During World War I, cats were used in the trenches to boost morale.

  • Trench dug in the rock
WWI trench, Italy
Isaac74/ iStock

The Great War was such a difficult time, some soldiers sought out the assistance and comfort of four-legged friends — including cats, who were used in the trenches to boost morale. Dogs, homing pigeons, foxes, goats, lion cubs, and even raccoons also served their countries as pets and mascots throughout the “war to end all wars,” and some even carried out official duties. Cats did a bit of both: Though most kitties simply kept their compatriots in good spirits by providing them with loyal companionship (and fending off rats), some also used their heightened sense of atmospheric pressure to detect bombs in advance.

Not all feline soldiers’ deeds have gone unnoticed. Among the 75 animals who have received the PDSA Dickin Medal, which was established in 1943 to honor the military service of animals, is a cat named Simon. He served aboard the HMS Amethyst from 1948 to 1949 and received the medal for “disposing of many rats though wounded by shell blast. Throughout the incident his behaviour was of the highest order, although the blast was capable of making a hole over a foot in diameter in a steel plate.” In a newsreel of the ship returning home, Simon is rightly referred to as “a hero in his own right.” 

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