This year’s Remembrance Day post takes us on a journey to Ukraine and the story of Welly who features in my recently completed mixed media piece pictured below.
A person I am close to was in Ukraine recently doing some consulting work and travelling around with a group to get a picture of what was happening on the ground.
They were touring a bombed residential area on the outskirts of Kyiv when a little furball came wandering out of the rubble of a recently destroyed building. The little mite meowed piteously and walked straight up to one of the soldiers who promptly picked it up. He figured out it was a little boy of about 4-5 months with a skinny little bent tail with no flees or apparent injuries. He was just somewhat malnourished. The group of course tried to find the mother and any remaining siblings, but there were none. So, the little fellow was tucked inside the soldier’s shirt after loosening his ballistic vest a little.
It was the beginning of beautiful partnership. The kitten was named Wellington, which was really only used when in serious conversation such as consulting him about the best course of action. Otherwise, he was called Welly … or whatever suited at the time, as one does with cats. Wellycat…Brr cat…Puss…Kiska…
Welly was not very clever as orange cats don’t tend to be, but he was super loving. He settled into life on the road during the war easily and barely blinked when artillery was falling nearby. He spent much of his time sleeping in a re-purposed ammo box fitted with a little blanket when there was a lot going on.
They managed to find containers that would suit as a litter tray and found some food and fashioned toys and a scratching post out of the detritus of bombed out buildings and made a space for little Welly in their vehicle. When they could, they bought bits and pieces from local businesses that were still operating.
After a while he relaxed a little more and learned to fall asleep on laps, or snuggled in beside people at bedtime, and that pats could be sought from anyone and everyone nearby. He also liked to chase things around the vehicle, batting things that made fun noises and hanging off the side from straps and the like. He was happy, but quite mad too, stalking and pouncing shinbones and staring intently when he thought he was hidden behind something. He made friends wherever he went, following his new master around to all sorts of places.
Welly liked to wake his new masters up by coming up close to their faces in the small hours of the morning and purring until eyes reluctantly cracked open.
Eventually he was checked over by the Veterinary Corps and declared healthy, although we were told they had a particularly hard time listening to his heart because he would not stop purring – even when they blocked his nose briefly to get him to stop. As it turned out the little fellow had a bit of an upset tummy from dirty water, but that was sorted quickly. The vets declared him a happy little fellow just content to be out of the rubble and around people again.
It seems odd that the soldiers would bother to care, doesn’t it? Why bother carting a cat around with you in that situation? Why spend time feeding and caring for him? Wouldn’t it get in the way? Wouldn’t it be a distraction when you need to be concentrating? Surely someone else would have found him, a local person perhaps?
Why? Because cats can do, in those situations, what nothing else can. They supply love and an opportunity to nurture, when the very nature of war is to do the opposite. They let the soldiers feel their humanity again. A furry little face that is ready to purr and be patted is something to look forward to when the fighting is done for a brief moment. They are something soft when everything else is bloody hard and messy. Cats provide such huge benefit to the soldiers.
Mr Collier confirmed that during his time in the Royal Marines, there were company mascot type cats in Cyprus, Iraq and Afghanistan and any number of other places around the world, on bases and bombed out places. Cats that have been abandoned when their families fled and couldn’t take their loved pets with them or came out alive when their owners did not. Wherever you see a British military contingent, you are bound to find animals, especially cats. They LOVE animals! On bases, as they are useful for managing rodents. I have no insight into whether it’s the same in other forces, except for the masses of pictures of Ukrainian soldiers and animals, so I must assume that there are similar stories in other armed forces around the world. Creatures in need of support find each other one way or another.
It’s not a new phenomenon by any stretch, I am sure you have seen photos of cats in the trenches in the World Wars…these days we can see the same via social media. Here are a few coming out of Ukraine in this current conflict. Watch what the soldiers say about their companions and see the happiness on weary faces when they get kitty cuddles, and the lengths they go to to provide a home for them.
Grab a cuppa and take a look. Cat videos are good for our souls too!
So, what happened to Welly when his new friends had to go back from whence they came? They found him a loving home with a couple of children who will continue his care and love him as he deserved to be.
You can read my previous Remembrance Day posts here.