No Better Friend: Young Readers Edition

A Man, a Dog, and Their Incredible True Story of Friendship and Survival in World War II


By Robert Weintraub

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Discover an extraordinary tale of friendship and survival between a man and a dog in World War II in this young readers’ adaptation of the New York Times bestseller No Better Friend.

No Better Friend tells the incredible true story of Frank Williams, a radarman in Britain’s Royal Air Force, and Judy, a purebred pointer, who met as prisoners of war during World War II. Judy, who became the war’s only official canine POW, was a fiercely loyal dog who sensed danger–warning her fellow prisoners of imminent attacks and protecting them from brutal beatings. Frank and Judy’s friendship, an unbreakable bond forged in the worst circumstances, is one of the great recently unearthed stories of World War II.

As they discover Frank and Judy’s story in this specially adapted text, young readers will also learn about key World War II moments through informative and engaging sidebars, maps, photographs, and a timeline.


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World War Two would bring them together, but it took a while before Frank Williams met Judy, the dog who would become his best friend.

They came of age a world apart. Judy was born in 1936 in Shanghai, China, in a kennel for dogs belonging to British citizens. When she was just a few weeks old, Judy escaped from her outdoor pen to run free in the busy, dangerous city. She wasn't ready to be on her own when she was so young and delicate. She nearly starved, but a kindly shopkeeper provided her with enough food to survive. One day, some Japanese sailors entered the store. There was an argument, and the sailors beat up the old shop owner. Judy came in to investigate, and one of the Japanese men kicked her across the street.

This turned out to be a lucky break for the young English pointer, for she was discovered shortly afterward, shivering in a doorway, by a girl who worked at Judy's kennel. The girl brought the pup back for a warm bath and a large supper. She also gave the dog a name, calling her shudi, which meant "peaceful one" in the local Chinese dialect. The head of the kennel, a British woman, changed this to "Judy."

Within a few weeks, Judy was adopted. Most dogs in the kennel were placed in local homes, but Judy's new home was a boat—a warship, actually. England kept a small part of its Royal Navy in China, and a fleet of small, maneuverable gunboats sailed on the Yangtze River, the largest river in the country and the third longest in the world. The gunboats protected British commercial interests in the area, fighting local pirates and warlords when they threatened Western trade.

Judy was taken in by the sailors aboard one of these gunboats, HMS Gnat. She was meant to be the ship's mascot but quickly proved to be more than that. Her barks provided warnings when pirates approached, and she showed an uncanny ability to sense when aircraft were nearby. This proved especially useful when war broke out between China and Japan in 1937 (see sidebar). While the British were officially neutral, all Western ships, including American boats, were harassed and occasionally attacked by Japanese planes. Judy howled, barked, and generally made a racket when she detected a plane in the area. The gunboat crew knew what that meant—get to the guns, pronto!

Judy's first true home, the Yangtze River gunboat HMS Gnat.

Judy shows she can follow orders as well as any sailor.

Time and again, Judy surely saved the boat with her warnings. Once, though, she herself needed rescue. Early in her time aboard the Gnat, she fell overboard. The Yangtze River is muddy and fast-running, and Judy wasn't a natural swimmer. Fortunately, a sailor immediately yelled, "Man overboard!" (Wrong species, right spirit.) A motorboat was sent out to fetch Judy before she could drown.

If that was the lowlight of Judy's time in China, the highlight was the birth of her puppies. She became enamored of another English pointer, named Paul, who was aboard a French gunboat on the Yangtze. Shortly afterward, Judy became a mother. She gave birth to a litter of ten puppies, who soon swarmed the ship on their chubby little legs, gnawing on slipcovers, ammo belts, canvas sails, and everything else that wasn't metal. They also left puddles all over the boat. Because of the trouble they caused, the pups were given away, mostly to lucky local families.

Judy's first litter, born in 1938, contained ten pups who lived. The father was another pointer, named Paul. The mother's legs are in the background.

Several of Judy's pups take a stroll on the ship's deck.

Judy met many of these locals when she headed ashore with her crew mates. A favorite canteen offered a delicious assortment of ice cream, and Judy quickly learned to love the sweet stuff, always begging for a bowlful. Once, her plaintive whines went unanswered, so she ambled behind the bar and pulled out a large carton of vanilla, which she dragged into the center of the room. After that, she always received her scoop in short order. She also ambled along with her crew mates on exercise runs and played soccer and field hockey with them. She would play on both teams in hockey, dashing in to grab the ball and deposit it in whichever goal struck her fancy. When the game ended, the sailors subtracted Judy's "goals" from the total score to determine the winner.

