Authors: Damien Lewis
Tags: #BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Military
The Unforgettable Story of the Dog Who Went to War and Became a True Hero
New York â¢ London
Â© 2014 by Damien Lewis
First published in the United States by Quercus in 2014
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â“Protected with a sting.”
âMotto of the Yangtze River gunboat HMS
“.Â .Â . even the mosquito was sick of the taste of blood.”
âAlice Renshaw, pupil at Pensby High School for Girls, on the Japanese POW camps of the Second World War
Special thanks are due to the following for their help in bringing this book to fruition. My literary agent, Annabel Merullo, her assistant, Laura Williams, and all the team at PFD, including but not limited to Rachel Mills and Alexandra Cliff. My film agent, Luke Speed. Richard Milner and Josh Ireland, my editors at Quercus, plus the entire team thereâincluding but not limited to David North, Patrick Carpenter, Jane Harris, Caroline Proud, Dave Murphy, and Ron Beard. Heartfelt thanks to you all. Thanks also to Simon Fowler, for your expert and tenacious research capabilities, and to Tean Roberts, for reaching out as you did to survivors and their families.
Special thanks are due to the following who gave freely of their time, their expertise, and/or their life experiences to enable me to bring this story to life on these pages. First and foremost Rouse Voisey, who shared his incredible life story with me. Rouse, I am hugely and forever in your debt. Captain George W. Duffy, for sharing your incredible life story, for your fantastic written work, and for the ongoing assistance and encouragement. Peter Fyans and Fergus Anckorn, author and subject of the book
The Conjuror on the Kwai
, which tells the story of Fergus's life and his extraordinary survival as a Japanese prisoner of war. Thank you for your time, your memories, and your help. You were and remain an enormous inspiration to me. Lizzie Oliver, for your inspiration and enthusiasm and for your grandfather's sketches and memories and for reading various
drafts. Meg Parkes, for your peerless expertise and your father's diaries and for your continuing assistance unto the very end. Phillip Wearne, for reaching out to some of the key people on my behalf, which proved invaluable. Adrienne Howell, of the Mere Literary Festival, for the generous introductions to those who were able to be of so much help in the writing of this book. David Tett, for the excellent volumes of postcards and correspondence from the POW camps. Henk Hovinga, for your persistence in getting your book to me and your steadfast help and advice. Les Parsons, for sharing some of your great uncle's experiences as a prisoner of war of the Japanese. Imogen Holmes, for sharing some of your father's experiences as a prisoner of war of the Japanese. Tony Spero, also for sharing some of your father's experiences as a prisoner of war of the Japanese. Tyson Milne, for sharing some of your grandfather's experiences as a prisoner of war of the Japanese. Amanda Farrell and Jonathan Moffatt, for your assistance in the research and for providing invaluable contacts. My thanks are also due to those others who were of assistance to me but preferred to remain unacknowledged.
Finally, special thanks to my wife, Eva, and to David, Damien Jr., and Sianna-Sarah, for putting up with Dad's grumpy hours spent locked away in his study writing. Again.
During the Second World War and the years leading up to it, Judy, the dog whose story is told in these pages, adopted many human companions. However, there are sadly few if any survivors from those years. Throughout the period of the research for and the writing of this book I have endeavored to contact as many of Judy's adopted human companions as possible, plus surviving family members of those who have passed away. If there are further witnesses to her incredible story who are inclined to come forward, please do get in touch with me. I may be able to include further recollections of this wonderful dog in future editions.
Particularly when dealing with the prisoner-of-war years there are few written accounts of what took place. So many people remember Judy, her companions, and their adventures: so few documented those memories. This is understandable. The time spent by Allied servicemen as prisoners of war of the Japanese was terribly traumatic, and many did not want to speak about it. Many chose to take their stories to their graves. I am very grateful to those few still living who felt able to speak to me. Moreover, memories tend to differ, and apparently none more so than those from an environment like the Far East prisoner-of-war camps, in which so many days felt like a repeat of the hellish days that went before. There were so few milestones with which to mark the passing of time or to anchor the memories.
