An English Pointer Named Judy Rescued British POWs from a Sinking Ship, Fought a Crocodile & Earned Three Medals

Judy was a purebred pointer from Shanghai who became mascot for HMS Gnat in 1936. WWII's only canine prisoner of war, she was captured by the Japanese, survived several camps and a shipwreck, and was awarded the Dickin Medal in 1946

When the city of Singapore was under Japanese siege in 1942, the ships anchored in the harbor received orders to retreat and regroup in Allied waters in the Dutch East Indies. They were to avoid capture at all cost.

Among them were the river gunboats HMS Grasshopper and HMS Dragonfly. Unfortunately, the ships strayed off course and Japanese assault aircraft located and sank them – just two miles from safety.

Survivors from the ships were washed ashore on a small island in the South China Sea. Among them was the Grasshopper’s mascot dog called Judy. Miraculously, the six-year-old English pointer was alive and well after the aircraft strife which knocked out the gunboats.

Once ashore, the men lacked essential supplies, including fresh water. It was then that Judy got her chance to shine, and prove that she was not the ship’s mascot for nothing. Using her superior sense of smell, the dog sniffed out fresh spring drinking water, which lay hidden under the sand. She dug out the water source during the low tides and, to everyone’s surprise, saved the day.

The sailors were saved from certain death, for the humidity and the heat would have killed them for sure, without a regular water supply. But their troubles were far from over.

The British seamen acquired a Chinese junk and headed towards Sumatra which was thought to be under Dutch control. When they arrived at the huge island in the Indian Ocean, they then had to hike for another 200 miles. Judy did not lag behind.

Contrary to their hopes of bumping into a Dutch colonial patrol or base camp, they were met by the Japanese invaders, and all their efforts to reach friendly forces went to waste. The men quickly realized the situation ― they were now POWs. But Judy needed to be smuggled, for the Japanese would not think twice about putting down a dog that would in any way jeopardize their journey to the Gloergoer POW camp in Medan, Indonesia.

Judy with her protector Frank Williams, wearing the animal version of the VC round her neck
Judy with her protector Frank Williams, wearing the animal version of the VC round her neck

She was stacked behind some rice bags that were transported with the prisoners. It was as if she understood her situation, for she kept quiet during the trip, avoiding detection. Life in a Japanese POW camp was no picnic, but Judy got accustomed to it as did the rest of her fellow shipmates.

Leading Aircraftman Frank Williams of the Royal Air Force, who was among the captives, watched the dog one day, as she hunted for worms which had been discarded from the prisoner’s rations. He decided to give her his bowl of rice, and she remained forever grateful for that.

From that day on, Judy was under Williams’ wing. The dog earned her reputation for protecting Williams and other prisoners from maltreatment by the guards, as she managed to strike fear into them, at least for a while.

Judy became a terrific morale booster, and everyone was so fond of her, that if she were to be executed, it would have affected the captives as if one of them had died. To avoid this from happening, Williams devised a plan to get Judy an official POW status so that she would be protected from any possible sudden fits of violence by the guards.

It was not an easy task. The Japanese were not fond of Judy at all, nor were they fond of promoting prisoner’s rights during wartime. But Williams knew that the officer in charge was fond of sake ― the Japanese rice liquor ― and that he nurtured a habit of getting drunk quite often.

So he interrupted one of his sake sessions, and, with wits and good humor, managed to get him to sign the document which launched Judy into military ranks. She was given a serial number and was now ― POW 81A.

It protected her for a while, but nothing was certain within the grounds of a Japanese POW camp. She avoided death on multiple occasions; from provoking prison guards to barking at wild beasts that lived in the vicinity. Once, she even fought a crocodile – and somehow survived.

Judy sits up and listens to a sailor’s commands on the deck of HMS Grasshopper
Judy sits up and listens to a sailor’s commands on the deck of HMS Grasshopper

After three years spent in Medan, Williams and his loyal companion were transferred to Singapore, as the Allied forces were on the offensive. In June 1944, they boarded the Van Warwyck, renamed by the Japanese as the Harukiku Maru, together with 700 other POWs.

The Van Warwyck was a true hell ship – for more than three hours the men stood on the overcrowded deck, suffering the horrific heat. As animals were forbidden on board, Judy repeated the rice sack routine, staying put during the trip, without making a sound.

But their journey was violently interrupted by an Allied submarine, which torpedoed the ship. Panic spread as hundreds of prisoners were trying to escape the vessel. Williams threw Judy out a small porthole window, in an attempt to save her life.

He was lucky enough to escape and found himself among the 200 survivors. Whether Judy had the same luck, was unknown to him, as he was recaptured and sent to another camp.

After some time, stories began to circulate among the prisoners of a dog that had swum among the survivors of the Van Warwyck. It had brought them floatable pieces of the ship and had even let them hold onto her back, while she swam to safety.

There was no doubt. It was Judy. She was picked up by some of the survivors who recognized her and brought to the camp. Once again she had avoided execution by a thread when she was discovered during the transport. Luckily, the sake-loving commander from Medan was also around, and he kept his word by saving the dog’s life.

Frank Williams later recalled the encounter with an old friend:

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!

After the war, Judy was once again smuggled on board a ship. This time an Allied one which was transporting prisoners back to their homeland. The same policy regarding animals applied to His Majesty’s Navy as well.

Later on, she received prizes for her conduct and was even interviewed by the BBC, when her barking was broadcast over the radio. She spent the rest of her life with Williams before dying in 1950, aged 13.

Judy, the dog, was buried in a specially designed RAF coat, together with her wartime decorations – the Pacific Star, the 1939–1945 Star, and the Defence Medal.

Nikola Budanovic

Nikola Budanovic is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE