September 11, 2015 | Posted in War Dogs

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Statue of Bamse St Bernard, Scotland, UK

Dogs, like humans, can and do become famous for a variety of reasons. Some gain fame from being attached with famous pet owners such as presidents, actors, musicians; some lend their characteristics to dogs in movies, literature, music, etc and attract attention; however, there is a long list of canines going back to the hoary past of man’s bond with dogs that includes the names of dogs that have gained immortal fame and our undying gratitude because they did their duty and many a times, they went beyond the call of duty and made the supreme sacrifice. Police dogs, guide dogs, rescue dogs, and war dogs usually fall in the last category.

This article recounts the story of Bamse whose exploits are the stuff that Viking myths are made of. Yes, for Bamse was a St. Bernard from Norway. He was born in 1937 and packed a lot in his short life till he lost his life to heart failure in 1944.

During the Second World War, the Axis powers under Germany were sweeping all that stood in their path and the same fate befell Norway. However; soldiers of the Norwegian Armed forces that escaped capture regrouped to form the Free Norwegian Forces and Bamse, through a series of events, came to be anointed their mascot.

Before the war reached Norway, the 196-pound St. Bernard enjoyed a carefree yet exciting life assisting his master Captain Erling Hafto who was in charge of the whaler Thorodd. When the vessel became a part of the Royal Norwegian Navy, Bamse officially joined the ship’s crew. Records show that he was drafted on 9th February, 1940. Upon the ship’s arrival in the United Kingdom, it was refitted to work as a minesweeper. It was in the U.K, specifically in the towns of Montrose and Dundee in Scotland, which Bamse’s service ensured that it would go on to become one of the greatest canine legends of the twentieth century.

Many tales of Bamse’s courage exist. He once saved a sailor’s life by charging the man attacking him and pushing the would-be attacker in to the sea. In another instance, he rescued a drowning officer by dragging him ashore. Bamse knew no fear and was known to stand at the gun deck on the bow wearing a metal helmet. Bamse is also probably the only dog in history to travel unassisted by bus with a bus pass round his neck. The objective of these sojourns of his was to round up sailors who would go ashore when not on duty and get them back in time for their duty hours. He’d hop on to a bus at Broughty Ferry Road and travel to the Bodega Bar at Dundee.

As mentioned earlier in the piece, this brave dog left the world on 22nd July, 1944. He was laid to rest with full military honors in the presence of hundreds of military folk and civilians from the town of Montrose.

He was awarded the PDSA Gold Medal in 2006; and till date remains the only animal from the Second World War to have won this honor; which is the animal equivalent of the George Cross.