The passage of the decades has also served to further obscure memory. The few written accounts that do exist also tend to differ in matters of detail. Locations and time scale are often somewhat uncertain. That being said, I have done my best to provide a comprehensible sense of place, chronology, and narrative to the story as told in these pages. In the POW years in particular the methodology I have used to reconstruct where and when events took place is the “most likely” scenario. If two or more testimonies or sources point to a particular time or place, I have opted to use that account as most likely. Where necessary I have re-created small sections of dialogue to aid the story's flow.
The above notwithstanding, any mistakes herein are entirely of my own making, and I would be happy to correct any in future editions. Likewise, although I have endeavored to locate the copyright holders of the photos, sketches, and other images used in this book, again this has not always been straightforward or easy. I would be happy to correct any mistakes in the future editions.
Dedicated to the members, coaches, players, and gladiators of Dorchester Rugby Football Club, Dorset, England.
Only one animal ever achieved the dubious accolade of being made an official prisoner of war of the Japanese in World War Two. It was a dog. She was a beautiful and regal-looking English pointer and perhaps one of the most extraordinary of our canine companions ever to grace this earth.
In September 1942 she was given Japanese prisoner-of-war number 81A-Medan.
Her real name was Judy, or Judy of Sussex as her shipmates came to call her, for she spent most of her service life as the mascot of the Royal Navy gunboats the
. But Judy of Sussex was much, much more than just a ship's dog. The way in which I came across her story drew me to it inexorably, convincing me that this was a tale that absolutely had to be told.
In the spring of 2013 I wrote a book called
(although I prefer the title my American publishers gave it,
The Dog Who Could Fly
). It tells the story of Ant, the extraordinary German shepherd puppy rescued from no-man's-land who went on to fly numerous sorties with the RAF in the Second World War. In recognition of his heroic wartime exploits Antâor Antis as he was renamedâwas awarded the Dickin Medal, more commonly known as the Animal VC.
Ant's master was the Czechâlater Britishâairman Robert Bozdech, with whom he flew into battle with RAF Bomber Command, was wounded, crash-landed, and faced death countless times. In
among the photos of the postwar Dickin Medal ceremonies, I found one that appeared to show Antis receiving his medal along with two other dogs. The animal to the right of the photo was a striking-looking liver-and-white English pointer.
There was something compelling about that image and the animal it portrayedâa sense somehow of the dog's extraordinary courage and spirit that spoke across the decades. When next I met the Bozdech familyâRobert Bozdech's surviving childrenâI showed them the photo and asked who the mystery dog might be. We were at Pip'sâthe eldest daughter'sâlovely Devon farmhouse, having a family get-together to celebrate the publication of the book telling their father and Antis's story.
Pip took a look at the photo. “I think that must be Judy. Yes, it's got to be her. Isn't she lovely? She's another Dickin Medal winner, and she has the most wonderful storyÂ .Â .Â .”
Pip told me the little she knew of Judy's wartime exploits. Indeed, it did sound quite remarkable. My curiosity piqued, I made a promise to myself to try to find out more about the dogâbut I was working on another book at the time, and any thoughts of looking into Judy's history fell by the wayside. That was until a second chance happening.
Some months later I was giving a talk at the fantastic Mere Literary Festival in green and leafy Wiltshire, in the south of England. At some stage after the talk I happened to mention to the festival organizer, the delightful Adrienne Howell, my interest in the story of the only animal ever to become a prisoner of war of the Japanese. She threw me a shrewd look, as if trying to assess just how much she should reveal to me.
“Well, you know, Mere has a long history associated with the prisoners of the Japanese in the Far East,” she remarked. Adrienne paused for moment and then went on: “In fact, my uncle was oneÂ .Â .Â . And there are any number of other POW families in the area. But the man you should really speak to is Phillip Wearne. His father, the Reverend Wearne, was a prisoner along with my uncle. He buried my uncle and brought the news of his death back to my grandparents.”
Adrienne very kindly offered to put me in touch with Philip Wearne, who she explained was very active in the FEPOW (Far East Prisoner of War) community.
“Of course,” she added, “we've all heard of Judy's story. She was simply a wonderful dog. Extraordinary. What she did on the ships and in the POW campsâwell, there's nothing quite like it.”