One thing she never did, however, was "point"—the very hunting aid she was bred to perform. She couldn't grasp the method of standing stiffly and staring toward birds in the bushes so that the crew could shoot them for dinner, but she was great at alerting her friends to danger.

Thanks to her friendly manner and ability to warn the ship of impending danger, Judy became a treasured member of the crew.

Judy would happily have gone on living a fulfilling life in China, but the threat of world war (see sidebar) was gathering, and she was, after all, in the service of the Royal Navy. First, she was transferred to a new gunboat, HMS Grasshopper, which was bigger and faster than the Gnat. She followed along as the Grasshopper was transferred out of China to Singapore, site of Britain's largest naval base in the Pacific.

Frank Williams wound up in Singapore as well, though he wouldn't meet his future best friend in the Lion City. He grew up in the seaside town of Portsmouth, England. Frank was born in 1919; his father died when Frank was young. Frank and his five brothers and sisters (he was the second oldest) shared a small house with another family, a crowded situation Frank did his best to escape as often as possible. When he was a kid, this meant tooling around town on his bicycle, but once he turned sixteen, Frank joined the merchant navy (the British version of the American merchant marine), working on a ship as it carried supplies around the world. A few years later, with war threatening Europe, Frank joined the Royal Air Force (RAF). He loved flying and airplanes, but alas, he was too tall to be a pilot. Instead, he became a mechanic, specializing in radar systems, which at the time represented a brand-new, vital technology that would allow Frank and other "radarmen" to detect the presence of enemy aircraft in time to prepare for an attack.

HMS Grasshopper was an upgraded gunboat that replaced the Gnat to become Judy's new home in 1938.

Frank arrived in Singapore with a new, top secret radar unit in the summer of 1941.


Judy spent the months before the start of the Pacific war (the war was already well under way in Europe by now) performing routine patrol duties aboard the Grasshopper and relaxing in the homes of local officials in the Singapore government and military.

Frank's radar unit didn't have it so good. Immediately, problems cropped up. Equipment failed, and replacement parts were hard to come by. The ancient planes they had to work with, far less modern than the RAF aircraft that had won the Battle of Britain (see sidebar), weren't up to snuff. But there was no fighting yet, and the men enjoyed Singapore greatly.

On December 7, 1941, that changed drastically. The Japanese attacked the US Navy base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii (see sidebar). It was part of a broader wave of invasions across the Pacific by the Japanese, one that included Siam (now Thailand) and Malaya (now Malaysia). Both nations were close to Singapore, the center of strength for the British Empire in Asia. The island had a huge military presence, including the large naval base, and it was considered invulnerable. Certainly, few there were concerned about the Japanese.

This turned out to be a mistake, because the Japanese, led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the "Tiger of Malaya," swept through the British defenses in a matter of weeks. By February, they had conquered Siam and Malaya and were entering Singapore itself. Frank and the air force he served with were ineffective, and the Japanese established total air superiority over Singapore. They sank the majority of Britain's large naval ships in the Pacific and relentlessly pummeled the troops on the ground.

Fewer than two weeks later, the British were forced—incredibly—to surrender. Singapore was in shock at how fast it had all happened. Many civilians and military personnel were evacuated aboard the few ships that had yet to be sunk by the Japanese, one of which was Judy's Grasshopper. The ship was at anchor in Singapore's Keppel Harbor. Frank was among the lucky few allowed to leave. Most servicemen were left behind and were taken captive by the Japanese.

As Japan's army advanced, Keppel Harbor was crowded with refugees of all types. There were retreating soldiers, stoic government workers, terrified Chinese, and stunned colonial families. Some staggered along with everything they owned; others took nothing save the clothing they wore.

All had their eyes on the prize—a place aboard one of the ragtag group of ships that swung at anchor in the harbor, waiting to take them away from the invading Japanese. Wave after wave of refugees crushed toward the makeshift fleet of rescue vessels.

Singapore was supposed to be invincible, but the Japanese captured the city shortly after invading. In the final days of British rule, the oil fields near Keppel Harbor were set ablaze to keep them from the Japanese.

