Captain Erling Hafto, the master of the Norwegian whale catcher Thorodd, purchased a St. Bernard in Norway during 1937. He named his new friend Bamse, the Norwegian term for “teddy bear”. He never imagined that Bamse would become the heroic mascot of the Free Norwegian Forces during the Second World War and a symbol of freedom.
Bamse was taken to sea at a young age and at the start of the Second World War, the Thorodd was drafted into the Norwegian Navy and based in Hammerfest. The loveable St. Bernard was enrolled as an official crew member on February 9th, 1940.
Bamse was very important to the crew of the ship. During battle, he would stand on the front gun tower of the boat, wearing his specially made helmet, courtesy of the crew. Once, he saved a young lieutenant commander who was assaulted by a man with a knife and Bamse shoved the attacker into the sea. He was also known to have dragged a sailor back to shore that had fallen overboard. Bamse lifted the moral and spirits of the crew and quickly became well known to the local civilians.
One of Bamse’s most important tasks in Scotland was to round up the sailors and escort them back to the ship in time for duty. He traveled by bus alone, using a bus pass the crew had purchased him and affixed to his collar. He would make his way to the bus stop, climb aboard, and ride it to the crew’s favorite watering hole, the Bodega Bar, and go inside to fetch them. If he couldn’t find them, he would simply take the bus back to base.
Bamse had his picture taken wearing a Norwegian sailor’s hat and it was used on Easter and Christmas cards during the war due to his symbolism. Bamse was then the mascot of the Royal Norwegian Army and all the Free Norwegian Forces.
Bamse was buried with full military honors at a funeral attended by hundreds of sailors, servicemen, schoolchildren, and townsfolk. He had suffered heart failure and passed on the dockside at Montrose July 22, 1944. His gravesite is located in the sand dunes and is still looked after by local people and the GlaxoSmithKline factory. Every ten years, the Royal Norwegian Navy has a commemorative ceremony.
A giant bronze statue of Bamse was unveiled at Warf Street in Montrose on October 17th, 2006. He was previously awarded the Norges Hundeorden on September 30th, 1984 for his war service and the PDSA Gold Medal in 2006 for gallantry and devotion to duty. He is the only animal of World War II to have received this honor.
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