‘Judy’ the dog is the World War II Hero Who Saved Countless Lives and Survived Sinking Ships! 

‘Judy’ the dog is the World War II Hero Who Saved Countless Lives and Survived Sinking Ships! 

During World War II, an unexpected hero emerged—a pure-bred, liver-and-white English Pointer named Judy. Born in Shanghai, Judy became a ship’s mascot for the Royal Navy. Her journey took her from the decks of HMS Gnat and HMS Grasshopper to a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. Through her journey, she did not just survive sinking ships but also saved countless lives.

Judy had a unique skill to sense incoming aircraft before the human crew could and saved the ships from many air raids. But her bravery doesn’t stop there. She saved the Navy ship crew from Japanese soldiers, sinking ships, and even when the crew got stranded on an abandoned island.

Frank Williams, an aircraftsman took Judy under his wing and they had a special bond with each other. But their journey was far from easy. They lost each other once as their ship sank. Let’s have a look at the full story of Judy the dog and Frank.

Judy The ‘Guardian Angel’ of The Crew!

Judy was born in February 1936 at the Shanghai Dog Kennels, a boarding facility for English expatriates in China. She was one of seven puppies and was initially named Shudi. After escaping from the kennel and living on the streets for a while, Judy was returned to the kennel, only to find her mother and siblings gone.

In the autumn of 1936, the crew of the HMS Gnat decided to get a ship’s mascot. The crew called her the ‘guardian angel.’ The Captain and Chief Bosun’s mate purchased Judy and presented her to the crew. Judy was listed as Judy of Sussex in her Royal Navy paperwork, but the crew quickly realized she was more of a pet than a working gundog.

Image source: Gov. UK

Life on HMS Gnat

Aboard HMS Gnat, Judy was assigned to Able Seaman Jan “Tankey” Cooper, who took care of her. Despite her rough start, Judy quickly became an important part of the crew. Judy had a unique ability to sense incoming aircraft before the human crew could. Her keen senses helped protect the ship from many attacks.

One of the most notable incidents was when Judy fell overboard into the Yangtze River. The crew launched a full rescue operation, treating it as a “man overboard” exercise. Judy had a knack for navigating the river and gladly she survived!

Image source: Gov.UK

Surviving A Sinking Ship and Saving Lives

In June 1939, Judy transferred with part of the crew to the ship ‘HMS Grasshopper.’ After the British declaration of war on Germany, the ship was sent to Singapore. Judy’s journey took a dangerous turn during the Battle of Singapore. Grasshopper was bombed and sunk while evacuating personnel. Judy got trapped below deck. Fortunately, he was rescued by a crew member who returned for supplies.

Judy found herself stranded on a deserted island with the rest of the surviving crew from HMS Grasshopper. They walked miles without water when Judy finally found a freshwater source. She saved everyone from dehydration. The crew then embarked on a 200-mile journey through the jungle, during which Judy survived a crocodile attack and continued to protect the men from other dangers.

Image source: War History Online / Country life / Daily Mail

Only Dog Prisoner of War & Meeting Frank Williams

The Japanese captured the stranded crew of HMS Grasshopper. Judy and the crew were then taken to the Gloegoer prisoner-of-war camp in Medan. There, Judy met Leading Aircraftsman Frank Williams. Frank held out his hand and offered her a bit of his rice. From that moment Judy never left his side.

Frank adopted her and convinced the camp Commandant, Colonel Banno to register her as an official prisoner of war. Judy was given the number ’81A Gloegoer Medan,’ becoming the “only dog registered as a POW during the war.”

Image source: PDAS / FOX News

Judy’s presence in the camp was invaluable. She boosted the morale of the prisoners and alerted them to threats. Even when guards or dangerous animals approached them. Despite all the harsh conditions, she even managed to have a litter of puppies. This was promised to the Commandant as part of her registration deal.

Image source: War History Online

Frank Hid Judy In Rice Sacks!

By June 1944, the men and Judy were moving from the camp. Colonel Banno transferred making Captain Nishi the new commandant. He hated dogs and quickly issued strict regulations regarding Judy. Frank and the men couldn’t abandon Judy.

Frank came up with a plan and perfected a series of low whistles and hand signals to communicate with Judy. Judy was able to join the men on the transfer journey. Judy was hidden inside rice sacks and she managed to remain still and quiet. She didn’t move a muscle or make a sound even when the Japanese guards kept the prisoners for hours in the heat.

Image source: Irish Framers Journal

Judy Was Thrown Out of A 10-inch porthole!

On 26 June 1944, a day after their journey on the Van Warwyck, it was hit by a torpedo. The only way of escaping for Judy was through a 10-inch porthole. Frank pushed her out having no choice and then joined his colleagues to exit the ship. Swimming in the oily, burning water, Judy lost contact with Frank. But Frank believed that she would reappear in his life – because she always did. Frank was not ready to lose her.

Judy Saving More People and Almost Losing Her Life!

Survivors of the sinking ship told her heroic acts. They have last seen Judy bringing people ashore by letting them hold onto her body. She delivered them one by one. After taking one to the shore, she returned to the water to save another. Judy was finally rescued by one of the men and she was exhausted from the sea.

Survived At last!

While on the lookout for Judy in the River Valley Camp in Singapore, something suddenly hit Frank between the shoulders. It was his mate Judy! Judy was covered in oil and her eyes were red. But Frank was more than happy to have her back.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes! As I walked through the gate, a scraggly dog hit me square between the shoulders and knocked me over. I’d never been so glad to see the old girl! Judy saved my life in so many ways. But the greatest of all was giving me a reason to live.”

Frank Williams

Post-War Recognition & Reuniting With Frank

After the war, Judy was smuggled aboard a troopship heading to Liverpool. Upon arrival in the UK, she spent six months in quarantine. During this time, an appeal raised funds to cover the quarantine costs, and Judy was eventually released to Frank.

Judy was awarded the prestigious Dickin Medal, often referred to as the animals’ Victoria Cross, for her bravery and service. She and Frank continued to live together in post-war Britain, making public appearances and raising money for charities. Judy’s story was celebrated in the media, and she became known as “Gunboat Judy.”

In 1948, Frank and Judy moved to East Africa to work on a government-funded project. Despite their adventurous life, Judy developed a mammary tumor and was euthanized in 1950 at the age of nearly 14. Frank built a memorial for her in Tanzania, remembering her incredible journey and the lives she touched.

Image source: The Irish Times


Judy’s story is a testament to courage, loyalty, and resilience. From her early days in Shanghai to her heroic acts during World War II, Judy exemplified the spirit of survival against all odds. Her legacy continues to inspire, reminding us of the extraordinary bonds between humans and animals and the profound impact one dog can have on countless lives. Judy’s story is not just one of a war hero but also a symbol of unwavering loyalty and bravery in the face of adversity.

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