Two chance conversations; two people telling me the same thingâ
this dog was absolutely out of the ordinary
. My appetite for the story quickened. As Adrienne had predicted, Phillip Wearne was most forthcoming and helpful. He advised me that among others, I really needed to talk to one Lizzie Oliver. Her grandfather, Stanley Russell, was in the same camp as Judy, one of her many POW companions. And although it almost beggars belief, he'd somehow managed to keep a secret diary of his time in the camps, which, had it been discovered, could well have cost him his life at the hands of the Japanese and Korean guards.
Lizzie and I duly met at the Frontline Club, a London venue for those who write about, report on, or otherwise deal with the field of the front line and war. In the refined quiet of the wood-paneled club room, Lizzie explained to me that she was in the final stages of completing her Ph.D. on the Far East POW camps, much of which was inspired by her grandfather's diaries.
Her next comment to me was this: “Whenever you mention the Sumatran railway or the camps, everyone says: âOh, you mean the railway with the dog? Judy, wasn't it?' It's amazing: absolutely everyone you talk to remembers her with such affection.” She laughs. “There were
suffering there also, as well as a dog, but she seems more famous than the railway or the camps! That gives you a sense of just how much she was loved by all who came across her.”
Lizzie had a point. After serving for several wild, war-torn years as a ship's dog on the Royal Navy's Yangtze River gunboats, Judy had been bombed and shipwrecked repeatedly before ending up in the POW camps of north Sumatra, part of modern-day Indonesia. She and her fellow POWs had been forced to work on the so-called
hell railway, driving a single-track railway through impossible jungle and knife-cut mountains in the center of what was then a land of utter wilderness, a veritable world lost in time.
This wasn't the ThaiâBurma Death Railway, which is relatively well known todayâthe one immortalized in the 1957 film
The Bridge on the River Kwai
and more recently in the movie
The Railway Man
, starring Colin Firth. This was the
death railwayâone built over 2,000 kilometers away, in Sumatra, by the Japanese, using Allied POWs and locals as slave labor.
If anything its story is even darker. Today, few if any have heard of Sumatra's hell railway or the terrible horrors endured there. But people might just have heard of the camp's dogâJudy!
With some reverence, Lizzie produced from her bag a large and heavy bound bookâher grandfather's diary. “There's something I want to show you.” She opened the diary at a place that she'd bookmarked. “There.” She pointed at the page proudly. “Recognize it? So, who d'you think that is? It's unmistakably Judy. What other dog would ever look like that?”
Taking up half of one page was a hand-drawn sketch of a beautiful liver-and-white English pointer. She was snuffling about in the tropical undergrowth, seemingly searching for a rat to catch among the bamboo huts in which the prisoners were forced to live, packed in there like sardines.
“It's something that's almost never been written about,” Lizzie explained. “There's so much told about the horrors of the camps: the brutality, the unspeakable things that were done to the POWs. But those are the things they were forced to suffer. They had no choice, of course. That wasn't how they survived. In part they survived by the choices they madeâand keeping a dog or another pet was something that helped keep them going. It was a thread that pulled them back to a little piece of normality. It was something extra to keep alive for during a hard day's labor and to come back to at the end of the day. It offered a hint of home life, of family, of domesticated pets in the home.”
Lizzie told me I really had to go and see Rouse Voisey, a ninety-two-year-old veteran of the Japanese prison camps. As far as she
knew, he was the last living British survivor of the Sumatran railway, and no one would be better qualified to add layers of richness and texture to the story of the forgotten death railway and its celebrated dog. But before doing so I should meet Meg Parkes, she said. Meg's father had been a Japanese POW, and again, in a way that almost stretches credulity, he had managed to keep incredibly detailed diaries of his time in the camps.
The way in which a handful of POWs managed to keep these diaries is a gripping story in itself. More often than not they used scraps of paper scribbled on in the dead of night and then secreted in old jars or cans, which they buried in the camp graveyard. The two things the Japanese guards seemed utterly fearful of were insanity and death. Those POWs who had lost their minds were shunned by the Japanese, and anything to do with death was also to be avoided. It was their extreme necrophobiaâtheir fear of death and dead bodiesâthat made the graveyard such a perfect hiding place for the illicit diaries.
In due course I did meet with Meg, and she very kindly gave me a copy of her father's diaries, writings that spoke of the extraordinary relationship he had with a pet cat in the camps, among other animals. Meg echoed Lizzie's sentimentsâthat the whole history of how the POWs relied upon animals to help get them through their hellish ordeal had never really been written about. There were even camps wherein the POWs tamed and then trained pigeons to carry messages to and from the outside world either to secure news or to let the world know they were still alive.
