Sailor on board the HMAS Melbourne holding two ship's cats, 1917
Image: Australian War Memorial
During WWI, it is estimated that 500,000 cats were brought to the trenches, and many more served on Navy ships. They helped the military by killing rats and other vermin that spread disease, and were sometimes used as gas detectors.
As one amazing story goes, a cat named Pitouchi was born in the trenches. His mother was killed when he was still a kitten. A Belgian soldier, Lieutenant Lekeux, adopted Pitouchi. As recounted in the book Soldiers in Fur and Feathers by Susan Bulanda, Pitouchi went on to save Lekeux's life in the following way:
"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."
See more great photos and information here.
Officers of the U.S. 2nd Army Corps with a cat they discovered in the ruins of Le Cateau-Cambrésis
Image: Pictorial Record of the 27th Division
Ship's cat aboard the H.M.A.S. encounter
British soldier playing with mascot
Image: Illustrated War News, Vol. 7, London, 1918
Pincher, the mascot of the HMS Vindex, sitting on the propeller of one of the sea planes carried by the ship