Heroes of WWII: Judy the POW dog

heroes of WWII -

Heroes of WWII: Judy the POW dog

From surviving alligator bites to distracting Japanese guards from beating her fellow POWs, Judy the dog was a true hero.

In 1936 Judy, the pure-bred liver and white-coloured pointer, was assigned as the HMS Gnat's mascot in the Far East. Judy's initial role was to help with security, keep on top of pest control and give companionship to lonely sailors. The ship's crew then attempted to train her as a gundog for shooting expeditions ashore, however she kept falling overboard forcing the ship to stop to retrieve her.

Although the attempts to train her didn't work out as hoped, she was still a valued member of the crew, alerting the sailors to the presence of river pirates and pointing out approaching Japanese aircraft using her superb hearing.

Later Judy was transferred to the HMS Grasshopper, a gunboat that in 1942 was attacked by Japanese aircraft. The attack forced the crew to abandon ship and head ashore to an island in the South China Sea. With no fresh water the future for the crew of the HMS Grasshopper, and its companion the HMS Dragonfly, looked bleak. But Judy was on hand to help the crew. Leonard Walter Williams, a British seaman who served on board HMS Grasshopper, recalled his memories of Judy in an interview for the Imperial War Museum:

"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."

"Judy was a saviour then. She was a marvellous life-saver."

In an attempt to be saved by the British forces, Judy and the sailors trekked for hundreds of miles to reach Padang in Sumatra, however the evacuation ships had already left and the Japanese were advancing to invade the city. When the Japanese forces arrived they took the survivors (and Judy) of the HMS Grasshopper as Prisoners of War and imprisoned them in a camp in Medan. North Sumatra.

It was in this camp in August 1942 that Judy and an aircraftman from Portsmouth, Frank Williams bonded. It began when Frank started to share his meagre rice rations with Judy and from that moment they were inseparable. Judy would protect Frank and the other POW by distracting the camp guards that were doling out punishments.

In June 1944, the Japanese announced to the prisoners that they would be transferred to Singapore on the SS Van Warwyck - but Judy had to be left behind. Leonard Williams recalled:

"We weren’t going to have that happen. Judy had been with us all that time."

"So we had a sack and we would train her to hop in the sack at a given signal and then we would put her on our shoulders. Judy was put in the sack and we carried her on board."

On June 26th 1944, the SS Van Warwyck was torpedoed by a British submarine, which was unaware that the ship was being used to transport British troops. Of the 700 prisoners on board, 500 were killed. But Judy emerged from the attack unscathed. Leonard Williams added:

"When we were torpedoed we heeled over and luckily Judy was by a port hole."

"We opened the port hole and Judy was pushed through and she ran down the ship’s side."

"Quite a few of us were lucky to get out at that particular time. A lot of people owe their lives to Judy. She was pushing pieces of wood towards people who couldn’t swim."

The survivors of the wreck swam towards a Japanese tanker and were hauled on board, the guards on board were not happy to see Judy amongst the POW and said that she would be killed as soon as they got to land. However, once back on land Judy's execution day never came. The former commander of the prisoner of war camp in Medan had taken a liking to Judy and intervened. He ordered that she be listed as an official Prisoner of War - meaning that she was now protected from execution and eligible for rations.

Judy was reunited with Frank and they stayed together for the rest of the war. Surviving several camp moves as well as gunshot wounds, alligator bites and attacks from wild dogs before the Japanese surrendered in August 1945.

Once back on British soil, Judy was presented the PDSA Dickin Medal - also known as the Victoria Cross for animals - which is the highest honour an animal can receive. Judy remained with Frank and died on 17 February 1960. She was buried in Tanzania, where Frank was working at the time. As a last tribute to his companion, Frank built a monument at the grave and attached a large metal plaque, which records the history of Judy’s life and all her daring feats.


  • Robin Rowling

    If you get the opportunity please read ‘No Better Friend’ by Robert Weintraub published by John Murray (Publishers)
    An Hachette UK Company. It is the complete true story of Judy and Frank Williams.

  • Stan R Fernando

    What an amazing story. RIP Judy, Frank and all those wonderful brave men.

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