Some News Letter readers’ accounts sent to Roamer’s mailbox can be quite unusual, like today’s, which is also unique, historic, endearing, and amusing
It came with an introductory note stating: “Just Nuisance was the only dog ever to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy.”
A quick search in the annals of naval history confirmed that the story is absolutely true, and that Just Nuisance was a Great Dane who really did serve at HMS Afrikander between 1939 and 1944, a Royal Navy Second World War shore-base in Simon’s Town, South Africa.
This remarkable dog died in 1944 aged seven, was buried with full military honours, and is commemorated with a permanent exhibition in the local museum.
There’s also an annual Memorial Day in honour of Just Nuisance in Simon’s Town and a magnificent commemorative statue.
The exact date of the Great Dane’s birth is uncertain, but it’s generally stated to be April 1937, in Rondebosch, a suburb of Cape Town.
The pup was “adopted” by local-man Benjamin Chaney, who moved with his furry little friend to Simon’s Town to work in The United Services Institute, a Naval organisation.
The dog quickly grew to be quite big, aided and abetted by sailors who regularly fed him with snacks.
The sailors also took him for walks, and the dog often returned with them to Simon’s Town’s big Naval Base and dockyards, where he’d snooze on the decks of their ships.
He particularly loved the gangplank of a ship called HMS Neptune, where he’s sunbathe and get in the way of the sailors.
He was a large dog, even for a Great Dane.
When he put his paws on sailors’ shoulders he reached over six feet tall on his hind legs.
The sailors who had to manoeuvre past him on HMS Neptune’s gangplank shouted: “You’re a nuisance, why do you have to lie here of all places?”, and thus his name, with ‘Just’ added later for official reasons that’ll shortly be explained!
Nuisance enjoyed the sailors’ company, and vice versa, and soon he joined them on their day trips by train to Cape Town, about 22 miles away.
Some railway conductors put him off the trains but Nuisance would merely sit on the platform and wait for the next train.
If platform staff chased him away he’d walk to the next station and jump on the next train!
Even though doggy-friendly passengers occasionally offered to pay Nuisance’s fare, railway officials warned Benjamin Chaney that his dog must always have a ticket or they’d get Nuisance put down.
Nuisance’s seafaring friends were aghast and wrote to the Royal Navy in London where Naval Command (jokingly?) suggested they should purchase a season ticket or get Nuisance formally enlisted.
The latter would entitle the dog to free wartime rail travel.
He was enlisted on August 25th 1939.
His surname was entered on the official form as Nuisance and, instead of leaving the forename blank, he was given the Christian name - Just.
His employment was listed as ‘Bonecrusher’ and his religion as ‘Scrounger’, although this was later altered to the more charitable ‘Canine Divinity League (Anti-Vivisection)’
The Great Dane was now Ordinary Seaman Just Nuisance, the Royal Navy’s first ever fully-enlisted ‘seadog’!
And because of his ‘unofficial service’ on train journeys and gangplanks, he was soon promoted to Able Seaman.
If he actually went to sea it was never logged, but Just Nuisance fulfilled a number of roles ashore.
He turned up for parades; he continued to accompany sailors on train journeys and escorted them back to base when the pubs closed.
He was sometimes caught napping in a sailor’s bunkbed and on several occasions was charged with being asleep while on duty! But it was noted that he had never missed a parade so the charges were dismissed.
He also appeared at Naval promotional events, including, famously, his own ‘marriage’ to another Great Dane called Adinda.
They had five pups, two of them auctioned in Cape Town to raise funds for the war effort.
Just Nuisance’s service record was not exemplary.
He sometimes forgot to travel with his free rail pass; he was occasionally absent without leave and on more than one occasion he turned up for parades without his collar.
Some sailors claimed that he refused to leave the pub at closing time and his records show that he was sentenced to having his bone-ration stopped for seven days “for sleeping in an improper place” – the bunkbed of a Petty Officer!
Sadly, Just Nuisance was hit by a car, and because of his injuries was discharged from the Navy in January 1944.
In April 1944, on the advice of a naval veterinary surgeon, he was put down.
Just Nusiance was taken to Klawer Camp where his body was draped with a Royal Naval White Ensign and he was buried with full naval honours, including a gun salute and the playing of the Last Post.
A granite headstone marks his grave on top of a hill at Klawer, at the former South African Navy Signal School.
There’s a statue in Jubilee Square in Simon’s Town to commemorate his life.
The Simon’s Town Museum has an exhibition dedicated to his story and there are annual commemorative dog walks and parades of Great Danes (from which a lookalike is selected!).