True World War 11 story of an English Pointer named Judy

Ron Cuthbert of North Bay (shown right), Ontario, brought the true story of a remarkable English Pointer named Judy to my attention. This photo shows Ron with two other soldiers and puppies from Judy’s first litter. The details of Judy’s history are extrapolated from a long out-of-print book by E. Varley, The Judy Story.

Before immigrating to Canada after the Second World War, Ron had joined the British Royal Navy in 1935 and spent 2 ½ years based in Bermuda attending torpedo school. This was the time when Imperial Japan was planning the eventual domination of the Eastern world. Its primary targets were Great Britain and America. By February 1939 Ron began serving on one of Britain’s gunboats, the H.M.S. Tern, which patrolled six hundred miles up the Yangstze River in China.

Approximately six hundred miles of the lower areas of the river were patrolled by small gunboats. Each gunboat was given the name of an insect. Today we might call them bug boats. The canteen committee of the Gnat wanted to get a pet. The Bee already had two cats, the Cricket had a dog, and the Cicada had a monkey.

It was then that Quartermaster introduced a purebred brown and white English Short-Haired Pointer puppy he’d picked up at the Shanghai Dog Kennels. Her Chinese name, Shudi, meaning ‘peaceful’ and was changed to Judy. The puppy was given an official ship’s book number, an open topped box for her sleeping quarters, and a ship’s blanket. Judy had joined the Navy.

Not long after her arrival, Judy crawled through a portside guardrail onto slippery steel plates outboard and fell into the fast running river. Her rescue was greeted with cheers of relief. Many a man had been lost in the treacherous Yangstze River. From then on, Judy was on full alert.

She became adept at warning her crew of the presence of river pirates, barking and baring her teeth at their silent approach. She quickly became a favourite with the men, wandering among them, chewing offered peanuts, accepting pats. Judy took part in all shipboard activities, leaving her puppyhood behind her as the weeks and months went by. In the Spring of 1937, the Yangstze Flotilla Flagship, the Bee, arrived at Hankow to relieve the Gnat. A number of Judy’s good friends left on board the Bee.

Japanese action in the area became increasingly dangerous. The gunboat men sympathized with the Chinese people who lived along the shores of the great Yangstze River. When families asked that their riverboat homes be tied up to the gunboats for safety, they were never refused. Judy extended her friendship to everyone aboard the Gnat and to the many Chinese merchants and families along the shoreline.

During one visit to Hankow the Gnat tied up beside a French gunboat which also had a dog, another pedigreed Pointer, aboard. For the two dogs it was love at first sight, a union which resulted in Judy’s first offspring, thirteen puppies. Pups Jocylin and Jessica from this litter are seen with Ron Cuthbert in the photograph. As the weeks went by, the boat teemed with puppies galloping about on fat little legs. Eventually they were dispersed to Consular officials and their families as well as local river steamers and fans of Judy.

By 1939 the gunboats had become old and in June of that year part of the Gnat’s company, including Judy, were transferred to the Grasshopper. The gunboats continued to patrol the river, but when war was declared on Germany in September of 1939, the Admiralty signaled the entire withdrawal of gunboats from the great river. The Gnat, Ladybird, Cockchafer, Cricket, and Tarantula all followed the Scorpion, Dragonfly and Grasshopper to Singapore. Judy, new girl on a strange ship, sailed away from the Gnat which had been her home for three years. After overcoming seasickness, Judy enjoyed a happy and carefree period, unaware of the forces of history that were to overtake her and her human companions.

Things came to a head on Sunday, December 7, 1941, when planes from six Japanese aircraft carriers attacked the U. S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. Japanese forces went on to also air bomb Hong Kong and the Philippines. On Christmas Day, 1941, Hong Kong surrendered to the Japanese, leaving Singapore as the next obvious target.

During the next two months Judy saw action big time. When the Grasshopper’s guns opened up, she didn’t panic or cry or howl but she stuck it out like the rest of the gunboat’s crew. She became, in fact, a reliable early warning system, barking in the right direction before enemy planes appeared, and she was reliably quiet when stealth in the darkness of night was required.

