kitten
Fireman Smith and a damp pussy, 1941

Back in 1941 the RSPCA thought it was a good idea to shoot kittens in trees. Seriously.

At the time, the Esplanade Kiosk (later renamed after the awful Florence Hummerston) was run by William Webb.

One day a parcel arrived at the kiosk, so William opened it. Inside were two kittens in a box. Because people used to mail kittens in 1941. Apparently.

As he opened the box, one of the terrified kittens leapt out. Unfortunately William’s dog thought this was great fun and gave chase.

The cat flew out of the Kiosk and up to the top of the 15 metre palm outside on the Esplanade. Worried about the poor beast, William went to look for help.

The Esplanade’s gardeners said there was nothing they could do. However, the Electricity and Gas Department sent some men. With a 12 metre ladder. For a 15 metre tree.

Over and over again, they very nearly caught the petrified kitty, but each time it scampered back to the top of the palm.

One man climbed the ladder with some meat to try and lure pussy down. But with no success.

The next sequence of events seems a little odd.

The RSPCA, who were now on the scene (along with gardeners and the electricity and gas people) decided the rescue was a total failure. So the only humanitarian thing left to do was to shoot the trembling animal dead.

An RSPCA inspector slung a rifle over his back and climbed the ladder.

Yes. The RSPCA. A rifle. To shoot a kitten. In a tree.

However, the animal-loving inspector couldn’t find pussy, so he decided it had escaped by itself and his job was over and he could go home and have a cup of tea.

Ten days later a passer-by noticed the poor starving animal was still at the top of the palm. So the RSPCA was called again.

This time the inspector charitably decided not to shoot, but to call the fire brigade instead. Who, unsurprisingly, had a long ladder. And the skills to get kittens out of trees.

After ninety minutes of Fireman Smith failing to grab the poor mite, they had the bright idea of turning the fire hose on the tree top. Which so frightened kitty he fled into Fireman Smith’s waiting arms.

[Those of you who are old enough can insert your own Mrs Slocombe joke here. It’s all set up for you.]

The large crowd which had assembled gave a loud cheer as William Webb took the starving pussy into his kitchen in the Kiosk to give it some milk.

Then William’s dog charged in and the kitten fled up the palm tree.

You can’t make this stuff up.