The Dog of the Paracels

The other day I came across some materials in the National Archives of Australia that talked about an American submarine attack on Japanese forces on Woody Island in the Paracels in 1945.

Before fires were short from the submarine, the U.S.S. Pargo, a reconnaissance team went ashore, and while they were on the island, they saw a dog. This is what was later recorded:

“. . . it was discovered that there were dog paw prints on the beach and also on several semi-trails through the mangroves. From a position on the edge of the undergrowth and approximately 150 yards to 200 yards south from the base of the jetty, the dog, a large cross between an alsation and an airdale, was observed to run out onto the beach at teh end of the jetty and approach our direction.

“When slightly south of Crew any myself it picked up our scent, nosed around and followed our trail to within 50 yards of us where it saw us and returned to the beach and sat.”


When I read that information, I assumed that this must have been a dog that the Japanese soldiers had brought with them, perhaps to serve as a watchdog. However, today I was reading an account of a visit to Woody Island from more than a decade before this point that also mentioned the presence of a dog on that island.

In an article that was published in The North – China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette (06 June 1934, pg. 366) entitled “Desolation on Paracel Island: Impressionistic Sketch of a Visit to Dangerous Reefs in the South China Seas,” a certain L. Dowdall recorded information about a visit he made to Woody Island a few years before this article was published.

Dowdall, whom I’m guessing was an Englishman, was on a ship that was voyaging from Bangkok to Hong Kong. It needed to anchor in order to undergo some repairs to the engine, so the captain stopped in the Paracels, and let Dowdall go ashore on Woody Island.


Dowdall said that “I knew that Woody Island had been exploited for guano by some Japanese several years before, but that they had been put out by the Chinese government who claimed the sovereignty of these islands. Since then several other companies, both Chinese and foreign, had been formed to work the guano but all had come to grief one way or another.”

As such, Dowdall walked ashore on what was at that time an uninhabited island. Much of his article is then spent describing the desolate scenery that he observed on the island.

And then he saw a dog.

alsation airedale mix

“. . . I was very surprised when I saw a large dog. He trotted out of the bushes a couple of hundred yards ahead of me, stood at gaze for a moment and then trotted back into the tangle of shrubs and grass and was gone.

“Had I been dreaming? No. When I came to the spot there were his tracks in the sand. Poor chap, I thought. He must have been left behind by the last people who had been there.

“How long had he been there all alone and did he come down to the beach sometimes to gaze wistfully out to seaward waiting for his mater to come back?

“I called and whistled to him but got no response. He was probably crouching in the bushes watching me warily, wondering whether I were friend or foe. Indeed he would have found me friend had he ventured to come to me.”

dog on beach

Could it be possible that the dog that Dowall saw in the early 1930s was the same dog that the American reconnaissance team saw in early 1945?

The late Thai politician and author, M. R. Kukrit Pramoj, wrote a wonderful short story in the 1950s about a dog called “Mom.” In that story, Kukrit Pramoj basically depicts the events of World War II in Bangkok as seen from the perspective of Mom, the dog.

While that story is, as far as I know, a work of fiction, there appears to have been an actual dog who not only witnessed World War II on Woody Island in the Paracels, but who was there for several years before the war as well; a dog that saw, over the course of more than a decade, Japanese, French, Vietnamese, Chinese, Americans and a lone Englishman all come and go.

For anyone who wishes to read the entire piece, I’m attaching Dowdall’s article here (Dowdall article).

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