Thursday, September 21, 2017

Famous Cats of World War II

Last month I promised to share some heartwarming stories of cats during World War II. I don’t often think about the little lives going on behind the scenes during a war, but our feline companions carry on with their own lives in the shadows during times of tragedy. Some lived more luxurious lives than others.

By J. Russell & Sons, 1941 {PD}
One feline which lived life well was Nelson, Sir Winston Churchill’s cat and personal hot water bottle at night, thus contributing to the war effort. Churchill named him after Lord Nelson, who defeated Napoleon, because he thought he was the “bravest cat he’d ever seen” after he’d chased a dog out of the admiralty. Churchill shared this with Quentin Reynolds, an American war correspondent. When Reynolds was invited to a family dinner at the Churchill’s residence, they first served a course of smoked salmon. When Lady Churchill wasn’t looking, Sir Winston twice gave some of the salmon to Nelson.  

{PD} A gray tabby, my favorite! Could the estimable Nelson
have looked something like this?
At the time Prime Minister Churchill moved to No. 10 Downing St., he and other members of the household wondered how Nelson would react to a resident cat left behind by Prime Minister Chamberlain. Churchill referred to this cat as the Munich Mouser. It didn’t take long for Nelson to decide he wanted to rule the roost and chase the Munich Mouser away! 

Chartwell, Churchill's country home. Photo by Gaius Cornelius [cc]
Churchill had many cats over the years and one of his last and favorites was a ginger cat he named Jock. He was given to Churchill when he turned 88 by a friend. Jock often sat on his knee and he took him from his country home, Chartwell, to his home in London each time he went.When he died at the age of 90 and the National Trust in England took over his beloved country home, his family asked that a Marmalade cat named Jock would always reside there. The original Jock died in 1975 and there has remained successive ones in his place. While Jock wasn't a World War II cat, I thought it very touching that Churchill's love for his cats has been long remembered.

The Bismarck
By Bundesarchiv, Bild 193-04-1-26 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,
The next cat I’ve found several articles written about, though some think the story is part urban myth, is Unsinkable Sam. Sam started out on the wrong side of where the battle lines were drawn as he began on the Nazi side on a battleship called the Bismarck. Hours after the Bismarck was sunk by a British battleship, the HMS Prince of Wales, he was found clinging to a board in the water and taken aboard the home going vessel, the HMS Cossack.

HMS Cossack, 1937, {PD}
The sailors aboard the Cossack adopted Sam as their own, but not knowing his German name, of course, they called him Oscar and he newly became an allied cat. His duration on the Cossack lasted several months until the ship was escorting a convoy from Gibraltar to Great Britain. Sadly, a German U-boat attacked and sunk the Cossack. Oscar was once again rescued and transferred to the HMS Ark Royal, a British aircraft carrier. At that point, after he survived once again, the seamen renamed him “Unsinkable Sam.” So not only was Sam a seaworthy allied cat, he also seemed to be incredibly “lucky.” 

Hmm . . .

This kitty has similar facial markings to the Unsinkable Sam. He looks
like he could be just as tough! {PD} image
Not even a month later, in November of 1941, the Ark Royal was sunk by the German submarine, U-81. The survivors were transferred to the HMS Lightning and the HMS Legion.Interestingly enough, the HMS Ark Royal had previously had a hand in sinking the Bismarck. At this point Sam was found hanging on to a floating board near a motor launch and was “angry but quite unharmed.”

It was decided that Unsinkable Sam’s seafaring days were over and he lived in the offices of the Governor General of Gibraltar. At some point he was sent to the UK, where he spent the rest of his days, I imagine rather comfortably. in the “Home for Sailors” in Belfast. He died in 1955.

While I had hoped to tell the stories of three World War II cats, the third one, Faith the church cat, of St. Augustine’s in London, deserves a post of her own and I will continue with her story in November. 

Kathleen Rouser is the award-winning author of Rumors and Promises, her first novel about the people of fictional Stone Creek, Michigan. She is a longtime member of American Christian Fiction Writers. Kathleen longs to create characters who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. She lives in Michigan with her hero and husband, and the sassy tail-less cat who found a home in their empty nest. Connect with Kathleen on her website at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter @KathleenRouser

Secrets and Wishes is now
available for pre-order HERE.


  1. Enjoy this post about Nelson and Jock, the beloved cats of Churchill and his "personal hot water bottle" via Nelson. Whether an urban myth or true, Unsinkable Sam Cat was honored. I look forward to hearing about Faith next month.

    Counting the days till Secrets and Wishes will be released. Congratulations on your upcoming novel--the long awaited sequel to Rumors and Promises.

    1. Hi there, Marilyn! So glad you enjoyed this post. Though I was researching Nelson, it was fun to learn
      how a tough world leader during the war, like Winston Churchill was so softhearted about cats. There were even more stories about Churchill and his cats. One time someone brought him a basketful of kittens. After a while he asked they be taken away before he fell in love with all of them!

      I wonder if the story about Unsinkable Sam is a combination of stories of a couple of cats as there was
      some dispute over his picture. But the evidence seems to show he existed in one form or another. He was
      a brave, furry little soul. ;) Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for the congrats!

  2. Fun! I do love cats, but hubby doesn't so we remmain petless. Looking forward to Faith's story!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I forgot to say "hi" Connie and thanks for stopping by, so I'm
      rewriting the post.

      We went years without one for the same reason and now Lilybits
      has Jack wrapped around her little paw. Ssh, don't tell. ;) If you
      love cats, you will love Faith's story.

  3. I never would have dreamed there'd be a cat on a warship. Who knew! I'm glad you did because it made for an interesting post.

    1. I didn't either, Vickie! I found out some cats turn up in places you
      wouldn't expect. I'm happy you found the post interesting.
      It was fun to research.

  4. Thank you for this informative post. I especially loved hearing about Winston Churchill's love for cats. I have 4 cats and have included one in a WWII novel set in London. Looking forward to hearing more next month. Congratulations on Secrets and Wishes.

  5. Hi, Pat! Yes, who knew a tough guy like Churchill loved cats? Though cats can be tough in their own way.
    They can just be so sweet and snuggly too. Lucky you to have four cats. My cat doesn't like other
    cats but is attached to us, so she is an only kitty. How sweet you put one in your WWII novel. Very