Just Nuisance - a Royal Navy Able Seaman who lived a dog's life
No ordinary dog
On 25 August 1939 one of the most unusual Able Seamen ever to serve in the Royal Navy began his service. He was Able Seaman Just Nuisance, on the pay sheet of H.M.S. Afrikander, under the command of Commander C.B.O. Shakespear, RN.
In fact this AB was unique - the one and only Great Dane to achieve this rank. His story begins some two years previously.
Around 1 April 1937 a Great Dane pup was born in Rondebosch, suburb of Cape Town.He was bred by a breeder Mr M. Bosman.
At the age of 11 months the puppy was bought by a Mr Benjamin Chaney who later told writer Leslie M. Steyn that the dog had a wound on the end of his tail and when brought to Mr Chaney's home, his enthusiastic tail wagging left proof of his happiness all over whatever item of furniture, or whichever wall, his tail happened to hit.
"The first night Nuisance was in my home I showed him round the place, including the kitchen. Standing next to the refrigerator, I pressed the handle down and told Nuisance that if he could do likewise he could help himself to two pounds of mutton inside. The following morning I missed the mutton!"
"That incident," said Chaney, "Indicated that I was master of no ordinary dog."
AB Just Nuisance
In the harbour on the False Bay side of the Cape Peninsular, Simonstown, then still a Royal Naval base, a United Services Institute provided facilities and entertainment for the sailors from ships either based in or passing through the harbour.
Chaney was put in charge of this Institute soon after the Second World War started, brought Nuisance with him, and so the dog began to make the acquaintance of the Naval ratings who made use of the facilities.
The sailors very soon began to play with Nuisance and even take him for walks. Soon the dog was ready to be a friend to anyone wearing the uniform.
Nuisance soon realised that many of the sailors on shore leave would take the train from Simonstown Station to Cape Town and, with some encouragement from his "ship mates", he soon began to accompany them on the train trip, a distance of about 25 miles.
AB Just Nuisance on guard
Often the sailors in Cape Town would do what people in sometimes dangerous and often boring occupations will sometimes do to take the edge off - they went to bars. It being wartime and all they would often end up not quite as upright as they had been when they arrived - and often rather sleepy too!
AB Just Nuisance got to know the bars frequented by his shipmates and would go around them rounding the lads up and getting them back to Cape Town Station for the last train back to Snookie, as Simonstown ws affectionately known.
This led to some hilarious confrontations with railways personnel, like this one related by Leslie Steyn, who wrote the book Just Nuisance - True story of an Able Seaman who led a Dog's Life (Johannesburg: Spectrum Publishers, 1968):
"Able Seaman Just Nuisance lay full length across a seat in the last train from Cape Town to Simon's Town, the former South Atlantic Royal Naval Base - a distance of 25 miles. In fact, a portion of his head protruded into the aisle between the row of seats. His chin was resting on one front paw which hung listlessly, swaying to the motion of the train, over the edge of the seat. Numerous sailors sat on the seats near him, some were sleeping, others lolling, smoking and chatting.
"A ticket examiner walked into the carriage. "Whose dog is that?" he asked.
"One of the sailors looked up, winked at his pals and said: 'Not mine, chum. Why, what's the matter?'
"'He belongs to you fellows,' glared the official, 'and he'll have to get out at the next station. You'd better put him off.'
"'Dogs can't travel like that.'
"'Oh no,' Answered the sailor who was acting as spokesman, 'You saw him first, you put him off.'
"And Able Seaman Just Nuisance continued the journey to Simon's Town undisturbed."
The volunteer matelot
The railways authorities were at first not too happy about Nuisance's free travel; on the trains, and various threats were made about putting the dog down if he did not stop.
That was why the Navy decided to regularise his travel arrangements. Since sailors of the Royal and South African navies on war service were able to travel on the trains without paying the the Officer Commanding H.M.S. Afrikander decided to enlist Nuisance as a volunteer.
Thus it was that on 6 June 1939 Able Seaman Just Nuisance volunteered and on 25 August was enrolled in the ship's company and became a full-time member of the Royal Navy. From that day on his trips by train to and from Cape Town were "legal" and he could no longer be threatened or thrown off the trains.
On his Certificate of Service his religion was noted as "Scrounger" (later changed to "Canine Divinity League [Anti-Vivisection]") and his trade as "Bonecrusher". The period of service he "volunteered for was noted as "Period of the present emergency".
