Now HMAS Perth and its crew of over 600 men were back in pacific waters where they were needed for a very important task - to stop the Japanese advance across south-East Asia. They left Sydney in January 1942, stopping off at Fremantle on the way.
It was perhaps, at this time that Perth's animal mascot Red Lead, joined the ship. We know it was only a kitten in February 1942. What a place for a little kitten to explore! There were the sailors' quarters with their swinging hammocks, the wide, wooden deck, towering masts, the round signal lamps and deep in the bowels of the ship the growling engines. But Red Lead's favourite spot was curled up in the captain's cabin. The new captain, Hec Waller, always had a moment to spare for the playful kitten.
But Red Lead had little time to settle into its new home. On 27 February, HMAS Perth joined a fleet of British, Dutch and American ships to stop a Japanese naval convoy from landing on the island of Java. The fleet was hopelessly outnumbered and one by one, the Allied ships were crippled, sunk or forced to withdraw. The sound of firing ack ack guns and the shouting of the men surrounded the kitten! Japanese planes zoomed over ahead - there was no safe place to hide, except its one special place, Captain Waller's cabin. There it firmly stayed until the Captain gave orders to withdraw from the battle. Embattled but not defeated the warship steamed back to the harbour.
Back in the safety of the harbour, Red Lead somehow knew it would not survive another battle like that. It was time to find another job and another home. Quietly and stealthily it crept down the gangway. "Where do you think you are going?" yelled out one of the sailors and scooped up the little kitten, returning it to the deck. Foiled, Red Lead tried again and again. Three times in total, the kitten tried to leave the ship but to no avail. Some of the sailors looked at the unhappy cat and shook their heads - this was a bad omen. The official log at the end of the day read"Red Lead, ship's kitten, endeavoured to desert, but was brought back on board, despite vigorous protests."
Red Lead was right that things would not improve. The next day HMAS Perth and USS Houston sailed for the south coast of Java and met a large fleet of Japanese ships. After a desperate battle, the Perth was sunk. Over 350 men (including Captain Waller) and one little black kitten went down with the ship.
based on the story the cat is not a cat but a...
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