A Song in Commemoration of Just Nuisance

Contributed by Louis David. (Bicester in Oxfordshire, England)

By the Way by Trixie Heron

One of a kind: Able Seaman Just Nuisance, R.N.

This story is strange but true. The birth of this unique Great Dane was recorded on Thursday 1st April 1937 in Rondebosch. As a puppy he was bought by Benjamin Chaney, a newcomer to Simon’s Town as head of the United Services Institute. In those days the Simon’s Town Naval Base fell under the command of the Royal Navy, whose sailors spent a lot of time at the USI. The friendly pup grew up in this very sociable environment where the sailors made a great fuss of him, treating him to a variety of tasty treats and beer. He soon grew into a big, strong dog of gigantic proportions and gentle nature. The sailors loved having him around and often took him for walks. He recognised them by their wide bell-bottom trousers and square blue-trimmed collars, and looked upon all of them as special friends whose presence meant good treats and fun times. He didn’t bother to give civilians or servicemen in other uniforms a second look. Before long, the doggy walks took him further and further away from the USI: the naval base, the dockyards, and eventually onto the Royal Navy ships at their moorings. He was particularly fond of visiting HMS Neptune, where he would take up point duty at the top of the gangplank, curled up on the brow of the deck, making it difficult for anyone to pass by. Sailors grumbled that he was just a nuisance… The name stuck: Just Nuisance he was, and Just Nuisance he would stay.

Just Nuisance took to following sailors on shore leave, who caught the electric train and headed 22 miles north, 27 stations away. Somehow he knew exactly where to disembark. Before long he was a regular, well-known train commuter, jumping on and off at different stations. A dog travelling by train unaccompanied was unheard of. Sailors trying to hide him from ticket collectors soon discovered that keeping a Great Dane out of sight was no easy task, and ticket collectors often forced the dog off the train at the next station. But Just Nuisance was four paws ahead of them. He would simply settle down, wait, and catch the next train heading in the same direction. There were a few threatening encounters with angry conductors, when Just Nuisance had to make his presence felt by standing up on his hind legs, placing his gigantic paws on the official’s shoulders, and uttering a menacing growl… He was probably just trying to solve the problem in a perfectly reasonable manner, man to man. However, his owner began to receive ultimatums to keep his dog confined, pay his fares or get rid of him. Things took a nasty turn when the railway authorities threatened to have the commuting canine put down. But they had not reckoned on the reaction of the community, who sprang into action in support of the sailors’ best friend.

Just Nuisance was in big trouble, but his friends were friends indeed. Letters arrived on the desk of the Naval Commander-in-Chief. He joined the action and took the bold decision to enlist Just Nuisance into the Royal Navy, thereby solving the problem with one stroke of the pen: during the war years enlisting volunteers were issued with free passes for travelling on the trains! Friday, 25th August 1939, marks the auspicious occasion when Just Nuisance was enlisted into the Royal Navy. On the official papers, his Christian name was entered as: “Just”, his trade was given as “Bone crusher”, and his religious denomination was defined as “Scrounger”, which was later updated to the more dignified, politically correct “Canine Divinity League”, an anti-vivisection body. Following regulations to the letter, the Royal Navy put the new volunteer through the prescribed medical examination before being declared fit to assume active duty. He passed with barking colours, and signed his enlistment form by making his mark with his extra large paw.

The newly enlisted Ordinary Seaman took his new status seriously, sleeping on the beds of the sailors, stretched out full length with his head resting on the pillow just like any other dog-tired man after a hard day of working like a dog. Just Nuisance even had his own batman – a sailor who was given the task of seeing to his personal hygiene and kitting him out in his seaman’s hat for parades. One thing got right up the Great Dane’s nose: why on this dog’s earth would sailors try to solve their problems with their fists? He would simply leap in between the pugilists and stop the fighting by standing up on his hind legs with his paws on their chests, as if shouting: “Break!” like a firm-pawed referee. No messing! His almost-human actions endeared him to all who knew him. It was not long before he was promoted to Able Seaman Just Nuisance R.N., and his new rank came with additional perks – naval rations!

His collar, official papers and a large collection of photographs are on display in the Simon’s Town Museum. His conduct sheet lists misdemeanours such as travelling on a train without his free pass (punishment: confined to the banks of Froggy Pond, Lily Pool, with all lamp posts removed), sleeping on a bed in the Petty Officer’s dormitory (for which he was deprived of bones for seven days), going AWOL, losing his collar, and resisting ejection from the Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Home (no punishment awarded). Just Nuisance was no pussycat, and there were more serious offences: fighting with the mascots of other Royal Navy vessels, and even causing the death of the mascots on HMS Shropshire and HMS Redoubt.

From 1940 Just Nuisance was stationed at HMS Afrikander. It was there that he received his official discharge from the Royal Navy on Monday, 1st January 1944. It is sad but true that Great Danes do not live to a grand old age. He was slowly becoming paralysed as a result of a thrombosis following a car accident, and the veterinary surgeon’s prognosis was that nothing could be done. On 1st April 1944, the day of his 7th birthday, Just Nuisance seemed to understand that he was going on his last ride, as his companions took him by truck to the Simon’s Town Naval Hospital, where the Naval Surgeon put him to sleep with tender loving care. On 2nd April 1944 at 11:30, with his body wrapped in a canvas bag and covered with a white Royal Naval Ensign, Able Seaman Just Nuisance R.N. was laid to rest with full military honours at Klaver Camp at the top of Red Hill, while a party of Royal Marines fired a farewell salute and a lone bugler played The Last Post. A simple granite gravestone
stands guard at the head of his last resting place.

The legend lives on and visitors to Simon’s Town still pay tribute to Just Nuisance. A statue of this truly extraordinary character who was more human than hound, has pride of place in Jubilee Square, Simon’s Town, from where he wistfully looks out toward the sailors he served so long and so well. Just Nuisance Day is celebrated annually with a parade of Great Danes and other canines through Simon’s Town to Jubilee Square.

This article kindly contributed by ON THE HOMEFRONT





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