The Story of the Dog Who Became a Prisoner of War During WW2
In 1936, the British gunboat HMS Gnat's crew bought an English Pointer puppy named Judy that came from a kennel in Shanghai, China. She was supposed to serve both as mascot and also as a gundog for hunting upon going ashore. Jan “Tankey” Cooper, the ship's cook, was assigned to take care of her.
Fast-forward to the start of WWII -- In 1939, the vessel HMS Gnat was recalled to port. Judy went with the crew members who were transferred to the HMS Grasshopper by June of 1939.
After three years, the Grasshopper was wrecked by a torpedo. When the crew abandoned ship, Judy joined the crew on an uninhabited island somewhere off of Sumatra where she proved her worth. One incident was when the men were having a hard time finding freshwater, due to Judy’s sensitive nose, she led them to a point near the shoreline when the tide was low and began to dig until finally she uncovered an underground freshwater spring, which gave herself and the crew some clear drinking water.
The crew managed to “commandeer” a Chinese junk after a few days and set off to Sumatra. When they arrived, they started to trek 200 miles to the British-held Pedang. They were trying to catch the British evacuation of the area, which they unfortunately missed. So instead, they walked right into a Japanese-controlled town on their way and the crew were held as prisoners. As the soldiers were unwilling to leave Judy behind, they hid her as they were brought to a prisoner-of-war camp in Indonesia.
Leading Aircraftman Frank Williams of the Royal Air Force was among the POWs who was housed at the camp. He was a pilot in the Royal Navy, who noticed that Judy was scavenging for food and did not have a proper owner, so Frank decided to adopt. He gave her food and from then on, Judy became his constant companion and all other prisoners eventually referred to her as his dog.
Whenever a British prisoner was punished by a Japanese guard, protecting them was Judy. She would jump in even if it meant that she would get hurt instead. Terrified that the guards would kill her, Frank convinced the commandant to grant Judy official POW status that would actually guarantee that her life was spared. He then sealed the deal by offering one of Judy’s puppies as a gift for the commander's local mistress.
The commander accepted. Judy was the only official canine POW during the Second World War- Prisoner of War 81A Gloergoer, Medan. Although guards could, and did, pursue beating her occasionally whenever she interfered with them, they were hesitant to kill a POW.
Williams and some members of the Grasshopper’s crew got transferred to Singapore in June of 1944. Prior to moving, Williams made sure to train Judy to remain completely silent and still inside a rice bag. With this, Judy was again smuggled with them, just lying in a rice bag silent and still for three hours while Williams was with the other prisoners on the deck of the SS Van Warwyck.
The vessel never made it to Singapore though, because at 12:42 p.m. on June 26th, the British submarine HMS Truculent torpedoed the ship. Chaos reigned among the prisoners and crew after it was hit. Swiftly, Williams grabbed Judy and then pushed her out into a small porthole while the ship was sinking rapidly.
Unfortunately, Williams couldn’t fit on the same porthole, but he managed to find another way off, then swam around and tried to look for Judy. After some time, being unable to locate Judy, Williams eventually made it back to land. He was recaptured and sent again to another prison camp.
Although being recaptured and finding himself in a POW camp once again wasn’t really a plan he had in mind, there was a silver-lining. When he got to the POW camp in Sumatra, he found Judy there!
Williams and Judy was able to survive a grueling year in Sumatra until 1945 when the war ended.
Upon release, however, another dilemma arose. The S.S. Atenor, the ship supposedly carrying them back to Britain did not permit animals on board. Unwilling to leave her behind, Williams again smuggled Judy while other POWs distracted the guards.
In Britain, she wasn’t initially expected either. Immediately, she got seized by officials working for the Ministry of Agriculture and Judy spent her first six months in quarantine on British soil. However, Judy’s story spread during that time. She ultimately was granted the PDSA Dickin Medal, it is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, which were awarded to animals who exhibit “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units.”
Apart from the medal, she also received a serious amount of fanfare which involved being “interviewed” by the BBC as well as having a ceremony held honoring all her service on May 3, 1946 in Cadogan Square. Judy's official medal citation read,
For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps, which helped to maintain morale among her fellow prisoners and also for saving many lives through her intelligence and watchfulness.
After that, Judy spent the rest of her life accompanying Williams. They continued her globetrotting by traveling around Africa. She was eventually “put to sleep” on February 17, 1950 as her health had significantly declined due to a mammary tumor. She was 13 years old by then. Williams buried her in an RAF coat that he made specially for her, and then erected a small memorial in her honor.