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Mascots in the Navy

As long as there have been sailors there have been mascots. While animals as mascots are better known, many ships also had inanimate mascots. The New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy had mascots such as cats, birds, and dogs but it is not known if any were taken into combat. The depot ship Philomel had a bulldog as a mascot.

Background:

As long as there have been sailors there have been mascots. While animals as mascots are better known, many ships also had inanimate mascots. For example, the submarine HMS Trenchant kept a as her mascot a rubber ducky donated by a sea-cadet unit. Her sister ship Triumph was given a teddy bear by the Triumph Motorcycle Company. Animal mascots remained on Royal Navy vessels until 1977 when they were banned due to the threat of rabies. At the time mascots were only carried on RN vessels in British waters. In September 1977 orders were issued to ships to “land your warm-blooded animals forthwith”. All mascots had to be removed by the beginning of October. The list of animals issued at the time included:

  • Otters
  • Hyenas
  • Lions
  • Armadillos
  • Elephants
  • Apes
  • Cats
  • Dogs

Shore Establishments were allowed to retain their mascots.

New Zealand Navy

The New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy had mascots such as cats, birds, and dogs but it is not known if any were taken into combat. The depot ship Philomel had a bulldog as a mascot [see below]. After the Second World War the Royal New Zealand Navy did not allow animal mascots due to the risk posed to our agricultural industry. The frigate HMNZS Southland had a sheep as a mascot but it was kept ashore during her service. Just as in the Royal Navy, there are still many inanimate mascots throughout the fleet. For a historical example there was a carving named ‘Hori’ that was taken into action by one of the turret crews aboard HMS Achilles at the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939. New Zealanders who served in the Royal Navy during the First and Second World War experienced mascots at sea. Lieutenant-Commander Charles ‘Bunty recorded that their mascots included goats, hens, a bulldog, cats, and a budgerigar.[1]

In the 1960s the WRNZNS at HMNZS Philomel had a mascot named Leading Car Mehitabel. She lived with the Wrens in Elizabeth House on King Edward Parade in Devonport.[2]

Royal Navy Animal Mascots:

‘Lassie’: HMS Formidable 19141915

Question: What is the connection between the canine movie star Lassie and the sea? On New Year’s Day, 1915, HMS Formidable was torpedoed and sank. Some seventy survivors crammed into her pinnace and desperately fought to keep afloat in high seas and strong winds. Two days later they were spotted by a Miss Gwen Harding walking along Marine Parade at Lyme Regis in Dorset. By this time fourteen had died and been buried at sea but a rescue operation found fifty-one still alive (three of whom died after being rescued) along with six dead bodies who had not been consigned to the Deep. The corpses were laid out on the floor of the Pilot Boat Inn, where the landlady’s collie dog Lassie kept on licking the face of Seaman James Cowan. Miraculously, he coughed – and came back to life! Decades later, this incident was the inspiration for a series of movies and a television program.

‘Simon’: HMS Amethyst 1948-1949[3]

Simon, the cast mascot of this frigate was awarded the Dickin Medal – the animals “Victoria Cross” by the Allied Forces Mascot Club of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Simon was presented as a kitten to the Commanding Officer in May 1948 at Hong Kong where the ship was stationed. As a ’Captain’s Cat’ he had a privileged position aboard ship and was free to roam anywhere aboard ship. He was known to climb all over guests and walk across the map table when courses were being plotted.

On 20 April 1949 Amethyst was fired upon by communist Chinese shore batteries while in the Yangtze River. She had been deployed there to act as a guard ship for the British Embassy during the closing stages of the Chinese revolution. Seventeen men were killed, ten wounded including the CO who was mortally wounded. Simon was hit by fragments in the face and back and his whiskers and fur was singed when a shell hit the Captain’s Cabin. The damage led to a large number of rats appearing and threatening the ship company’s health. Simon was given a roaming commission to hunt and kill the rats and he took up a place in the PO’s Mess. In this he was very successful and soon a list was being kept of his kills. While the ship was being repaired Simon kept up his hunt, despite the shelling. He would call upon the gun crews for petting.

