ABLE SEAMAN SIMON
Simon was born in Hong Kong in 1946. He hung around the supply store where ships picked up their provisions, and was discovered there by commander of the British Royal Navy frigate HMS Amethyst. Captain Griffiths loved cats, and took an immediate liking to Simon. Rats were a huge problem on Amethyst and every ship. They raided food storage areas and also carried viruses which could be passed on to crew members. Captain Griffiths took Simon aboard to become the ship’s mascot and ratter.
Simon made himself at home in the Captain’s quarters, and he shared meals with the crew. He became an avid hunter, and caught rats in every part of the ship. Rather than eat his prey, however, he laid the dead rats at the Captain’s feet.
In 1949, under her new commander, Captain Skinner, Amethyst because involved unwittingly in the Chinese war, which changed the crews’ lives forever.
The ship was scheduled to sail up the Yangtze River toward Nanking, where the Communists and Nationalists had lined up on separate sides of the river. A temporary truce was in effect, and Amethyst was to be on stand-by to evacuate the British from the area if needed.
On her way up the river, Amethyst was bombarded twice, and she went ground before reaching Nanking. The Captain and several crew members were killed, and Simon was wounded with shrapnel and burns. He was looked after by the ship’s medical officer,but his heart had become weak and his wounds took a long time to heal.
Simon’s wounded shipmates enjoyed his company in the sick bay, but he soon resumed his ratting duties, splitting his time between that chore and keeping the men company. The ship’s Petty Officer John Webb was very fond of Simon, and made sure he always had a comfortable bunk and food to eat.
Amethyst was stuck in the Yangtze River for two hot months, while a diplomatic and military standoff was in effect. She soon faced a typhoon while at anchor, and Simon wisely stayed below decks. During the long ordeal, Amethyst’s supplies, fuel and food had become badly depleted. Finally her new commander, Captain Kerans, received orders to turn the ship around and return down the river to join the rest of the British fleet. Amethyst was bombarded several times on this voyage, but she finally reached safety more than three months after embarking on the original mission.
Captain Kerans lifted Simon above his head to signal their triumph to the crew. Soon thereafter, Simon was awarded an Amethyst Campaign Ribbon for his services ( see picture). He was also awarded the prestigious Dickin Medal by The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, which honored animals exhibiting great courage during times of war.
This was the first time the Dickin had been awarded to a cat or to a Royal Navy animal. A ribbon was sent for Simon to wear, and there were photos, gifts and fan mail before Amethyst set sail for England. His formal medal presentation was scheduled for December 11, 1949.
Amethyst finally arrived in England after getting necessary repairs, but Simon had to be quarantined for six months. Although he received many visits from well-wishers and his shipmates ( including Captain Griffiths and Kerans), Simon succumbed to his weak heart less than a month later, and he did not live to enjoy his own medal presentation ceremony.
Simon’s passing caused a sensation, and letters and flowers arrived by the truckload to his last resting place at the quarantine station in Hackbridge. Time Magazine even ran Simon’s obituary.
The Dickin Medal presentation ceremony was held posthumously, and Simon’s award was received on his behalf by his last commanding officer, Captain Kerans. The medal stayed on Amethyst until she was decommissioned, and then it moved to various locations. It is now owned by The Eaton Film Company in London.
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