The Cat that was Shot for Treason



A cat was shot for treason
In World War One
It had acted as an intermediary   
Between Allied and Axis lines:  
English and German soldiers
Could send messages
To each other
By tying scraps of paper 
To the cat’s collar. 
The cat then ran across No Man’s Land,
From one trench to the other.  
 
When the War Office found out, 
Allied superior officers
Ordered that the cat, nicknamed Felix,
Should be shot for its being a go-between,
And thus enabling fraternization 
Between the warring troops 
On the Western Front. 
 
For, after a Christmas truce 
When enmity miraculously faded 
And one German dug-out sang ‘Heilige Nacht’ 
As its English opposite number joined in
With ‘Silent Night’;
And when deadly enemies
Shyly scrambled out
Into the open air 
Clutching presents
Of rum and schnapps, and lebkochen  
And Huntley and Palmer’s digestive biscuits;
And when they swapped them with broad smiles,
And when impromptu football matches 
Broke out up and down the battle lines…
These popular displays of comradeship; 
These congenial armistices;
These undeclared cease-fires 
Were outlawed by the government 
Who declared that all such happenings 
Were high treason,
And subject to the same condign punishment 
As cowardice, namely the firing squad.
 
Felix the cat, however, 
(Called Nestor by the Germans) 
Was a law unto itself.
It would wait patiently  
Whilst cheery little scrawls 
In English and in German
Were being attached to its collar 
By trembling fingers, raw with cold:
“Hello Fritz.” “Gutentag Tommy.”
“Fröhliche Weihnachten, Tommy.”
“Happy Christmas, Fritz.” 
 
Back and forth the cat skipped across the snow,
Across the hard, unforgiving soil
Of No Man’s Land; first appearing at Mons
And later at Passchendaele. 
 
Then Felix – just like the animals 
In the Middle Ages who, notoriously,
Were tried for being suspected
Of being in league with the devil – 
Was judged by the top military brass
To constitute a threat
Through its enabling treasonous acts, 
Through its being an accessory
To the undermining of the serial hate-crime
That was World War One;  
A war crime that left fifteen million dead 
Including a peace cat,
Who’s barely ever mentioned 
But whose bloodstained paw-prints  
Are a lone, feline testament 
To war’s absurdity.  
 
Heathcote Williams  
 


By Heathcote Williams

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3 Responses to The Cat that was Shot for Treason

  1. Julian says:

    Beautiful, Heathcote!

  2. Elena Caldera says:

    meow! =^^= … Hi Heth ! 🙂 xxxx

  3. Claire says:

    In this week of remembrances for those who gave their lives, this is so poignant. The fact that soldiers on opposite sides really were the same, and could be friends, not enemies. That war is just theatre and profit for a detached elite and a vehicle for their future wealth and status. If they sincerely cared about war casualties, there would be no more war. Bravo Heathcote Cx

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