By early 1942, the Grasshoppper, several other gunboats, and a few other even smaller vessels continued to be in demand, but the little ships were increasingly limited in their effect because of the Japanese advances on land and their overwhelming superiority at sea and in the air. Then came the fall of Singapore. A number of Judy’s soldier friends were to die in the terrible days that followed. The crew of the Grasshopper took aboard escaping children and women. Judy, sensing the gravity of the situation, personally welcome aboard every newcomer. The children were her main concern; she walked around the ship with them, played with them, even slept with them. When the Grasshopper was bombed, Judy remained calm, even as the Commander gave the order to abandon ship.

Both civilians and seamen made their way to shore, but no one realized that Judy was not with them. When a second bomb hit the vessel, a row of seamen’s lockers toppled and somewhere beneath them lay Judy.

A quick thinking seaman requested permission to swim to the sinking Grasshopper to see if he could fashion a raft and salvage anything aboard. Once aboard, he heard a whine. He recognized the voice. It was Judy. He freed the dog and she slowly got to her feet, shook herself and leaped up and down like a lamb.

Lack of fresh water became a very serious problem for the survivors. As if sensing the problem, and likely driven by her own thirst, Judy began to dig down into the wet sand where the tide had receded. Whining excitedly, she dug with purpose. Some of the men, seeing her, joined in, stopping when fresh clear water surged up from the bottom. Judy had saved the day!

Five days after the bombing of the Grasshoppe,r the survivors were taken off the island by a large whaling ship. It eventually made it to Padang in Sumatra where it was hoped that British and Australian naval vessels were waiting to carry them to Colombo and freedom. What they didn’t know was that by this time South Sumatra had fallen into Japanese hands. At Rengat, when the boats could go no further into the jungle, local people advised the survivors that they would have to travel the next 170 miles on foot.

Spurred on by the expectation of ships waiting at Padang, the survivors made stretchers for the wounded and the sick who were unable to walk. With Judy loping ahead leading the way, they set off along the beaten track beside the river. At one point during the trek she suffered a gash on her shoulder by a lurking crocodile. Judy’s injury required an unscheduled pause at an abandoned warehouse where her wound was cleaned. The trek took five weeks in the humid jungle. When they finally reached Padang, it was at the very time when it was being surrendered to the Japanese.

Departure from the peninsula was forbidden and they became Japanese prisoners of war. Women and children were kept in one camp, men in another. The men tried to explain to the Camp Commandant that Judy was an official member of the Royal Navy but were ignored. No official ration came her way, and she was forced to stalk and kill her own food which was made up of rats, snakes, lizards and birds. She became a first class scrounger.

During daylight hours, Judy was closely watched for her own safety because the Japanese soldiers didn’t like her at all. But at night she quietly slipped out through one of the open windows, crawled through a small gap under a wire meshed gate, and disappeared into the darkness to forage.

Months went by. There was no reliable news of the outside world. One day, half the prisoners at Padang were ordered to move to a seaport in North Sumatra. Four of Judy’s closest human friends decided it would be safer for the dog if she went with them. They climbed into their transport truck, patted her, and covered her with rice sacks. Whenever stops were made during the four day journey, she remained hidden under the sacks. At their destination, the men were housed together in an old Dutch army barracks. Again, Judy looked after herself, sneaking out of the camp whenever she could in search of food. These forays outside the camp grew increasingly dangerous as all dogs in the area were hunted, shot, and eaten. Inside the camp itself she moved around freely and openly, but giving the Japanese or Korean guards a wide berth.

It was about this time that Judy met the young Royal Air Force technician, Frank Williams who was to become her number one human being. As the months passed and the food situation deteriorated, Judy did her best to contribute to the company larder. Although bartering was punishable by death, it flourished. Judy would enter the camp from one of her dangerous forays and would not loosen her grip on the rat or snake she had caught until she could lay it at the feet of Frank Williams.

One day Frank noticed that Judy was pregnant. The men worried that with her growing plumpness she would be considered an even better addition to the stewpot. When her nine puppies were born, five survived. Frank offered one of the pups to the Camp Commandant’s girlfriend who, whenever she saw Judy, was friendly to her. The Commandant accepted the gift and Frank took the chance of requesting again that Judy be made an official prisoner-of-war. Surprisingly, the Colonel agreed and scrawled the official order on a sheet of paper. Before morning, Judy was wearing her own tag, clearly marked “81A Medan”. Her four remaining pups were a great morale booster and one was eventually adopted by the Dutch Women’s Prison Camp.

