Most Americans don't have much knowledge about the Crimean War. The
conflict took place in the mid-19th century between French, Ottoman, and British
forces and the Russians on the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea. For
most of us the only name to come out of the war was that of Florence
Nightingale. There was another notable hero of the conflict who has
largely gone unnoticed -- a tabby cat named Tom.
The major and final event of the war was the year-long siege of Sevastopol, the capital of the Crimea. By the time the Allied forces triumphed and took possession of the city there was little left. They began a search of the citadel in search of food, shelter, and warmth against the coming Russian winter.
In a cellar Captain William Gair of the 6th Dragoon Guards found a tabby cat sitting atop a pile of debris between two badly injured people. The cat was calm and friendly when Gair approached him and picked him up. No one knew where the sociable feline came from, but he took to his new found friends happily. He was taken back to the officer's quarters where he was much petted and admired.
He seemed healthy and well-fed despite the year of war and severe deprivation. There was no shortage of rodents in the area and he had apparently been able to make do for the duration.
For the British troops times were tough. The water in the area was brackish and food was in short supply. The soldiers began to notice that the Russian defenders of the city seemed relatively well fed considering what they had just been through.
Some of the men got the idea to follow Tom when he left their compound and found themselves facing a pile of rubble near the docks. When they cleared away the rubble they found that the cat had led them to a cache of food that the Russians had left behind in their retreat. The supplies were almost all still edible, allowing them to stave off starvation for a while longer.
In the following days and weeks Tom continued to lead them to hidden stores of supplies all located along the water front. This one little cat saved the lives of hundreds of British soldiers at the tail end of the campaign.
When the time finally came for the troops to return home to their sceptered isle they couldn't bear the thought of leaving their little buddy behind. Somehow they managed to get permission to take him, or they may have smuggled him, back to England.
His well-deserved retirement did not last long though. He passed away just over a year after the end of the siege. His little body was stuffed (as was the habit of the times) and presented to the Royal United Service Institution.