Dog prisoner of War

March 17th, 2008

Heard the one about the dog that was OFFICIALLY made a dog prisoner of war? Ray Hearn discovers some of the amazing stories about dogs involved in conflict.

She was a pedigree Pointer called “Judy” and she is one of a number of distinguished dogs recognised for duty during major wars and urban conflicts. The remarkable stories of these dogs are demonstrated in an exhibition in London, organised by the British Kennel Club, called “Dogs in War”.

Judy’s story began in her birthplace, the city of Shanghai, back in 1936. Although her career was to be long and illustrious, due to a near-catastrophe it nearly ended before it began. Judy became a mascot for the Royal Navy but she nearly died when she fell overboard from a naval vessel into the Yangtze River. However, this was to be the first of many narrow escapes.

War travels

In 1942, Judy went to war when she became a mascot for another Royal Navy ship HMS Grasshopper which took part in a number of actions during the Malay-Singapore campaign. When Singapore fell, Judy’s ship made for Java, Indonesia, but just as it got there, it was bombed by Japanese aircraft and the crew beached their ship on an uninhabited island.

Lucky Judy was aboard, as they may not have survived if it hadn’t been for her presence. She was a great help in rescuing the crew, first by getting them ashore and then finding water.

After several days, they were picked up by a Chinese junk-boat and taken to Sumatra, Indonesia. From there, the British survivors decided to try to get to Padang but their luck deserted them. They had nearly reached their destination when they were taken prisoner and the crew and Judy began a two-year ordeal at a Japanese prison camp in a placed called Medan.

Here, Judy appears to have deserted her former naval masters for a member of the Royal Air Force. She “adopted” Leading Aircraftsman Frank Williams, but Judy was not content just to sit out and wait for the wars end. She proved her worth inside her prison by warning other captives of poisonous snakes, alligators and even the odd tiger.

The Japanese Camp Commandant, however, was not impressed by all of this. He wanted the Pointer out of the way permanently. Luckily, Frank Williams had a plan. He managed to get his Japanese captor very drunk and while in that state, Frank was able to make the Commandant register his pet as an official Prisoner of War.

Later, orders came through that all the prisoners had to be taken to Singapore and the Japanese were not going to allow Judy to go with them. But Frank Williams was having none of that. He hid his faithful companion in a rice sack, ordering her to keep absolutely quiet, and she did. She was held in this state for nearly three hours and didnt whine once!

Once on board the ship, Frank released Judy from her temporary home, but again fate played a cruel hand. A torpedo hit their vessel and Frank, Judy and a number of others found themselves trapped under wreckage. Just as Judy escaped, another torpedo hit. Luckily, this explosion actually freed the trapped men, releasing them from what was left of the war-torn vessel. It seemed Judy was not only brave, but she also had a sense of luck about her.

For the next two hours their lives hung in the balance as they drifted in the sea. Eventually they were all were picked up but Frank and Judy became separated. Three days later the pair were back together again while travelling to yet another prison camp.

Prisoner of war

Over the next few months, Frank and Judy were moved from one prison camp to another and then once again, fate stepped in. The pair found themselves face to face with an old adversary the original Camp Commandant from Medan who had wanted Judy dead. Furious, possibly because of the trick that had been played on him, and seeing Judy still alive and well, he ordered the dog to be killed. But that was not all. He also demanded that she should be eaten by the prisoners!

It didn’t look good for Judy or Frank. However, by this time, the war was not going well for the Japanese and the camp soldiers, possibly fearing the future, didn’t carry out the sentence. Judy’s luck had rescued her yet again!

With the end of WWII, Frank Williams was finally released and was ordered home to Britain, but he was determined that Judy should go with him and that’s exactly what happened.

In Britain, Judy became quite a celebrity and her status was enhanced when she was invited to the Returned British Prisoners of War Association in London and was duly registered as the only dog member. She was also awarded the Dickin Medal the British animal medal which is equivalent to the British Victoria Cross, the highest decoration given to any member of the armed forces.

The medal had the following engraving: “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.”

In 1948, Judy accompanied Frank to Africa to begin a new life, but two years later she went missing. She was tracked down to a natives hut, but she was now very ill. She had developed a tumour and sadly had to be put to sleep during February 1950. Frank Williams arranged for Judy to be buried near his African home and had a bronze plaque specially made for her grave, detailing all her heroic acts.

The exhibition

One of the earliest dogs listed in the exhibition is a white short-haired Terrier called Bobbie, who accompanied a British regiment to India during the Afghan war of 1879. He later got a medal commemorating the Afghan campaign, and it was presented to him by no less a figure than Queen Victoria herself!

But dogs which have taken part in more recent conflicts are also represented. There is the story of Rats, a mongrel who achieved fame when he became a companion to British army units that recently patrolled dangerous areas of Northern Ireland. The Dickin Medal is also on display. This prestigious medal was won by a dog called Buster who uncovered a hidden stash of weapons and explosives in Iraq.

Artefacts are also part of the exhibits and include a specially designed parachute harness and a rather gruesome “explosives” collar.

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