Unfortunately, when a new Commandant took over the camp, things quickly deteriorated. The man disliked Judy and dismissed her new status. The POWs were made to work harder than ever. When an order arrived announcing that that the men be shipped to Singapore, the new Commandant ordered that Judy remain behind in camp Medan. But Frank was determined to smuggle Judy with them. By this time she had become a rangy, scruffy looking animal with dull skin and protruding ribs. Frank’s plan was to carry her in a sack at certain stages of the journey where any guards might see her. At other times he would have to depend on her strict obedience and her understanding of his hand signals.

First, Judy had to learn how to get in and out of the sack as quickly as possible at the click of Frank’s fingers. More than seven hundred men assembled to move together out of Medan camp. Aware of the risk they were taking, several men formed a screen around Frank as he took a blanket out of his sack and clicked his fingers. Judy bounded over into the sack and Frank hoisted it over his shoulder. This is how Judy boarded the waiting train.

When the train arrived dockside, Frank released the dog and Judy disappeared underneath the train. As the prisoners drew up in ranks along the dock, they were counted and inspected. Seven hundred men kept silent as Judy crawled on her stomach between their ranks until she reached Frank who again removed the blanket from his sack, helped her into the sack, and lifted her onto his shoulder.

The men were ordered onto an old, rusty ex-Dutch tramp steamer ship. On the morning of June 26, 1944, two Japanese torpedoes struck the ship and killed more than five hundred of the seven hundred prisoners crammed into its holds. Frank Williams was swept overboard and tread water for two hours until, exhausted, he was helped aboard a Japanese tanker. In the meantime Judy, also thrown into the sea, allowed a man swimming at her side to fling his arm across her back. When friendly hands lifted her from the water, she was more dead than alive. But there was no time to treat her as the heroine she was,she had to be hidden from the threat of execution.
Judy in tow, the surviving prisoners were transported to River Valley Camp where she was reunited with Frank Williams. After several difficult weeks in this camp they were sent to another camp in central Sumatra. This involved another forced march. Judy hung onto life, but only because Frank carried the sore and hungry dog over the more difficult parts of the journey through dangerous swamps and across precarious bridges.

At thisdestination in Sumatra the soldiers were ordered to lay 3,000 miles of railway tracks, a project the Dutch had abandoned before the war because of its difficulty and cost. They suffered from the effects of hard labour, beri-beri and cerebral malaria which were two common diseases in the jungle. And they were always hungry. Frank was down to half his normal weight. Judy was half starved, always on the hunt for food. At night she foraged for food which she would lay at Frank’s feet to contribute to the stew pot. Even the guards appreciated her contributions of protein in the form of rodents and local snakes.

During these days of hard labour, malnutrition and disease, rumours spread that the Japanese were accepting the possibility of defeat. Perhaps the end of war was in sight. When peace was finally announced, it came just in time for Judy who had started to snarl at the guards. Then suddenly one morning all the guards were gone. Warned by their own High Command, they had fled before they could be taken prisoners by the advancing forces of the allies. By this time Judy and her human soldiers had spent 3 ½ years as POWs.

Suddenly food and equipment began to pour into the camp: clothes, meat, vegetables, eggs, bread and even books. Slowly the men were evacuated. Frank received his papers that indicated his departure for England aboard a troopship. The order, however, stated that no pets of any kind were allowed aboard. Not wanting to leave Judy behind after all this time and her ever valiant efforts, Frank waited until there wasn’t much activity near the ship. He boarded, waited while nearby men were deep in conversation, and then whistled for Judy to join him up the gangway. Three days into the journey, when the ship was well on its way to Britain, the dog’s presence on ship was disclosed. Messages were sent to England requesting permission for Judy to land.

While on board ship, the dog was able to regain her strength. Once docked in England, she was obliged to enter quarantine for six months. She survived quarantine too, aided by frequent visits from Frank.

By the time she was released from quarantine, word had got out. Judy was famous. Frank Williams was awarded the White Cross of Saint Giles. Judy the Short-Haired English Pointer received the Dickin Medal and a citation which read:

For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps, thus helping to maintain morale among her fellow prisoners and for saving many lives by her intelligence and watchfulness.

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