I didn’t expect my next World War 2 read to come from the book orders my child brought home from school.
However, my husband spotted Laurie Calkhoven’s middle grade book G.I. Dogs: Judy, Prisoner of War in the form, and it found its way into my Christmas stocking!
While the intended audience for this book is a few years younger than I, it was an engaging tale, full of fascinating information.
Judy, an English pointer, was born in the British-run Shanghai Dog Kennels in 1936. Adopted by Lt. Cmnd J.M.G. Waldegrave and Chief Petty Officer Charles Jeffrey, she became the mascot of British gunboat HMS Gnat, one of the many international gunboats that patrolled the Yangtze river.
Though bred to be a hunting dog, Judy didn’t have the knack. However, she had an almost uncanny ability to sense danger, alerting her crew to imminent threats from pirates, wild animals, and Japanese planes.
Tensions mounted as the Japanese began bombing Chinese cities in 1937, and rose further when they bombed the USS Panay and the HMS Ladybird. (The Japanese government claimed that the two incidents were an accident.)
Eventually, Judy left the Gnat for a new, more powerful gunboat, HMS Grasshopper. With Hitler’s invasion of Poland, the Grasshopper was given orders to sail to the British stronghold of Singapore, and Judy went along.
Singapore didn’t fare well once the Japanese invasion began. The Grasshopper went into service evacuating retreating troops, and, after Singapore’s fall, evacuating civilians. The crew hoped to escape to Java, then to the relative safety of Australia or India.
Suffice it to say, things did not go as they hoped.
Through the sinking of the Grasshopper, surviving on a desert island, and a perilous trek across the wilds of Sumatra, Judy guided and protected her humans.
However, she couldn’t protect them from all threats. On March 17, 1942, Judy’s group were taken as Japanese prisoners of war.
Judy continued to help them survive, hunting for vermin to supplement their near-starvation rations, protecting them from guards when she could, and lifting their spirits.
Her intelligence continued to shine, as she learned early on to “disappear” on command when hostile guards approached, and to remain still and silent enough to be smuggled onboard a ship (when her men were transferred to another camp) in a duffel bag.
As clever as she was, Judy was at risk. The guards didn’t care for dogs as pets, though with food so scarce some showed unwelcome interest in her. One of her campmates, Frank Williams, came up with a bold solution.
Judy had given birth to a little of puppies. Frank gifted the cutest of the pups to the camp’s colonel for his lady friend, who was fond of dogs. The colonel was so pleased that he granted Frank’s request that came along with the pup: he made Judy an official POW.
Without giving away Judy’s entire story, she and Frank did survive their ordeal, and she was awarded the Dickin Medal- the special award for British service animals.
Laurie Culkhoven’s book shares much more of the story of Judy and the humans she befriended as they struggled to survive their imprisonment, though the writing style is restrained enough for the intended audience.
She chose to tell the story in first person perspective, from Judy’s point of view. It’s been a while since I read a book that had a dog “talk,” but it worked for the story and would likely be less of a surprise for a younger reader.
At some point, I’d love to check out the nonfiction account of Judy’s life, pictured below.
However, if you are looking for a resource to share this story of courage and survival with middle grade readers, or would just like a quick read for yourself, Laurie Calkhoven’s GI Dogs: Judy, Prisoner of War is a great choice!
What about you- have you any stories to share or recommend?
As always, thanks for visiting!