The Dog Who was an Official Prisoner of War
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The Dog Who was an Official Prisoner of War

In 1936, the crew of the British gunboat HMS
Gnat lacked a mascot, and the captain and crew decided to remedy that situation before
starting patrols on the Yangtze River. Their sister gunboats, the Bee, Cicada, and
Cricket already had mascots of their own. So Lieutenant Commander J. Waldergrave and
Chief Petty Officer Charles Jefferey purchased an English Pointer puppy they named Judy from
a kennel in Shanghai, China, intending for her to both serve as mascot and as a gundog
for hunting when the crew went ashore. The ship’s cook, Jan “Tankey” Cooper,
was assigned the responsibility of caring for her. Fast-forward to the start of WWII and the
HMS Gnat was recalled to port where Judy joined the crew members who transferred to the HMS
Grasshopper in June of 1939. Three years later, the Grasshopper was struck
by a torpedo and the crew abandoned ship. Judy proved her worth when she joined the
crew on an uninhabited island off of Sumatra. At first, the men were unable to find freshwater,
but Judy’s sensitive nose led her to a point in the sand near the shoreline when the tide
was low. She then began to dig until ultimately uncovering
an underground freshwater spring, providing clean drinking water to herself and the survivors. A few days later, the crew managed to “commandeer”
a Chinese junk and set off to Sumatra. Once there, they began a 200 mile trek to
the British-held Pedang; Judy, of course, went with them. They hoped to arrive in time to join the British
evacuation of the area, but they missed the final boat and instead walked right into a
Japanese-controlled village on their way. Now captured, the bedraggled soldiers were
transported to the Gloergoer POW camp. Not wanting to leave their mascot behind,
the crewmen hid Judy beneath empty rice sacks during the journey. Royal Air Force Leading Aircraftman Frank
Williams was among the POWs housed at the camp located in Medan, Indonesia. With food scarce in the camp, Williams observed
Judy sniffing around and snatching up maggots tossed from rations for a few days; the hungry
dog pulled at his heartstrings. He later stated, “I remember thinking what
on earth is a beautiful English Pointer like this doing here with no one to care for her. I realised that even though she was thin,
she was a survivor.” So one afternoon, he laid his entire ration
of rice on the ground for Judy to eat. She wolfed it down before laying herself at
his feet. From then on, she was his constant companion
and the rest of the prisoners soon referred to her as his dog. Judy’s position at the camp was a treacherous
one, however. She often interfered whenever the Japanese
guards began beating a prisoner, snapping and growling at them, which just resulted
in the guards focusing their attention, and aggression, on her. Needless to say, Williams and the other prisoners
feared for Judy’s safety. They believed it was only a matter of time
before the guards followed through on their frequent promises to kill the dog. So Williams came up with a plan. Knowing that the commander of the Gloergoer
camp would often get drunk, and become quite friendly when he was in that state, Williams
waited for such an occasion before approaching him and convincing the commandant to give
Judy official POW status. He sealed the deal by offering the commander
one of Judy’s puppies as a gift for his local mistress. The plan worked. Judy became the only official canine POW during
World War II- Prisoner of War 81A Gloergoer, Medan. From there on out, while guards could, and
did, still occasionally beat her when she interfered with them, they were reluctant
to kill a POW. The Japanese transferred Williams and other
members of the Grasshopper’s crew to Singapore in June of 1944. Before the move, Williams spent several days
training Judy to stay completely silent and still inside a rice bag. In this way, Judy was again smuggled with
them, lying in a rice bag for three hours while Williams stood with other prisoners
on the deck of the SS Van Warwyck before they set off. The ship never made it to Singapore, however. At 12:42 p.m. on June 26th, it was torpedoed
by the British submarine HMS Truculent. After the torpedoes struck, chaos reigned
among the prisoners and crew. According to Williams, the only one that kept
her head was Judy. “[She] was incredibly calm and was motionlessly
waiting for me to move.” Thinking quickly, Williams grabbed Judy and
pushed her out of a small porthole on the rapidly sinking ship. Before dropping to the water about 15 feet
below, Williams stated, “[She] looked down and back at me with a sad look. I immediately understood her: She thought
I was nuts! Then she wrenched herself with curled up rear
paws through the porthole. The hole was just wide enough and with a last
push she disappeared from sight.” Williams couldn’t fit through, but managed
to find another way off the boat and then swam around looking for Judy for some time. He later recalled, “As far as the eye could
see, the sea was filled with wreckage being dragged away by the fast currents. Somewhere in there, Judy was swimming.” After unsuccessfully being able to locate
Judy, he eventually made it back to land, but was recaptured and sent to another prison
camp. While being recaptured and once again finding
himself in a POW camp wasn’t exactly a good thing, this time there was a silver-lining. When he reached the POW camp in Sumatra, he
stated I couldn’t believe my eyes. As I entered the camp, a scraggy dog hit me
square between the shoulders and knocked me over! … I’d never been so glad to see the old
girl. And I think she felt the same! Williams and Judy managed to survive a backbreaking
year in Sumatra before the war ended in 1945. Upon being released, however, another problem
arose. The ship that was to carry them back to Britain,
the S.S. Atenor, did not allow animals. Unwilling to leave her behind, Williams smuggled
Judy aboard while a few other POWs distracted the guards. Her arrival in Britain wasn’t initially
as anticipated either, as she was immediately seized by officials from the Ministry of Agriculture
and spent her first six months on British soil in quarantine. During that time, Judy’s story spread and
for her work in the war, she ultimately received the PDSA Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent
of the Victoria Cross, awarded to animals who demonstrate “conspicuous gallantry or
devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil
Defence Units.” Besides the medal, she was also the recipient
of a serious amount of fanfare that included being “interviewed” by the BBC and having
a ceremony held honoring her service on May 3, 1946 in Cadogan Square. Her 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. Judy spent the rest of her life with Williams
and continued her globetrotting by traveling with him around Africa. She was ultimately “put to sleep” on February
17, 1950 at the age of 13 as her health had declined significantly due to a mammary tumor. Williams buried her in an RAF coat he’d
made specially for her, as well as erected a small memorial in her honor.


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