It was February 12, 1942.

Judy watched the chaos below from the deck of the Grasshopper. If the mayhem made her particularly nervous, she didn't show it. She sat quietly near the rail, occasionally walking to the other end of the ship, only to return, as if transfixed by the display on the pier.

Judy's nose was incredibly powerful. She had a much better sense of smell than the people all around her. And that was tough, because the harbor stank. The usual waterfront stench of rotting vegetation, fish, and fuel was mixed with the reek of raw sewage—and the overpowering stink of the bombed-out city. The horrible smells of scorched rubber, wood burnt to ash, and the victims of the Japanese invasion made people retch.

Meanwhile, the bombs continued to fall, many right there on the docks. Long stretches of inaction, as the Royal Navy attempted an orderly boarding and escape, were interrupted by dizzying moments of horror as Japanese bombers nicknamed Nells appeared out of nowhere. The shriek of a bomb's approach would join with the cries of those trying to escape it. And then an explosion, often quieter or less dramatic than many expected. Many bombs missed badly, landing in the harbor, sending up fountains of dark water, or, in the city, smashing the homes the people in the harbor had just left, causing flames to leap into the darkening sky. But some bombs struck the dock area, and Judy's floppy ears heard the sounds of people screaming and moaning.

But Judy was a veteran war dog by now, thanks to her service in China. She had seen plenty of suffering and shots fired in anger there. So she remained calm, occasionally running under the steel cover of the bridge when the noise of falling bombs cut through the air. Her ability to sense danger was keeping her alive, but for how much longer?


The next day, around midmorning, the gunboats were ordered to take on passengers and be ready to leave that evening. Judy was excited, hopping about as the first of the refugees piled onto the Grasshopper.

For these unfortunate people, all had been well merely nine weeks before. They were living peaceful lives, filled with family, friends, careers, education, and fun. With sickening speed, all of it had been wrenched away by the invading Japanese. Hopes and dreams were gone, along with many of their possessions and their sense of home. Now survival was all that mattered.

One of Judy's best human friends on the Grasshopper was George White (coincidentally, he came from Frank's hometown, Portsmouth). George was in charge of the ship's food and water supplies, and he had to scramble to find a way to feed the new mouths on board, managing to come up with a cup of tea and a slab of chocolate for every passenger.

Meanwhile, Judy was doing her best to settle the civilians. She was seen constantly nuzzling up to the many crying, frightened children, hoping to give them a familiar and friendly sight, and "personally greeted virtually everyone on board," according to George.

Nearby was another gunboat from the Yangtze River, the Dragonfly, along with numerous smaller ships. Two of these were SS Tien Kwang and HMS Kuala, tanker steamers that were now part of the Royal Navy. Frank and his fellow RAF radarmen were on their way to escape aboard the Tien Kwang.

It hadn't exactly been a glorious war thus far for Frank Williams. His radar systems worked badly, if at all, and his air force had been chased from the sky by the Japanese. Now he was retreating madly from an army he and his countrymen had considered harmless mere weeks before.

Upon their arrival at the pier, the RAF evacuees were pointed toward the Tien Kwang, and Frank waited in a long line while he and the other 265 radarmen prepared to board, along with numerous army personnel and a handful of civilians. Next door to Tien Kwang, the other converted steamer, Kuala, had been loaded to bursting, stuffed with refugees and whatever belongings they could squeeze on board; in all, it sailed with between five and six hundred people.

Judy's boat, the Grasshopper, captained by Commander Jack Hoffman, pulled away from the docks for good. Screams from the unfortunate civilians left behind trailed the boat as it powered into the harbor.

The Dragonfly followed. Out ahead of the gunboats, Tien Kwang and Kuala were tacking a different course in the same direction. They were all headed for the same place, the city of Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies (the city and the country have since been renamed Jakarta and Indonesia). A large Western presence there promised immediate safety and the likelihood of larger ships for escape to India, Ceylon, or Australia.

But to get to Batavia, they needed to sail across long stretches of ocean, where the Japanese were waiting for them.


The wind howled through Judy's ears as the gunboats pushed hard under the comforting cloak of darkness. The pointer should have been deeply asleep, but noise and people and fear kept her from anything but brief snoozing. She curled up near George on occasion, but just as often lent her comforting presence to the many scared civilians on board. The ship was packed from stem to stern with refugees, most dirty and disheveled, all exhausted by their ordeal. They slept anywhere they could find an unclaimed spot. Judy's warm fur and cold nose were something familiar and happy for them; nothing else was.

