The first days of World War II were dark ones indeed for Great Britain. Nazi Germany had conquered almost all of Europe, leaving the residents of the island nation to fight on alone. From September 1940 to May 1941, Hitler tried to crush England’s will to resist by launching the Blitz—the indiscriminate terror bombing of cities, especially London.
Though thousands were killed and wounded, the nightly attacks failed to break the spirit of the people. Many, in the face of great danger, displayed unforgettable courage. And the heroism wasn’t just confined to humans. One of the most famous stories concerns a church cat named Faith. In 1936, the little tabby found her way to St Augustine’s and St Faith’s Church in London. She took up residence in the rectory.
Faith attended all services in which the rector, Father Henry Ross (who had originally taken her in), took part. If her benefactor wasn’t speaking, she sat in the front pew. If Ross was preaching, she sat in the pulpit at his feet.
In August 1940, Faith gave birth to a single male kitten, which the church choir celebrated the next Sunday by singing All Things Bright and Beautiful. The black and white puff ball was named Panda.
But on September 6 of that year, something strange happened. Faith, for no discernable reason, led Ross to the church basement and begged him to open the door. He complied, and later saw the mother cat carry Panda from his comfortable upstairs basket down to the dusty, dark sanctum. Three times Ross took the kitten back upstairs, and three times Faith carried him back down. Finally the pastor admitted defeat, took the kitten’s basket to the basement, and tried to make the two as comfortable as possible.
Within days, however, Faith’s odd behavior would seem more like clairvoyance.
On September 9, while Ross was away, his church took a direct hit from a bomb. He arrived to find emergency crews scrambling around the still-burning structure. Ross told them that to his knowledge the only creatures inside were Faith and Panda. The fireman he spoke to said there was no chance they could have survived.
But Ross couldn’t accept that. Risking his life, he entered the building’s sagging, flaming remains and called out for Faith. He heard a faint answering meow and dug through the rubble until he found the two felines buried under a pile of singed sheet music. Faith, grimy but uninjured, was sitting with her kitten beneath her, in the same place she’d scouted out days earlier. Ross quickly carried both cats to safety, getting clear just as the roof collapsed.
The story of the church cat’s selfless devotion to her kitten soon spread across the United Kingdom. On October 12, 1945, before a packed house at the rebuilt St Augustine’s and while nestled in the arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury, she received a special medal for her courage.
Panda, once grown, became the mascot of a retirement home. And Faith remained at the church until her death on September 28, 1948. Her passing was worldwide news, as was her burial near the churchyard gate. The feline described as “the bravest cat in the world” can spend eternity at the place she loved.