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Canine heroes remembered on anniversary of VJ Day

Judy with her PDSA Dickin Medal

AS THE world gathered last week to commemorate Victory in Japan Day, and remember those who gave their lives in the Far East during the Second World War, we remember the contributions of just two of the many animals who played their parts, Judy and Gander.

Judy, a pure-bred English pointer, was the only dog to be officially registered as a WWII Prisoner of War, and her steadfast and life-saving devotion to her fellow Prisoners of War through almost three years of incarceration during the war in the Far East earned her a PDSA Dickin Medal in 1945.

Her citation reads: ‘For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps, which helped to maintain morale among her fellow prisoners and also for saving lives through her intelligence and watchfulness.’

Royal Navy mascot Judy was born in Shanghai in 1937. As a puppy she served on several British warships each time narrowly escaping death by a whisker. But it was as the mascot of the HMS Grasshopper, part of the defence fleet in the Far East that her wartime adventures really began.

After the ship was hit and crippled by torpedo blasts in 1942 Judy and the surviving crew members found themselves marooned on an island off Sumatra and destined to die for lack of fresh water. Judy’s ability to sniff out a fresh water spring saved their lives. It was the dog’s first life-saving act, but not the last.

Despite the crew’s desperate attempt to walk to safety and catch a boat to Pedang, they inadvertently walked into a Japanese occupied village. The men and Judy were immediately intercepted and transported to a Prisoner of War camp.

It was at the camp in Medan in August 1942 that Judy attached herself to Leading Aircraftsman Frank Williams. The young British airman shared his meagre rice ration with Judy and from that moment she never left his side. Judy protected Frank and his colleagues by distracting the camp guards when they were administering punishment to the prisoners. The men risked a beating each time they stepped in to protect their canine friend.

In an attempt to secure official protection for Judy, Frank Williams persuaded the camp commandant to officially register Judy as a Prisoner of War. Listed as POW 81A Medan, Judy stepped into the history books as the only registered canine. The deal was secured with the gift to the commandant of one of Judy’s puppies, sired by a ‘local’ visitor to the camp.

A change of camp in 1944 placed Judy back in danger. She had survived the transfer journey, the ship being sunk and a month of holding the prisoners in Singapore but what lay ahead was a test of strength and character for men and dog. For 14 months the men and Judy moved from camp to camp as part of the giant captive workforce used to construct thousands of miles of railway through the jungle of Sumatra.

Once again Judy was under threat. She shared Frank’s daily ration of a handful of rice but at the sound of Frank’s order to ‘scramble!’ she headed away from the guards and towards the relative safety of the dense jungle. She survived gunshot wounds, alligator bites, attacks from wild dogs and the feared Sumatran tiger to witness the Japanese surrender in August 1945. Judy was de-mobbed with Frank, and for one last time he and his fellow survivors smuggled their faithful dog on board ship. This time it was a troop ship bound for Liverpool and freedom.

After spending six-months in quarantine, Judy emerged to national adoration. She was presented with her PDSA Dickin Medal at the Returned Prisoner of War Association headquarters in London. At the same time PDSA awarded Frank Williams the White Cross of St. Giles to recognise his unstinting devotion to Judy.

Gander’s story

More than 700 Canadian ‘Far East Theatre’ war veterans will gather in Ottawa on 13-15th August to celebrate the 60th anniversary of VJ Day and commemorate the lives of the thousands lost in the cruel battle to halt the Japanese invasion of the Far East.

They will also be remembering the sacrifice of one other old soldier, Sergeant Gander - the canine mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada and posthumous recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross and highest honour for animal valour.

Gander, a huge Newfoundland, was killed intercepting a grenade intended for a group of wounded Canadians during the Battle of Lye Mun on Hong Kong Island in December 1941. The PDSA Dickin Medal, named after its founder Maria Dickin, was presented to the Hong Kong Veterans Association of Canada at a special ceremony during their last convention in Ottawa in October 2000.

Derrill Henderson, Secretary of the Hong Kong Veterans Association of Canada stated, “Gander was a canine mascot but to the men who served alongside him he will always be Sergeant Gander, a fellow soldier. When we gather at the War Memorial on 14 August to remember the thousands of comrades lost in the War in the Far East we will remember Gander, a Canadian canine hero.”

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