Cats also Served

Me with kittens about 12 years ago. Oreo and Callie are in the mix; the others were given away long ago.

Me with kittens about 12 years ago. Oreo and Callie are in the mix; the others were given away long ago.

It’s only fair that since I talked about dogs in the Great War last post, I talk about cats this time. And I have been thinking about our farm cats these days. With the arctic temperatures, the stream has frozen completely over except in one small spot that I keep breaking to keep it open. I see cat prints near the rim which I’m guessing are from the two feral barn cats since I’ve been giving water to our other cats, Oreo and Callie, that live mostly on the closed in back porch in the winter. In better weather, Oreo and Callie roam the farm and like to drink from the stream too.

US 2nd Army Corps officers petting a cat they found in the ruins.

US 2nd Army Corps officers petting a cat they found in the ruins.

Well, as you can imagine, cats were not good messenger animals in the War like dogs and pigeons. Nor were they good sentry or scout animals; they just don’t like to be told what to do. Cats were good ratters and mousers in the trenches though. And one source, Soldiers in Fur and Feathers, noted that the British Army used about 500,000 cats during WWI as gas detectors and ratters. That’s a lot of cats. They were also pets and mascots for the soldiers. Who doesn’t love to pet a nice little kitty especially after a day of heavy shelling?

One story from Soldiers in Fur and Feathers was about a cat that saved his Belgian officer owner who was hiding in a shell hole when a German patrol came near the hole. They’d obviously heard a noise coming from the hole and came to investigate. When they got close, the cat jumped out and scared the German soldiers. Then they laughed and walked away. They didn’t investigate further figuring the cat was what they had heard.

Cat on the barrel of a 15 inch gun on the HMS Queen Elizabeth, 1915.

Cat on the barrel of a 15 inch gun on the HMS Queen Elizabeth, 1915.

I also learned that cats were used in all the military ships including merchant ships during WWI. Actually they had been used for centuries on ships as far back as the Egyptians. Cats were necessary to keep down the populations of rats and mice on board. Not only would the rodents eat food stores, they would also chew on ropes, woodwork and wiring. They also carried diseases so cats were essential personnel on the ships. They were used by all navies in WWII as well. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the British Navy banned them from ships.

I’d like to think our cats would have done well in the war, but except for Oreo they’re all too skittish to have been a good mascot or stress reducer. Oreo would have been a favorite though. He’s an awesome mouser and vole catcher around the farm, sometimes bringing in three or four voles in a day. He also loves to have his belly rubbed and his head scratched. He’s everyone’s favorite.

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