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Bamse - WWII mascot dog to receive the PDSA Gold Medal for life-saving exploits

 Date:22/07/2006
 Type:Culture
 Location:Scotland, Montrose

Sixty-two years after his death, Bamse, the canine mascot of the Norwegian Forces during WWII is to receive the PDSA Gold Medal - the 'animals' 'George Cross' - for saving the lives of two crew members of his ship, Norwegian Navy minesweeper, The Thorodd.

On Saturday 22 July 2006, the 62nd anniversary of the day the brave St. Bernard passed away, PDSA Chairman Freddie Bircher will present the Medal to Vigdis Hafto, daughter of The Thorodd's then captain, Commander Erling Hafto, and Bamse's original owner.  The special ceremony takes place at the Scottish National Trust House of Dun in Montrose, the Scottish town where Bamse's grave has pride of place. 

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 remember this gentle giant of a dog.  We are so pleased and proud to see Bamse honoured with the PDSA Gold Medal."

Awarded for exceptional acts of animal gallantry and devotion to duty the PDSA Gold Medal is awarded to Bamse 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 into the water.  A sailor who fell overboard was rescued by Bamse who dived in to the sea and brought the half-drowned man to the shore.

Of all the sea dogs entered on the PDSA's Allied Forces Mascot Club roll of honour, Bamse (pronounced Bomp-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 17 - Bamse was central to the celebrations.   His devotion to duty and his countrymen was well recognised.

When Bamse died on the dockside, surrounded by his shipmates on July 22 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"

"PDSA was delighted to receive the nomination for an award for Bamse," said PDSA Chairman Freddie Bircher.  "This dog was a devoted mascot to the men of Norwegian Navy minesweeper, The Thorodd and a faithful friend to all who lived and served with him during the dark days of World War II."

The PDSA Gold Medal is awarded for animal bravery and devotion to duty and was instituted in 2002.  The first recipients were Canine Partner Endal, Police dog Metpol Delta Monty of the Metropolitan Police Force and Police dog Bulla of the Leicestershire Constabulary, which received their Medals from PDSA's Patron, HRH Princess Alexandra the Hon. Lady Ogilvy, KG GCVO.

Along with Bill Middleton, Provost of Angus, and a number of invited guests, Consul Bjørn Eilertsen attended the unveiling of a statue of Bamse earlier this year.

The statue of Bamse and Consul Bjørn Eilertsen.



PDSA

Founded in 1917, PDSA® is the UK's leading veterinary charity, providing free veterinary care to  the sick and injured pets of those unable to afford private veterinary fees, through a network of 43 PetAid® hospitals, 4 PetAid branches and some 328 associated private practices (known as PetAid practices).

PDSA PetAid hospitals provide more than 1.3 million free treatments each year, equivalent to more than 4,650 sick and injured pets being treated by PDSA vets and nurses every working day.

To be eligible for free PDSA treatment, pet owners must live within the designated postcode areas of a PetAid service and be in receipt of either Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit.

This year, PDSA PetAid services will cost around £38 million.  They are funded entirely by public support, mainly through donations and gifts in wills.

For more information, please see: www.pdsa.org.uk

 



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BamsePhoto: Courtesy of PDSA

Bamse along with Norwegian soldiersPhoto: Courtesy of PDSA

Bamse's funeralPhoto: Courtesy of PDSA

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