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Judy the Heroic Navy Dog

A Dog in Service of the Navy

Judy the pooch went aboard the Royal Navy gunboat HMS Gnat in the 1936 to serve as an able seadog. Her duties included rat catching, emotional support for sailors long before that phrase gained currency, and her self-appointed role as watchdog.

Judy displays the face of a highly intelligent dog.

Judy displays the face of a highly intelligent dog.

Life Aboard HMS Gnat

A pure-bred pointer, Judy was born in a kennel in Shanghai in 1936. She had an eventful early life. She escaped from the kennel and lived on the streets until she was found and returned to her home.

By the time she arrived back at the kennel, the rest of the litter were gone; that's when crew members from HMS Gnat came looking for a ship's mascot.

HMS Gnat was a gunboat of the insect class. Now, that doesn't sound terribly threatening for a class of warships unless you've encountered blackflies in Canada. If you have you will have developed a high level of respect for the belligerence in insects.

Pointers get their name from their ability to alert hunters to the presence of game. When the dog detects a pheasant, rabbit, or other game it stands still, one paw raised, its nose pointing in the direction of the quarry.

The plan was to train Judy as a hunting dog but the crew treated her as a pet. As a result, Judy displayed the characteristic pointing of her breed aboard HMS Gnat but only after locating the smell of cooking. This prompted Chief Petty Officer Charles Jefferey to note in his log “our chances of making her a trained gun dog are very small.”

Anyway, how often are you going to find rabbits in the South China Sea, which is where the gunboat was stationed? Besides, Judy had other talents. She operated as an early warning system.

One night, as the gunboat was patrolling in the Yangtze River, she alerted the crew to the presence of river pirates. Having lost the element of surprise in their attack, the pirates were easily driven off.

A Pointer Pointing: Not Judy's Strongpoint

The War in the Pacific

Judy's early warning skills came in handy during the conflict with Japan in the Pacific; she “could point out the approach of hostile Japanese aircraft using her superior sense of hearing” (U.K. Ministry of Defence).

During World War II, Judy was transferred to another insect-class vessel, HMS Grasshopper along with several crew from HMS Gnat and were deployed to Singapore.

By February 1942, the conflict had turned grim for the Allies in Singapore and Grasshopper and sister ship Dragonfly were ordered to carry evacuees to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies. On the way, the warships were attacked by Japanese aircraft and so severely damaged they had to be abandoned.

The survivors landed on an island in the South China Sea; they were joined by sailors from another British ship. The people were not on the island long before they realized there was no fresh water. Judy came to the rescue.

Chief Petty Officer Leonard Williams later told the Imperial War Museums: “We landed on the island and naturally water was short. Judy was lost one day and we couldn’t find her so we went to search for her and she had found a patch where she dug a big hole and she had found fresh water for the survivors of the Dragonfly and Grasshopper.”

HMS Grasshopper.

HMS Grasshopper.

Prisoner of War Judy

Unfortunately, Judy and most of her shipmates did not escape the advancing Japanese troops, by mid-March 1942 they had all become prisoners of war. After being shuffled about to various locations they ended up at the infamous Gloegoer Camp in Medan on the island of Sumatra.

The men were treated appallingly by their captors with CPO Williams recalling that “thus began three to four years of the most horrific labour, torture, starvation, and every degradation the Japanese could inflict on us.” The men were subjected to beatings and when Judy tried to defend them she was hit with rifle butts.

In the camp, Judy bonded with Leading Aircraftman Frank Williams, no relation to Leonard Williams, who shared his meagre rations with her.

She did not like the camp guards and growled and barked at them. They responded by threatening to shoot her. Frank Williams appealed to the camp commandant to guarantee Judy's safety. He caught the man at a weak moment, apparently drunk on sake, and Judy was registered as an official prisoner of war, designated as 81A Gloegoer Medan. She remains the only dog to have been a PoW.

Again, Judy looked after the welfare of her companions, bringing the men snakes and rats to supplement the handful of rice they were given daily by the Japanese.

When the prison camps were liberated many of the survivors were emaciated because of Japanese mistreatment.

When the prison camps were liberated many of the survivors were emaciated because of Japanese mistreatment.

Shipwrecked Again

In June 1944, the prisoners were ordered transferred to Singapore and were loaded aboard the Harukiki Maru, which had formerly been the SS Van Warwyk. The Japanese did not like having dogs aboard ships so Frank Williams smuggled Judy onto the vessel in a rice sack.

There were about 700 captives on board the Harukiki Maru when she was torpedoed by a British submarine whose captain did not know she was carrying prisoners. Williams pushed his faithful dog out of a porthole and made good his own escape from the sinking ship. Unfortunately, about 500 prisoners were not so lucky and they drowned.

Judy and Williams were fished out of the ocean and sent to another prison camp where the harsh routine of forced labour and beatings continued. Once again, Judy saved her companions by alerting them to the presence of dangerous animals as they hacked a path through jungle for a Japanese railway.

Freedom came early in 1945, when the camp was liberated.

Frank Williams and Judy received awards for their war service.

Frank Williams and Judy received awards for their war service.

A Hero's Return

Williams and Judy returned to the United Kingdom. The stories of the dog's adventures had reached the country before she did and she was greeted with adoration.

The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, a charity run by veterinarians, bestowed on Judy its Dickin Medal. The 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.”

The Dickin Medal is said to be the equivalent for animals of the Victoria Cross awarded to people for extreme acts of valor. For his devotion to Judy, Williams was awarded White Cross of Saint Giles.

Williams found work in Tanzania after the war and he took Judy with him when he relocated to East Africa. Judy died there in February 1950 and Williams built a small monument at the site of her grave.

Bonus Factoids

  • “Unsinkable Sam” was a cat that served in Germany's Kriegsmarine and in Britain's Royal Navy. He survived the sinking of three ships. You can read more about him here.
  • White Vision was a homing pigeon that was enlisted in Britain's National Pigeon Service during World War II. In October 1943, she was aboard a Catalina flying boat that had to ditch in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. The aircraft's radio was broken so the crew released White Vision with a message noting their location. The pigeon flew for nine hours, battling headwinds to her home loft where the message was read and a rescue mission launched. She was awarded a Dickin Medal.
  • Wojtek was a bear who served with distinction in the Polish Army during World War II. You can read more about him here.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Rupert Taylor