Meg was involved in a fantastic school project with Pensby High School for Girls, in Wirral, in the northeast of England. Tom Boardman, then a ninety-two-year-old survivor of the POW camps, had come to the school to talk about his experiences. The eleven- and twelve-year-olds were asked to write short poems, imagining themselves to be an animalâany animalâin the camps. Meg gave me a copy of the booklet they'd produced with snippets of their poems. They were incredibly poignant.
“And the cat saidÂ .Â .Â . the prisoners stroke me and think of home. I like it, but I am afraid of the hunger in their eyes.” âElena Davies
“And the dog barkedÂ .Â .Â . why are we here? And why do some of us disappear?” âSophie Burns
“And the pigeon saidÂ .Â .Â . I'll carry their sad messages. I am their family and they are mine.” âAlice Renshaw
But there was no story to rival Judy's, Meg added. She was truly a dog in a million. Meg, like Lizzie, advised me that the one person I really did need to meet was Rouse Voisey. In due course I drove up to rural Norfolk to meet the man himself. My GPS took me to a pretty bungalow that looks out over wild woods and rolling fields lying to one side of the neat row of houses in which he has his home.
Rouse had clearly been awaiting my arrival. He greeted me on the garden stepsâan incredibly sprightly and sharp-looking ninety-two-year-old. We shook hands. He scrutinized me with a quick, piercing look, as if trying to appraise the caliber of the “young man” who had driven such a long way to speak to him about events that lay some seven decades in the past.
He glanced at the scenery, which was lit by a bleak winter's midday sun. “You know, on some days the birdsong is so loud that I can't hear myself greet my neighbors across the fence.” He smiled. “I love it here. You're very welcome.” He gestured to his half-open door. “Please, come in, come in.”
Rouse was a remarkable man, to put it mildly. Not only was he a survivor of Sumatra's railway hell, he'd lived through what by his own admission was a “worse” slave-labor project under the Japanese. He was among a group of Allied POWs who were forced to clear the coral island of Haruku of its jungle in order to hack out a landing strip from the bare rockâin preparation for Imperial Japan's planned invasion of Australia, something that of course never happened. Haruku is an island in the Moluccasâthe so-called Spice
Islandsâbut under the blistering sun and in the scorching heat and dust, building that runway had all but killed Rouse and so many of his fellows had died.
If that wasn't enough, he had then been loaded aboard one of Imperial Japan's so-called hell shipsârusting death traps used to transport POWs like slaves of old from one forced labor project to anotherâfor a journey that he feared would be his last. So ill was he that he could remember little of the voyage prior to the sinking of the ship, the
, by a British submarine. It was, at the time, the worst maritime disaster in history in terms of confirmed loss of life: some 5,600 Allied prisoners of war plus local slave laborers perished at sea.
Somehow Rouse survived the shipwreck. In doing so he made it to Sumatra to join the many hundreds of POWs slaving in that living hell. It was then that he first heard about Judy, the de facto mascot of the trans-Sumatran railway. As with all those who'd spoken before him, Rouse was unable to mention Judy's name or recall her memory without a warm smile. He glanced at a photo of his own dogânow deceasedâhanging on the living room wall.
“That was my dog, Shona. She was a tricolor English setter. She was the most loving, wonderful companion you could ever wish for. I used to take her to the office where I workedâshe'd sleep under my desk. She had the most lovely nature. I put the leg of my chair on her ear once by accident. She didn't snarl or bark at me. She just rolled her eyes and whined, as if to say,
Hey, that really hurts, you know
. I never got another dog after Shona. I couldn'tânot after her. And Judyâshe was exactly that kind of a dog. There wasn't another like her.”
Rouse went on to share with me stories from his time in the prison camps, with his fellows and their camp dogâones that perhaps he'd never discussed with anyone before, not even his recently deceased wife. He ended our chat with this:
“I was amazed that a dog could survive it all. That Judy outlived the hell of that placeâit was incredible. The Korean camp guards in particularâthey used to eat dogs. And they had the power of
life or death over us all. It makes you wonder how anyone got away with itâkeeping a dog like Judy. It's all part of the wonder of her story.”