Chance discovery of “animal VC” announcement for Britain’s only POW dog

The official announcement awarding the “animal VC” to the only dog ever to be officially registered as a British prisoner of war has been discovered at The National Archives.

Judy, a liver-and-white pointer, was torpedoed, wounded by shrapnel, bitten by an alligator and shipwrecked on a deserted island off Sumatra during the Second World War. Her narrow escapes came while serving as the mascot of the river gunboats HMS Gnat and HMS Grasshopper, part of the defence fleet in the Far East.

Judy was awarded the Dickin Medal for Gallantry, known as the animal VC, by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals in 1946 for saving the lives of her human companions during these incidents.

The letter announcing the award was found in a file about animal awards by an historian researching The National Archives’ current exhibition Great Escapes: Remarkable Second World War Captives.

Head of Modern Collections, Dr William Butler, said: “We hold many  recommendations for the Dickin Medal for animals during the Second World War but it was the letter of recommendation for Judy, buried amongst all the other letters, which really stood out. It really emphasised what an incredible life she had.”

Judy’s story is an extraordinary one. Stationed on the Yangtze River before the war on the gunboat HMS Gnat, Judy was able to detect the approach of river pirates before her human companions.

She was on HMS Grasshopper which was sunk by the Japanese in February 1942 during the evacuation of Singapore. The crew abandoned ship and rowed to an uninhabited island, realising afterwards that Judy was not with them. She was discovered trapped below decks under fallen lockers by a crewman sent back to the wreckage of Grasshopper to salvage food.

There was no fresh water on the island and the prospects of survival looked slim until the pointer managed to dig down to a spring on the shoreline. The shipwrecked crew believed she ensured their survival. She also protected them from snakes.

Judy was bitten by a crocodile as the survivors later trekked 200 miles through the Sumatran jungle in a failed attempt to reach an evacuation ship.

En route the crew were captured by the Japanese in March 1942 and taken to Gloegoer prisoner of war camp in northern Sumatra, where Judy met Leading Aircraftman Frank Williams, who shared his rice ration with her.

On more than one occasion Japanese guards threatened to shoot her, so Frank Williams persuaded the commandant to register her as an official prisoner of war to give her some protection.

During a move to another camp in June 1944 Frank and his dog survived a second shipwreck when transport ship Harugiku Maru was sunk by HMS Truculent as it carried prisoners of war to Pakanbaroe in Sumatra. Survivors of this incident reported that Judy pushed pieces of flotsam towards POWs struggling in the water.

Frank Williams and Judy were reunited after the sinking. At the end of the war he smuggled her on to the troopship Antenor which returned them to Liverpool.

After six months of quarantine for Judy, the announcement came that she would receive the Dickin Medal, which was presented at the headquarters of the Returned British Prisoners of War Association in May 1946. Frank Williams received the White Cross of St Giles in recognition of his care for Judy.

This extraordinary story features in The National Archives’ free exhibition Great Escapes: Remarkable Second World War Captives which runs until 21 July.


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