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April 04, 2005

Ginger and Fishcakes

Ginger and Fishcakes were the ship's cats of the battle cruiser HMS Hood in the 1930s. Though being one of the ship's cats is not quite so dramatic as being the ship's wallaby...

Throughout history, crews of many naval ships not only included humans, but animals as well. H.M.S. Hood was no exception. In fact, at times during her 21 year career, she was a veritable floating zoo! Her menagerie of known mascots/pets included a goat, an opossum, a squirrel, a wallaby, beavers, a variety of birds, as well as dogs and cats.

Unfortunately, beyond a handful of old photos and a few surviving contemporary accounts, very little detailed information exists on most of these animals. Indeed, it is impossible to determine the exact numbers, types and even names of most of these special crew members. Of the known animals, there are four in particular, which are either well documented, or stand-out from the rest- "Joey" the wallaby, "Bill" the dog, plus "Ginger" and "Fishcakes" the cats.

The inevitable speculation is whether His Majesty's feline navy was aboard the Hood the day she was sunk. One internet source suggests Fishcakes may have been redeployed prior to the sorry event.

Black cats, too, suffered horribly in the Middle Ages. Suspected of being witches' familiars, they were often burned with their (usually innocent) owners. This is said to explain why a totally black cat is a creature of rarity, even today. Given their unfortunate past, it's curious then that black cats are nowadays considered lucky in Britain. In fact, they may have helped win World War II, as the superstitious Winston Churchill always went out of his way to stroke one.

Enjoying his Finest Hour in those days was Fishcakes, a feline with the usual nine lives - perhaps together with that 'sixth sense', which many owners attribute to their cats. As ship's mascot aboard HMS Hood, Fishcakes ruled the waves until, unnoticed one day, he slipped aboard a fuel tanker lying alongside his battleship home. It was a curious act, because never before had he shown the slightest interest in jumping ship. The following day, however, Hood was sunk with much loss of life. Had Fishcakes glimpsed the future?

Posted by Ghost of a flea at April 4, 2005 09:19 AM

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Comments

My grandfather was in the Merchant Marines in the 1950s and 60s. While down in Argentina one of the mates won some game of chance and received...wait for it...penguins as his winnings. Yes, penguins. They kept them on the ship for some time as I understand and eventually donated them to the zoo in New Orleans.

Posted by: George Purcell [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 4, 2005 05:15 PM

Joey jumped ship.

Posted by: aebrain [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 4, 2005 08:54 PM