Wartime mascot dog receives PDSA Gold Medal for devotion to duty

Wartime mascot dog receives PDSA Gold Medal for devotion to duty
This morning (Saturday 22 July 2006) Bamse, the canine mascot of Norwegian Forces during WWII, posthumously received the PDSA Gold Medal – the ‘animals’ George Cross’ – for saving the life of two crew members of his ship the minesweeper Thorodd.

Sixty-two years to the day of Bamse’s death on 22 July 1944, Vigdis Hafto, daughter of Commander Erling Hafto the then captain of The Thorodd and Bamse’s original owner, received the posthumous PDSA Gold Medal on behalf of brave Bamse. “This is such a wonderful honour for such an extraordinary dog,” said Vigdis who accepted the Medal alongside members of her family. “It is also a tribute to the people of Norway and Scotland who remember Bamse so fondly.”

The ceremony, which took place at the House of Dun in Montrose, the Scottish town where Bamse’s grave has pride of place, was lead by PDSA Chairman Mr Freddie Bircher. On presenting the Medal Mr Bircher said: “PDSA is proud and delighted to bestow the PDSA Gold Medal, the animal’s George Cross, on faithful mascot Bamse.”

The PDSA Gold Medal is awarded for exceptional acts of animal gallantry and devotion to duty. Bamse received his medal for saving the life of two of his Thorodd shipmates in two separate incidents on the dockside in Dundee. A young Lieutenant, attacked by a man wielding a knife, was saved as Bamse ran to his aid, knocking the man to the ground. A sailor who fell overboard was rescued by Bamse who dived in and brought the half-drowned man to the shore.

Dr. Andrew Orr, Chairman of the Montrose Bamse Project, the group dedicated to keeping the legend of this special dog alive in Scotland, said: “Memories of Bamse and his wartime exploits live on in the people who served aboard ship with this gentle giant of a dog and those who still speak of his loyalty to his fellow Norwegian sailors and the people of Montrose and Dundee. Everyone who took Bamse to their hearts will celebrate today as he is honoured with the PDSA Gold Medal.”

Of all the sea dogs entered on the PDSA’s Allied Forces Mascot Club roll of honour, Bamse (pronounced Bom-sa) was certainly the largest. He weighed approximately 14 stone and stood six foot tall - when he rested his paws on a sailor’s shoulders. Dogs were traditionally welcomed aboard Norwegian ships so Commander Hafto decided that Bamse would make a welcome addition to the 18-man crew of the Thorodd.

Wearing his trademark tin helmet, Bamse took up position by the foremost gun turret. In calm waters he would pad up and down the gangway giving everyone a friendly nudge along the way. But in choppy waters, all the seasick St. Bernard wanted from his shipmates was a little comfort as he pressed his damp nose into their faces.

Ashore, Bamse donned his white sailor’s collar and mariner’s cap to become a familiar site in the shops, pubs and cinemas of Dundee and Montrose. He broke up the sailors’ fights by breathing in their faces! And then lead them back to the ship by a sleeve. To return the favour the sailors bought their dog a season ticket for the bus as he loved travelling with the locals.

He was a local hero in Scotland and a national hero in Norway. The gentle giant featured on a Christmas card that was sent to all Norwegian servicemen during the war and on Norway’s national day - May 17th - Bamse was central to the celebrations. His devotion to duty and his countrymen was well recognised.

When Bamse passed away on the Dundee dockside on July 22nd 1944 two nations mourned. Men wept openly and someone said: “It was as if the silence that descended on the little vessel was a special silence.”

At the funeral, Bamse’s coffin was carried on the shoulders of six of his shipmates. Schools and businesses closed for the day and 800 children lined the route to the river Esk where the St Bernard was laid to rest in the dunes his head facing north-east towards Norway. A wooden cross bore the words: “Bamse – faithful friend of all on board the Thorodd. Largest dog of the Allied naval forces.”

25/07/2006

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