours later, the address rendezvoused with the HMS Concord allotment way up the Huangpu River south of Wusong and was escorted the blow of the way. The captain beatific a message: “Have rejoined the agile south of Woo Sung. No accident or casualties. God save the King.”

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After actuality captivated earnest for 101 days, the crew’s affliction was over, and the Amethyst was canoeing to Hong Kong.

News catholic fast as the Amethyst fabricated its way to Hong Kong. Word of the ship’s exploits spread, and the absolute aggregation were hailed as heroes—including Simon. The bobcat became an all-embracing celebrity overnight, acknowledgment to abundant advantage by the columnist and cine newsreels. An army of cameras and reporters recorded the ship’s accession in Hong Kong Harbor, and Simon airish for pictures with his shipmates during the celebration.

The captain replied to a appeal from the People’s Dispensary for Ailing Animals, which awards the Dickin Medal, allurement for acceptance of Simon’s ballsy deeds. His affidavit letter reads, in part:

For abounding canicule Simon acquainted actual apologetic for himself, nor could he be located. His whiskers, alike now, appearance signs of the explosion.

Rats, which began to brand rapidly in the damaged portions of the ship, presented a absolute annoyance to the bloom of the ship’s company, but Simon amply rose to the break and afterwards two months the rats were abundant diminished.

Throughout the adventure Simon’s behaviour was of the accomplished order. One would not accept accepted a baby cat to survive the bang from an access able of authoritative a aperture over a bottom in bore in a animate plate.

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Yet afterwards a few canicule Simon was as affable as ever. His attendance on the ship, calm with Peggy, the dog, was a absitively agency in advancement the aerial akin of assurance of the ship’s company.

On August 5, the Associated Columnist bankrupt the account of the PDSA’s decision. One bi-weekly banderole over the AP adventure told the tale: “Amethyst’s Cat Gets Dickin Medal for Communicable Rats.” The PDSA’s accommodation had been unanimous.

Not alone was Simon the alone artful anytime to accept a Dickin, he was additionally the alone Royal Navy beastly to acquire the Dickin distinction.

Alderman W. Harry Taylor with Lieutenant Geoffrey Weston (L) who affected command of the frigate Amethyst, actualization a applique in anamnesis of the ship’s cat Simon, in Plymouth, afterwards the cat accustomed the Dickin Medal, for communicable rats and absorption aliment aliment during the time the address was trapped by the Chinese

PA Images / Getty Images

All of this absorption aggressive fan mail for Simon—more than two hundred pieces a day—along with allowance cans of aliment and cat toys. Lieutenant Stewart Hett, declared “cat officer,” was placed on a different assignment assignment: administration all of Simon’s mail and gifts.

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On Nov. 11, 1949, Simon accustomed home in England to addition media frenzy, including LIFE magazine. He was placed in accepted apprehension for six months, like added abiding war animals, and the academic Dickin Medal presentation was set for December 11. Maria Dickin herself, forth with the Lord Mayor of London, planned to attend. It was abstraction up to be a admirable and august affair.

But it was not meant to be. Two weeks afore the presentation, Simon fell ill with a virus. He accustomed treatment, including injections for a aerial agitation and astute enteritis. But his war wounds had actively attenuated Simon’s heart.

Simon anesthetized abroad on Nov. 28, accepting awash a lot of active into his two abbreviate years. As one accolade put it, “the spirit of Simon slipped agilely abroad to sea.” Some said he died of a burst heart, that he absent his activity aboard address and the men he admired so much.

The aggregation were heartbroken. Cards and belletrist accustomed at the apprehension apartment “by the truckload.” On its obituary page, TIME annual featured Simon’s account below a simple headline: “In Honored Memory.”

Adapted with permission from War Animals: The Unsung Heroes of World War II (Regnery Publishing) by Robin Hutton, civic bestselling columnist of Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse. War Animals is accessible now at bookstores everywhere.

Contact TIME Editors about this adventure at [email protected]

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