Judy: Prisoner of War Dog Hero

Judy became famous in history as the only dog to be registered as a POW during WWII. She saved lives, protected prisoners from dangers and beatings, and was an inspiration of hope and a will to live.

Judy, a pure bred English pointer, was born in a Shanghai dog kennel in 1937. She was a Royal Navy mascot serving on the HMS Grasshopper when the ship was bombed and caught fire in February 1942. Judy and many of the ship's people survived, making it to shore on an uninhabited island with little food and no apparent water. Judy was credited with saving everyone's lives when she unearthed a fresh water spring. A few days later, the survivors traveled by boat and trekked 200 miles (Judy survived a crocodile attack during the journey) to Padang, where they were taken into custody as prisoners of war. The POWs were taken on a five day truck ride to the war camp in Medan, with Judy hidden beneath empty rice sacks.

Judy made it to the camp, and met Leading Aircraftman Frank Williams of the Royal Air Force (RAF). He saw the starving dog scrounging for food, and began sharing his meager portions of rice with her. The two bonded and would spend most of the rest of their days together. Judy was viewed as a guardian angel to the prisoners. She would alert the men of dangers like scorpions and poisonous snakes, and she would bark, snarl and lunge at the guards when they would beat the prisoners. The guards would often threaten to shoot Judy. Williams, knowing Judy's future was at stake, persuaded the drunk camp commandant to register the dog as a prisoner of war, thus protecting her from being killed. Judy officially became prisoner #81-A.

In June 1944, the prisoners were transferred to Singapore aboard the SS Van Waerwijck. Dogs were not allowed on the ship, but Williams smuggled her on board in a rice sack. The ship was torpedoed on June 26 and began to sink. In a desperate attempt to save Judy's life, Williams pushed her out of a small porthole with a 15 foot drop to the water. About 200 people died that day, but Williams managed to make it out alive. He spent two hours in the water, frantically searching for Judy. She was nowhere to be seen. Once ashore, Williams was recaptured and two days later sent to a new prison camp. He had given up on ever seeing Judy again. Miraculously, they were reunited. “When I entered the camp, a ragged dog jumped me from behind with a great amount of force, flooring me,” Williams recalled. “She was covered in bunker oil and her old, tired eyes were red.” Williams was in tears. His hope was renewed and his determination to survive was restored.

Williams learned about Judy's heroism on that fateful day - how she helped save many men from drowning by bringing debris to them to keep them afloat, or by letting the men hold onto her back while she swam them to safety.

After a few weeks, Williams (with Judy) and other POWs were sent to help construct a railway across Sumatra. The men worked 18 hours a day in searing heat. The work was brutal and their daily food ration was a handful of tapioca, which Williams continued to share with Judy. Williams contracted a deadly case of malaria and Judy was nearly shot, but both managed to survive. In August 1945, the war was over and the prisoners were liberated. Once again, Williams smuggled Judy aboard a ship, this time heading home to Liverpool.

British Officer Frank Williams & Judy

"Every day I thanked God for Judy," said Williams. "She saved my life in so many ways. The greatest way of all was giving me a reason to live. All I had to do was look at her and into those weary, bloodshot eyes and I would ask myself: What would happen to her if I died? I had to keep going." Other POWs drew strength from Judy. She was a symbol of hope and courage for hundreds of prisoners.

Judy was a hero, and was awarded the highest honor an animal could receive, the Dickin Medal, for her courage and service. The inscription on Judy’s Dickin Medal reads “For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps, which helped maintain morale among her fellow prisoners and also for saving many lives through her intelligence and watchfulness.”

Judy died in 1951 at the age of 14. Williams buried her in a specially made RAF coat and spent two months building a granite and marble memorial in her memory.