The Cats Who Served in World War I

Cats played important roles in the first World War.

By Cari Jorgensen | Posted: August 22, 2014, 11:30 a.m. EDT

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War Cat
A cat aboard the HMAS Encounter Photographer Unknown
War Cat
Cat walking along barrel of a gun on the HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Gallipoli Peninsula, 1915 Photo Credit Bibliotheque nationale de France
War Cat
Cat and soldier in a dugout in the Gallipoli Peninsula, 1915 Photo Credit Australian War Memorial
War Cat
Cat and British soldier Photo Credit Illustrated War News, Vol.7, London, 1918
Soldiers from different military branches, different cities and different countries from all over the world were involved in the Great War. Everyone was seemingly a part of it. "Everyone” included cats. They hunted rats and mice in the trenches and on ships. They served as mascots and pets to the sailors and soldiers. Some were also used to detect gas.

One cat, named Pitouchi, is said to have saved a soldier’s life, according to author Susan Bulanda, in her book Soldiers in Fur and Feathers:

"As Lekeux reached a spot near the German lines, he saw that they were digging a new trench. He hid himself in a shell hole nearby to make a sketch of the German works. He was so absorbed in his sketch that he did not notice approaching German soldiers on patrol. When he finally realized his situation, it was too late to run.

He decided to lie very still, hoping that the Germans would not see him, but unfortunately he heard one soldier say, "He's in the hole," so he knew he had been seen.

When Pitouchi heard the German say that, he jumped out of the hole onto a piece of timber. The Germans were startled and fired two shots at Pitouchi. However, as frightened as he was, Pitouchi was not hit, and he jumped back into the hole with his beloved Lekeux.

The Germans laughed and joked that they had mistaken a cat for a man and left. Lekeux finished his drawings and returned to the Belgian lines with Pitouchi on his shoulders.”

Without cats, World War I would not have been quite the same. Mice and rats would have overrun ships and trenches, eating and/or spoiling the food. The men fighting would not have had a companion to distract them from the war, even if for only a few minutes. And Lt. Lekeux may not have survived.

What do you think of cats' roles in war? Let us know in the comments.

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Reader Comments

Dustin    lawton, OK

8/23/2014 11:40:49 AM

Cats and dogs are still serving that same roll as morale boosters. In 2004 during my first tour in Iraq in a city named Ramadi my platoon had a dog we shared.with a Marine unit. That dog named Misfire would see us off before leaving for patrols and would greet us upon our return. She was a great morale bokster and beloved mascot. Then came the order from the higher ups that we had to get rid of them in the Army areas. The Marines took charge of her and she eventually returned with the Marine unit to the states. I will never forget misfire. Other units had cats as well and yes they were both morale boosters and vermin control. Thanks for sharing this fantastic story.

Lola    Saraland, AL

8/23/2014 6:43:52 AM

I am so glad to know this about cats. They get a bad rap most of the time. Personally I love them and have had them my whole life. I now have 3. I will be sharing this in the hope that this will change the minds of those who think only negative thoughts about cats.

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