“Mascot 2sd Class Maisie MacWhiskers reporting aboard sir.” Chaplain Coulshaw saluted.
The Captain of the HMS Canterbury returned his salute.
The queen sized silver tiger offered the Captain a paw.
“Mascot MacWhiskers! Are you qualified to perform the duties of Ship’s Cat?”
“Sir, Mascot MacWhiskers is a certified pest control specialist, sickbay tiffy’s assistant, and chaplain’s assistant. She is also an expert weather forecaster.”
“Baker,” said the Captain to the boatswain’s mate. “See to it that Mascot MacWhiskers is shown to her berth and acquainted with the mess.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
“MacWhiskers!” barked the Captain. “We’re depending on you to win this war!”
Michty me! thought Maisie. What a responsibility. Rats and mice managed to get into every ship no matter how carefully it was inspected before it set sail. They chewed on the rigging and gnawed holes in the wood. They ate into the food supply and worse, infected it with disease. No cunning spy, no brilliant saboteur could have devised a more fiendish and effective plan for defeating the Royal Navy.
From the first Maisie was a favourite with the crew. They vied for the privilege of letting her sleep in their berth. They posed with her for photographs.
Maisie’s faither was a Hielan wildcat, a member of Clan Chattan, whose Scottish ancestry reached back nine thousand years. From him she inherited courage and strength, not to mention a waterproof coat. Her mither was a domestic from Tormintoul from whom she inherited a sweet disposition and an understanding of human nature.
The ship’s second in command, Commander Reginald Willoughby-Howe, looked down his rather long nose at Scots.
But his attitude changed the day Maisie make short work of the most enormous rat he had ever encountered.
“I say! Good show!
“Chief Cook Bowles! See to it that MacWhiskers receives an extra ration of sole.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
Part of the Arctic convoy, the Canterbury escorted merchant ships carrying vital war materials to the port of Archangel. One day in 1943 the warship was attacked by a German destroyer. The British won the battle but many of the Canterbury crew were wounded.
Maisie’s duties doubled as she toured sickbay thrice daily. She provided warmth for the cold and a sympathetic ear to the lonely; even chatting with them, making little chirping replies.
An injured sailor was about to thank the tiffy for placing a blanket over him, when he realised that Maisie had settled herself on his chest.
One sailor was in so much pain he could hardly bear to have his dressings changed. Maisie took his hand in her paws and held it during the entire procedure. All the while Maisie’s gaze never left the man, nor did her purr lose its steady rhythm.
“I tend their wounds,” said the tiffy. “But it’s Maisie who makes my work possible.”
Commander Willoughby-Howe was among the wounded but despite being a bit toffee nosed, he had a stiff upper lip. Against the advice of the ship surgeon, he declared himself fit enough to leave sickbay.
One evening about a week after the attack, Bowles and Seaman Miller were enjoying the sight of Maisie luxuriating on her hammock made especially for her by Sailmaker Turner.
Maisie’s repose was disturbed by a slight flutter of her ear. Her whiskers quivered. Her tail twitched.
Suddenly she was wide awake and bounded for Commander Willoughby-Howe’s cabin.
“Maisie you can’t go in there, luv,” admonished Bowles. “The Commander left strict orders not to be disturbed, ‘e did.”
“Now Maisie, you know curiosity killed the cat,” said Miller. But it’s our ‘eads the Commander’ll ‘ave if ‘e wakes up. Be a good girl and toddle back to your ‘ammock.”
Miller picked Maisie up but she broke free from his grasp.
Maisie leaped and tried to climb the closed door.
“Blimey!” said Miller. “The Commander’ll wake up anyway. Let ‘er in.”
Bowles pushed open the door.
“Miller! Call the tiffy!”
The entire crew assembled for the ceremony.
“Mascot MacWhiskers I present you with this medal for saving the life of the Commander. In addition I promote you to the rank of Able Seacat.”
The Captain pinned the medal on Maisie’s vest which Seaman Mackintosh had made from lovely multicoloured Clan Chattan tartan cloth.
Chaplain Coulshaw concluded the ceremony. “We know the expression ‘Curiosity killed the cat’.
“I now say ‘Curiosity killed not this cat. Her love and God’s did death combat.’”
Maisie is a fictional cat, but her story is based on those of the many real life cats who served their countries at sea:
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