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What role for Ship's Cats?

Post 28th May 2022

Ships’ cats

A ship’s cat has been a common feature on many naval ships, as well as other trading commercial boats. Firstly, they were carried onboard to control rodents. Any type of vermin could do extensive damage to ship’s stores, cargo, and crews’ personal food stocks, as well as ropes, woodwork and electrical wiring and cause disease. The crews found they also offered companionship, and a sense of home, security and camaraderie to sailors away from home.

Cats have been believed to have miraculous powers that could protect ships from dangerous weather. However, if a cat fell or was thrown overboard, it was thought it would summon a terrible storm to sink the ship. Other beliefs included that if a cat licked its fur against the grain, it meany a hail storm was coming; if it sneezed it meant rain; and if it was frisky it meant wind!

Some of these beliefs are rooted in reality. Cats are able to detect slight changes in the weather, as a result of their very sensitive inner ears, which also allow them to land upright when falling from a height! Low atmospheric pressure, a common precursor of stormy weather, often makes cats nervous and restless. Cats naturally react to barometric pressure changes, through which a keen observer in the ship’s crew can detect the change in behaviour and predict an approaching storm. So a tradition was built up that every ship should have a cat as a mascot.

Mick Stoke’s last ship, the escort aircraft carrier HMS Rajah, had a cat named A.B. Spitfire.

Jeremy Stoke

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