His OC, Commander Shakespear, noted that AB Just Nuisance was the only member of the ship's company who resolutely refused to salute him!
Although fully enrolled as an Able Seaman, Nuisance did not draw pay with the rest of his shipmates. As Leslie Steyn noted, "His charm and reputation obtained for him more free meals and kindness than a sailor's pay could buy."
Just Nuisance - the legend
Many tales were told of AB Just Nuisance's exploits, and his Conduct Record in the Navy gives an insight into some of these:
- He did commit an act to the prejudice of commonsense and good humour, in that he did travel on the South African Railways without a ticket. Punishment Awarded: Confined to the banks of Froggy Pond, Lily Pool, with all lamp posts removed.
- Did sleep in an improper place, namely in a bed in the Petty Officers' dormitory at the Sailors' and Soldiers' Home, Simon's Town. Punishment Awarded: Deprived of bones for seven days.
- Did resist ejection from the Sailors' & Soldiers' Home, Simon's Town: No punishment awarded.
Nuisance did not sleep curled up on a bed as most dogs would. He lay full length on the bed with his head on the pillow. He was also extremely possessive about his own bed.
The story goes that Nuisance arrived back at the barracks in Simonstown to find that another sailor was asleep in his bunk. Tired and irritable from his toils in Cape Town and the long train ride home, Nuisance was in no mood to accept sleeping anywhere but in his own bunk. He began to pull the other sailor out of the bunk, but the other sailor was also in no mood to be disturbed, for the same reasons as Nuisance!
The resulting tussle caused a huge uproar and great amusement to the other sailors. In Steyn's words, "After Nuisance had tole the intruder with a few expressive barks exactly what he thought of him, his family and his future generation, he walked out., obviously annoyed and did not return to camp for about three weeks."
Nuisance the life saver
Very late one cold Saturday night in Cape Town taxi driver Jan van Tonder was parked in the rank in Addderley Street, Cape Town, when he heard an unfamiliar sound. Looking up, he saw this enormous dog barking excitedly.
Van Tonder luckily recognised Nuisance and, when Nuisance walked off a short distance, turned and barked again, Van Tonder realised the dog was trying to tell him something. He got out of his cab and went towards Nuisance, who backed off further towards a little side street.
Van Tonder followed Nuisance and was led to a sailor lying unconscious in the road with a serious knife wound which was bleeding profusely.
An ambulance was called and when it arrived the sailor was loaded and Nuisance also climbed in next to the man. Nothing would induce him to get out, so he accompanied the sailor to the hospital, where he stayed, keeping watch over the man.
The next day, after being given a hearty breakfast, Nuisance was persuaded that his chum was in no danger, and took a ride home to Simonstown.
The end of the story
There are many more stories that make up the legend of this mighty hound. A Hub would have to be many thousands of words long to record them all.
I first heard of AB Just Nuisance from my father who served in the South African Navy during the war. He had met the great AB a couple of times when going to Simonstown on Naval business.
And when I served in the navy in the early 1960s the legend was still spoken about with awe. Such was the power of the legend.
But like all things earthly, the legend had to come to an end.
For AB Just Nuisance the end came in 1944, when he started to develop a paralysis in his hind legs, possibly caused, according to Mr Fred Burrington, the veterinarian who attended him, by his jumping off moving buses and lorries and sustaining injuries.
By March of that year it was clear that Nuisance was not going to make it. So, on 1 April,he was fetched from Burrington's kennels and taken to Simonstown Naval hospital where a naval surgeon put him to sleep. His end was reported in all the newspapers in South Africa.
AB Just Nuisance was buried with full miliatry honours, as befits a serving member of the armed forces. His body was wrapped in the White Ensign of the Royal Navy and a firing party fired a salute as his body was lowered into the grave.
A lone bugler sounded the "Last Post" and many were overcome with grief at the passing of their friend, the unique sailor of the Royal Navy.
Just Nuisance in Wikipedia
- Just Nuisance - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Just Nuisance was the only dog ever to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy. He was a Great Dane who from 1939-44 served at HMS Afrikander, a Royal Navy shore establishment in Simon's Town, South Africa.
Note on the illustrations
All the photos in this Hub, except the one of the gravestone, are by Leslie Steyn and are taken from his book Just Nuisance.
In the preface to this book Nuisance's OC, Commander Shakespear, wrote: "The pictures you see in this publication were taken by Mr Steyn and sold in Cape Town for the Distressed British Seamen's Fund."
Mr Steyn was at the time a journalist on a Cape Town newspaper.