Amethyst escaped the Chinese batteries on the Yangtze on 30 July 1949 and reached Hong Kong. Simon received presents from all over the world and was given extensive coverage. He was aboard when the ship returned to Britain and was fêted at every port the ship stopped at. Upon arrival at Portsmouth Simon was sent into quarantine but died there on 28 November 1949 from a combination of his wounds and pining for the ship’s company. He was buried at Ilford Cemetery and his gravestone bears the ship’s badge of Amethyst and the Dickin Medal.  The Dickin Medal was presented posthumously on 13 April 1950 in London upon the recommendation of the Commanding Officer. A plaque was also unveiled at Plymouth, the home port of the ship.

’Jib’: TSS Nea Hellas[4]

Nea Hellas was a training ship during the Second World War. Jib was a canary that joined the ship in November 1943 and was adopted as a mascot by the ship’s company. On 26 December 1943 he was under fire while the ship was on the way to Naples. After service in North Africa & Bombay he returned to Britain with the ship in May 1944. Jib was a beautiful singer and became a favourite with the men and passengers. He would sing to order at the open deck concerts. At Durban cats threatened him so a duck was used as his ‘bodyguard’. Nea Hellas with Jib served in India through 1944-1945 and went to Canada and was on standby for the projected operation against Singapore. At war’s end, the ship went to Rangoon and Jib entertained men from the 14th Army[5] as they were repatriated to Britain.

‘Royalty’: Royal Naval Barracks, Devonport[6]

Royalty was a grey Clydesdale whose career began in December 1943 when he was employed at the barracks on general duties with the rate of Able Seaman. He was adopted as a mascot by the barracks as he endeared himself to the men during his faithful service. In July 1948 he was retired and was sent to a farm. A formal ceremony was held with sailors with fixed bayonets marching alongside him. Royalty was fitted out with a cap and the 1939-1945 Defence & War Medal Ribbons attached to his bridle. His kit bag was on his back. The band played Horsey, Keep Your Tail Up. At the Quarterdeck, he gave an eyes right and then was piped out and his cap being exchanged for a boater. He retired to a farm in Cornwall.  

‘Wallis’: HMS Gamecock RN Air Station FAA[7]

Wallis was an old English gamecock[8] adopted as the mascot for the FAA Royal Naval Air Station located in Warwickshire and commissioned as HMS Gamecock. The name was most appropriate was a cockpit existed at the site when cock fighting was legal. The ship’s badge was a gamecock with the motto Spurred for the Skies. Wallis was presented to the CO along with six hens by a local resident and was named Wallis after the commissioned shipwright of the RN. A cage and run was built by the RN for the birds. At one time a son of Wallis was presented but was killed by Wallis when he got out of a segregated run. Remaining as ‘Cock of the walk’, Wallis would be in a special cage mounted on the parade ground for Sunday Divisions.

‘Marine Stupid the Monkey’ – HMS Indefatigable  

Marine Stupid the Monkey was a bonnet macaque on the carrier HMS Indefatigable during the Second World War and in the post-war period. She was obtained some time in 1944 when the carrier was operating with the British Pacific Fleet. She was onboard during the operations off Japan in 1945. It seems as if she had been on several carriers before joining the Indefatigable. She was given a custom made Marine jacket and she had free run of the carrier. After the Japanese surrender she took many liberties including stealing the captain’s pipe and smoking it on the Admiral’s Bridge. There was also a disturbance on the compass platform. This earned the mascot a spell in the brig. She always attracted the press when they came aboard the ship in the immediate post-war period when she was repatriating POWS. While at Melbourne, she fell ill and was discharged from the RN to the Melbourne Zoo.