Finally, the sun rose, and with it the dread aboard the gunboats. As the new day, February 14, 1942, began, Japanese flight operations were beginning, and scout planes were taking to the sky. Bomber crews were breakfasting, likely confident of the damage they would inflict that day. Everyone on the Grasshopper (except Judy) knew this could well be their last day on earth. The strong among them buried the thought and carried on. For about two hours, the gunboats made good progress, but a few minutes past 9 a.m., their luck ran out.

After her fitful night, Judy had been quiet as day broke, content to make her way around the deck and lie panting in the heat. But now she began a sharp barking. The crew knew what that meant and looked up to the skies. Sure enough, a Japanese seaplane appeared above.

It immediately commenced a dive attack, dropping one bomb at the Grasshopper that missed badly, then turning and tossing another bomb at Dragonfly. This one was a much better attempt, exploding close enough to the gunboat to cause slight, but not critical, damage to its bow. The seaplane disappeared, but that was small comfort to those on board the gunboats—the seaplane's big brothers now knew where they were, and a mission was being planned as the damage was assessed.

By eleven thirty, land had been spotted, and the gunboats closed to within two miles of the island of Posic, a tiny extension of lava and sand that scarcely poked out of the water. Bombers soon appeared in formation out of the south. "Aircraft off the port beam!" someone shouted. Judy was barking madly at them, and the antiaircraft guns opened up.

But there were far too many planes (one Dragonfly sailor counted 123) coming in far too fast for any possible defense. Having passed over the ships, they broke formation and attacked in the standard nine-plane groups that had become all too familiar to the sailors and civilians alike.

The bombers, nicknamed Sallies, began their attack runs from between two and four thousand feet above the water and came in five-minute intervals. The ships zigzagged madly in the direction of Posic, hoping to round the island and find some sort of cover. Wave after wave of bombers shrieked overhead, drowning out the screams of the civilians and Judy's angry yelps.

Grasshopper avoided bomb after bomb, but Dragonfly wasn't so lucky. It took a direct hit amidships, a blow that practically split the boat in half. Two other bombs connected near the front of the ship (called the bow), including an explosion that laced the bridge area with shrapnel and debris.

Officially, forty crewmen were reported killed, including Malayan crew, in the explosions that ripped the Dragonfly apart. Plenty of others remained alive, but desperate. There wasn't much time, as Dragonfly was going under fast. It was burning badly in the bow and was splintering down the middle. Several sailors launched a lifeboat and a couple of circular flotation devices called Carley floats.

The Dragonfly


  • Praise for No Better Friend: Young Readers Edition:
"A riveting and highly moving dog story."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "An enormously readable account of animal and human companionship and survival; recommended for budding historians and fans of survival stories."
    School Library Journal
  • "Well-written and engaging."
  • Praise for No Better Friend:
    "No Better Friend personifies the relationship we all aspire to have with our dogs, and takes us on a harrowing journey to a place and time lost in the history books. A must read for every dog or animal lover."—Robin Hutton, author of Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse
  • "Robert Weintraub captures the beauty and power of friendship and loyalty between man and animal in this captivating narrative. We'd all be lucky to have a dog like Judy by our sides in our darkest times."
    Cate Lineberry, author of The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines
  • "This is the best dog book since the uber best-selling Marley and Me."—Linda Wilson Fuoco, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • "Weintraub... combines a gritty war story with a warm dog story -- readers who like both will think they have gone to heaven.... Where he truly excels, though, is in finding the human dramas, some painful and some inspiring, that figured in Judy's saga."—Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe
  • "The most inspiring true life account I've ever read of a human-animal bond."—Maureen Corrigan, NPR
  • "Exceptionally well researched and engaging... No Better Friend is an inspiring story, and one that both dog lovers and history buffs will embrace."—Deborah Hopkinson, BookPage
  • On Sale
    Nov 13, 2018
    Page Count
    304 pages

    Robert Weintraub

    About the Author

    Robert Weintraub is a frequent contributor to the New York Times and Slate and the author of the acclaimed books The House That Ruth Built, The Victory Season, and No Better Friend.

    Learn more about this author