The “Great” War

The “Great” War

The cat that was shot for treason, 5

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

EPSON scanner image