Artful the Monkey – HMS Artful

In September 2013 the new Astute-class hunter-killer nuclear submarine HMS Artful’s ship’s company adopted a ring-tailed lemur. The decision was based on the ship’s badge which shows a monkey designed in 1945 for the conventional Artful then in commission.[9]

Leading Cat Leslie – HMS Manchester

Manchester was a Town-class light cruiser commissioned in 1936. The cat Leslie [named after the builders] became a mascot of the ship after commissioning. During the wartime it would retreat to the engineroom when in action and could not be coaxed out. She went down with the ship in August 1942 during Operation PEDESTAL when it was scuttled.

Ordinary Dog Stin Ker Shrapnel – HMS Manchester

Shrapnel was supposedly recused off the beaches at Dunkirk and was taken aboard HMS Jaguar but was transferred to Manchester after Jaguar was badly damaged. On board ship the dog behaved well but had a habit of going AWOL ashore as he did in Scotland and in the United States at Philadelphia when he was found in a firehouse. He would be court-martialled and disrated from Leading Dog and banned from bones & nutty for a week. He was also lost when the ship went down in August 1942.

Leading Dog Tramp – HMS Arlingham

He was a black Labrador part of a patrol boat based at Gibraltar in the 1970s. He would live aboard but come ashore when in port but would rush back when the boat started its engines up. Sometimes he would jump off the dock.

Sam the Cat

Unsinkable Sam the Cat – the smallest survivor of the doomed German battleship Bismarck.

Sam “the Unsinkable” Cat.

Serving as the vessel’s official mouser, Sam was among the 114 German sailors rescued from the North Atlantic by Allied warships following the fierce May 1941 naval battle that saw the notorious Nazi dreadnaught destroyed. More than 2,000 German sailors were lost in the decisive action. Plucked from the drink by sailors from HMS Cossack, Sam was warmly welcomed aboard and soon added to the crew as the ship steamed for the Mediterranean. In October of that year, the Cossack herself was sunk by U-563 while escorting a convoy out of Gibraltar. The entire ship’s company, including Sam, was saved by HMS Legion and put ashore. Back at base, a group of sailors from HMS Ark Royal adopted Sam. He lived aboard quite happily until the carrier was fatally damaged off Malta by the Nazi submarine U-81. Sam and all but one of the stricken vessel’s complement were rescued from the Med. The incident marked the end of Sam’s career at sea. After returning to Gibraltar with his shipmates, the lucky feline was taken on by the staff of colony’s governor with whom he remained until after the war. A sailor later took the cat home with him to Belfast. Sam died of old age in 1955.[10]

Others:

  • The submarine HMS Trident had a reindeer [as to how it was looked after on a submarine this is no reports]
  • HMS Gavington had to give up her mascot – Junior Rabbit Grobblington – sent ashore where it was found he was a hare not a rabbit.
  • HMS Lancaster had parrots after 2000.
  • Bear (taken during the Russian campaign 1919-1922) on HMS Ajax called ‘Trotsky’
  • Goat – HMS Orlando 1915
  • Polar bear cub rescued from near Greenland and kept aboard a warship until it got too large and was rehomed in Portsmouth[11]
  • Winnie, a monkey that was the mascot for HMS Velox a First World War TDB[12]

[1] CPPR New Zealand Herald  18 July 1941

[2] ‘One Shot Jump Ahead of the Jonty’, Action: The Combined Services Newspaper 2:1 [January 1966], p. 7.

[3] Major T.J. Edwards, Mascots and Pets of the Services, Aldershot: Gale & Polden, 1953, pp. 173-177

[4] ibid., p. 178.

[5] The 14th Army was the British formation which fought in Burma and India from 1941-1945.

[6] ibid., p. 180.

[7] ibid., pp. 182-184

[8] A male chicken bred for fighting.

[9] ‘Monkey Suits HMS Artful’, Navy News October 2013, p. 5.

[10] http://militaryhistorynow.com/2014/01/03/unsinkable-meet-military-historys-luckiest-mariner accessed 6/2/14

[11] Monkey Suits HMS Artful’, Navy News October 2013, p. 5.

[12] ibid.

More to explore. 

Customs & Traditions