The Sacramento Archives building library at 1020 'O' Street has a library of newspapers from the 1940s that provide excellent media coverage of the stories behind the major news of World War II. While searching through the bound newspapers from November 18th, 1941 looking for what news occurred on a relative's birthday, an Associated Press news story dated on that particular day became a rather unusual story of one World War II event reported in the local media.
As the newspaper dated November 18, 1941, was being photocopied in the Sacramento Archives library--just to see what happened in the world that special day, the original article about Oscar appeared in the San Francisco newspaper, the Call-Bulletin for that day.
The title of the article was “Oscar Has His 9 Lives, But Loses His 3 Ships.” The Associated Press article began, “GIBRALTAR, Nov. 18 (AP)—Oscar, the Nazi-reared black cat who has been the pet of three warships, is safe and sound here, but all three ships are at the bottom of the sea. In fact, Oscar has been a Jonah to two navies.”
True historical cat or dog adventures often inspire novelists to research even more happy ending novels or stories of cats or dogs. Here's what some research revealed about cats as heroes, cats receiving medals, and cats as mascots. At the time the novels Problem-Solving & Cat Tales for the Holidays and Dogs with Careers was being penned in Sacramento, but here in the Sacramento Archives building library, in mainstream 1941 media, roared a real story of a cat who received a hero's write-up in the news for bravery and persistence--living his nine lives in the midst of ocean battles.
Cats may not like water, but this cat knew how to float his boat. The news article covered the culture of how animals were treated during the war, animals that were kept aboard military ships as mascots.
Oscar, the seafaring black cat, should have been named Jonah. Oscar began his ‘naval’ career as official mascot on the German Battleship, Bismarck during World War Two. Oscar roamed the decks, ate his fish rations, and scratched at his posts as the Bismarck battled the British destroyer, Cossack.
When the Cossack sunk the Bismarck, Oscar floated on flotsam. The admiral saw a cat on a wet wood roof in the middle of the ocean and rescued him. Soon tomcat Oscar became the mascot of the Cossack, living pretty much the same cozy cat life, when it was decided to transfer him to the British aircraft carrier, Ark Royal. The admiralty noticed a black cat “walking the plank” and rescued Oscar once more from the floating flotsam. And for a third time, Oscar became the aircraft carrier’s mascot and pet cat.
Along came an enemy warship and destroyed the Ark Royal. Oscar survived again by floating on a wooden plank and looking so irresistible that the admirals couldn’t help rescuing him. Oscar survived his second shipwreck and third ship, finally to be taken to Gibraltar to be someone’s pet. The sailors kept tab of Oscar’s nine lives. In Britain, black cats are said to be lucky, that is, from the cat’s point of view.
The Sacramento Archives building has a library full of 1940s news stories that help authors write novels about hero cats--or dogs. Cat stories dating from World War Two take a lot of research to locate. If you think it took courage to be Oscar, the feline mascot of two navies, meet another cat named Windy, the pet of Wing Commander, Guy Gibson, VC, the dam-buster of World War II.
Windy accompanied Gibson on dangerous war time missions. Windy flew in planes and knew how to swim. This cat put in “more flying hours than most cats,” From (Desmond Morris, Cat World, Edbury). See the “Famous Cats” and Famous Cats We All Love websites.
Whisky, the tabby cat slept in ‘luxury’ on the HMS Duke of York as the British battleship sunk the German warship, Scharnhorst during World War II. Cats and other animals served as mascots, mine sniffers, and pets with the British and Commonwealth forces.
Cat mascot, Susan attended the D-Day invasion after making herself at home on a landing craft of the Royal Navy. The South African Rifle Unit kept a lion as mascot. If you want to see photos of these World War II cat mascots, their photos are at the website, WW2 Mascots (A Special Presentation from Hahn’s 50th AP K-9, West Germany). The site contains actual photos of a few of the World War II cats and also some dogs and other animals that served with the military forces as mascots and pets on board ships, planes, or in the field.
Simon, the black and white “tuxedo cat” mascot aboard the HMS Amethyst, a British Escort Sloop, was the only cat to ever receive the Dickin VC medal in April 1949, soon after World War II ended. You can view Simon with the medal on his collar in a photo currently on the Hahn Web site mentioned above.
Simon became famous, according to the news story on the Hahn Web site, when the cat was aboard the HMS Amethyst, designed for convoy escort duty during the Second World War. That sloop happened to be in China just as Mao Tse-Tung's forces consolidated their hold on the country.
The sloop slipped and became trapped on the Yangtze River. As the Chinese shelled the ship, Simon found a way to hide from the bullets during the siege when the ship was hit 50 times.
Seventeen humans were killed, with 25 wounded. Simon hid in the wreckage. And no one found him for four days. But call it the luck of nine lives, Simon survived on fat, juicy rats that boarded the trapped ship. Picture this image: trapped cat, trapped ship, trapped rats. But Simon quickly found a solution to the survival problem.
How the local media covered the culture of World War 11 focused not only on people and culture, but perhaps to lighten up the stress, animal hero stories of bravery were covered in the news. Some cats and dogs received hero medals for bravery, and others were written about in the news because they did what comes naturally, such as eating the rats and lizards that overran a ship beached in the tropics, for example, thereby saving the usual military food rations for the troops.