On the shores of Simon’s Town, just south of Cape Town, stands a statue of a most noble and notable dog. His name was Just Nuisance, a Great Dane who remains the only dog ever to be officially listed in the service of the British Royal Navy.
The story of Just Nuisance begins in 1937, when the pup was born in a suburb of Cape Town. He was sold to Benjamin Chaney, who moved south to nearby Simon’s Town, a major naval base for the British Royal Navy.
The Great Dane was a sociable dog and soon grew fond of the sailors, partly because they took him for walks and were never short of tidbits, including pies, biscuits, and beer. Perhaps because of this hearty diet, the dog grew to a large size even for his breed, soon reaching a height of about 6.6 feet tall when standing on his hind legs.
He followed the sailors around the town, and became a regular visitor to the naval base and dockyards. One of his favorite spots for a lie-down was on the top of the gangplank of the HMS Neptune, where his large bulk caused a bit of a blockage. For this reason, the sailors lovingly called him Nuisance.
When the sailors had some shore leave, they’d often take the train to Cape Town, about 22 miles (and 27 stations) to the north. Nuisance, of course, wanted to tag along, but the ticket collectors were far from amused. The sailors tried to hide him, but he’d often be thrown off at the next station. He soon learned how to walk back to Simon’s Town or, depending on his mood, board the next train to Cape Town and try his luck again.
The railway officials grew tired of the dog’s shenanigans and Benjamin Chaney began to receive letters of complaint, telling him to confine Nuisance, pay his fares, or run the risk of having the dog put down. The sailors, upon hearing this unacceptable threat, took the dog’s case to their superiors.
And so it was that the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy began to receive letters from concerned sailors in South Africa regarding the plight of a loyal dog called Nuisance. Perhaps concerned for shipboard moral, or maybe just because he was a typical British dog lover, the Commander-in-Chief found an unusual solution: the dog would be enlisted in the Royal Navy. As an enlisted member of the armed forces, Nuisance would be entitled to free rail travel. Problem solved.
The Great Dane was enlisted on August 25, 1939, becoming the first and only dog to ever enlist in the Royal Navy. He was registered with the surname “Nuisance” and the forename “Just,” because the forename couldn’t be left blank. His trade was listed as “Bone Crusher” and his religion as “Scrounger,” which was later changed, perhaps out of a growing respect for the dog, as “Canine Divinity League [Anti-Vivisection].” He was given the required medical examination, after which he signed the papers with a paw mark and was ready for active duty.
Just Nuisance never went to sea, but he did serve in a variety of capacities. He continued to travel with the sailors by train to Cape Town, and dutifully escorted them home after one too many beers. When fights broke out between the sailors, Nuisance would quickly separate the squabbling parties by standing up on his hind legs and placing his huge paws on their chests, pushing them apart. He also became a morale-boosting mascot for the sailors based in Simon’s Town, and often appeared in parades wearing his sailor’s hat.
Ordinary Seaman Just Nuisance didn’t have a blemish-free service record. His conduct sheet, which is now housed in Simon’s Town Museum, recorded three offenses: traveling on the railway without his pass; refusal to exit the Sailors’ & Soldiers’ Home; and sleeping in a bed in the Petty Officer’s dormitory (for which he was officially deprived of bones for seven days). He was also punished for fighting with the mascots of other Royal Navy vessels, and apparently caused the deaths of the mascots of both the HMS Shropshire and the HMS Redoubt.
Still, his service was deemed worthy of a promotion, and Just Nuisance was promoted to Able Seaman, a rank that entitled him to naval rations. He was later discharged from the Royal Navy and the HMS Afrikander (where he was officially stationed) in 1944, following an accident that left him with thrombosis. Eventually the Royal Navy had no option but to put Nuisance to sleep.
On April 1, 1944, when Nuisance was seven years old, he was taken to Simon’s Town Naval Hospital and put to sleep. The next day, he was covered with a white Royal Naval Ensign and laid to rest with full military honors, accompanied by a Royal Marines firing party and a lone bugler.
He was buried at Klaver Camp on top of Red Hill, where his grave still lies today. And later, the statue of Just Nuisance was erected in Jubilee Square in Simon’s Town, where the loyal Great Dane can look along the shoreline, a fitting tribute to a remarkable dog.