(Article by Chris Teale, Images by Irene McCullagh – Article originally appeared in All About Cats magazine in December 2010)
The armed forces of the world since time immemorial have always seemed to have an affinity with various animals both wild and domestic. They seem to cheerfully join the ranks and fit in with the military way of life at little inconvenience to themselves and their chosen comrades.
In the days of sail, the ship’s cat was a mandatory member of the crew with many duties relating to the control of vermin and invariably companionship to many a lonely sailor.
With the advent of more modern warfare throughout the 20th Century, the role of animals as pets and soldier’s companions was more accurately documented; there is a photograph of a German Regiment going off to the front in the First World accompanied by a miniature German dachshund, fully kitted out with a uniform, a specially made helmet and kit bag.
There are many tales to be told of the South African Air Force’s involvement with a huge menagerie of animals ranging from cheetahs with 2 Squadron in East Africa in 1940 to lionesses, ostriches, and assorted animals in the Bush from 1966 – 1989, some of whom achieved some degree of notoriety for antics they got up to including enjoying the benefits of the bars and pubs at many of the SA Air Force Bases in the then South West Africa. (Namibia)
Names given to some of these animals, including a gigantic cat and his “wife” are not mentionable in family magazines.
And so to Chloe van Ysterplaat who was promoted to Corporal at the SAAF Museum Air Force Base Ysterplaat, employed as erstwhile tour guide, vermin hunter and NCO on Duty when the Museum closes.
A generous soul, she regularly offers a morsel that she has caught and half devoured, including; mice, moles, the occasional cockroach and once in a while, a feathered species.
Once in a while, she commits the occasional breach of discipline that results in her being Confined to Barracks due to being found guilty of being Absent With Out Leave (AWOL), usually when there has been a party at the Officer’s Mess where due to her rank she is most unwelcome at these affairs.
These days she is less boisterous and besides playing with her many toys, her favourite, a catnip flavoured toy mouse, she demands her brush several times a day and can then usually be found fast asleep on a wing of one of the Museum aircraft.
A clever little soul, she loves the attention of the tourists and will happily pose for photographs. Recently she posed for Sam Bausch of the Africa Aerospace and Defence Expo and featured in one of their newsletters.
Many visitors to the Museum and enquire of her whereabouts and subsequently find her somewhere about the Museum and she will happily chat away to them in cat talk.
She is well looked after by the Museum staff and enjoys the benefits of a healthy diet as recommended by her Veterinarian Doctor. She is well known on Air Force Base Ysterplaat and is quite often visited by Senior Officers from the Base who come and enquire after her wellbeing.
When next visiting Air Force Base Ysterplaat, Corporal Chloe van Ysterplaat will more than likely be somewhere around the Museum waiting to greet you most affably and accompany you around Museum describing and pointing out her favourite spots in the Museum.