Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Fighting Dog

April 17th, 2006

DOG STORIES are likely to get a good reception from the man with two dogs   But when the story is based in Montrose, the home-town where I grew up, and is true and concerns a Second World War dog hero, I'm hooked.

 Bamse' (pronounced  Bum-sa') was a seadog in the truest sense, because he truly went to sea during WW2, and saw action   A huge St Bernard, he would have been an unlikely dog for a larger ship, but he was the mascot of the Royal Norwegian Navy minesweeper  Thorodd', which was stationed at Montrose, from where she patrolled the North Sea  

Bamse – the name comes from the Scandinavian meaning  bear' or  teddybear', and also  giant'    Giant teddybear' seems an appropriate name for this generous hearted dog whose placid temperament masked such strength of character.

Born in 1937, he became the family pet of Thorodd's captain, Erling Hafto, and had it not been for the outbreak of war Bamse would probably have continued to enjoy the comfortable home life he had grown used to   But he started accompanying Captain Hafto to sea, and escaped with him to Scotland aboard the Thorodd in 1940, after the invasion of Norway by Germany. There are crew members still alive who recall their gentle giant with the greatest affection, and memories of him are still very much alive in Montrose, where he is buried.

Bamse developed the most remarkable bond and affinity with his human masters and colleagues, with whom he was unusually close   Two members of Thorodd's crew owed their lives to him, and all of the crew regarded him as more than a lucky mascot   So much so that when Captain Hafto was posted to another ship and tried to take his dog with him, Thorodd's crew confronted him and refused to allow it   So essential had the dog become to crew morale, they threatened they would not return to sea without him.

He was undoubtedly a dog of exceptional character and loyalty   He saved the life of Lt August Nilsen, second in command of Thorodd, who was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant when the ship made a visit to Dundee   Sensing the danger, Bamse tackled the aggressor and knocked him into the water   Another crew member who fell overboard was saved from drowning when Bamse dived in to save him.

And he seems to have acquired a sense of chivalry, too   There is a story of him sorting out some boisterous Royal Navy sailors who tried to queue-jump a line of patient Dundonians who were queuing for tickets for a Vera Lynne show   Nobody would stand up to the sailors until Bamse's towering presence, six foot high on his hind legs and fourteen stone, brought a sense of order back to things.

Bamse cared for his crew faithfully   There are numerous stories of him patrolling the ship's gangway most effectively against all comers except the ship's crew   As sailors will, they spent much of their spare time ashore in the Anchor Bar, in Ferry Street, which was the closest pub to Thorodd's mooring.
Towards closing time Bamse would appear at the bar and escort his fellow sailors back to their ship to sleep off their excesses.

In recognition of his importance to the ship, Bamse became an official crew member of Thorodd on 9 February 1940, and remained with her for four and a half years unbroken service until his death in July 1944   He had his own Norwegian Navy cap and a specially made tin helmet which he wore during action   His contribution to crew morale was highlighted by his great self-control and indifference when he took up his position in the forward gun tower.

But Bamse had all the dog characteristics you would expect   His appetite matched his size, and there are many memories in Montrose of him quietly, but purposefully, appearing at the town's butchers and bakers with a look of haggard starvation   Even in those days of wartime shortages, his heart-rending expression was always successful. And he was also dog enough to have the occasional fight with other dogs   There are no reports of him ever coming off second best!

Despite his legendary lifetime exploits, Bamse's death was undistinguished   He collapsed on the dock side, just yards from where his beloved Thorodd was tied up   Mr Rice, the local vet was called   After a thorough examination he decided that the most humane thing to do was put him to sleep.

The loss to the community was palpable   The townsfolk of Montrose had taken him to their hearts and, such was the respect for the dignified dog, the schools closed and several hundred school children attended his funeral   He was buried overlooking the entrance to Montrose Harbour, facing towards his native Norway.

The people of Montrose and Norway, linked by a common respect for this animal hero, never let his memory fade   Thanks to the efforts of local GP, Dr Andrew Orr, a fund was established to erect a larger than life-size bronze statue on the harbour front where it will be seen by many more people than visit his grave at present   Known as  The Montrose Bamse Project', much work and fundraising has taken place in Montrose, and in Norway too, to raise the £50000 to pay for the statue and its installation at its permanent site.

Renowned Scottish sculptor, Alan Herriot, has been commissioned to create the statue.

In July 2005 the Norwegian Sail Training Ship  Statsraad Lehmkhul' visited Montrose to honour Bamse's memory, and to visibly support the project to create a permanent memorial.

A further exciting development has been the PDSA's (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals) decision to award the old seadog, sixty two years after his death, the veterinary charity's Gold Medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross   This posthumous recognition of Bamse's gallantry and devotion to duty is likely to be unique   It is the first medal awarded for World War Two service, and likely to be the last, because of the difficulty now of gathering evidence.

National recognition of Bamse's contribution to the war effort will be the inclusion of a small bronze version of the statue in the Imperial War Museum's main 2006 exhibition,  The Animals' War', which runs from 14 July for nine months   (see link     http://london.iwm.org.uk/server.php?show=nav.00b)

Bamse has been described as  a very special symbol to the Norwegian Navy', and the affection with which Montrosians held him in the past has been rekindled with the success of the memorial committee's efforts.

The Montrose Bamse Project still seeks further support to complete the memorial to this special dog   Donations can be sent to Mrs Jean Stevenson CA, The Montrose Heritage Trust, 186 High Street, Montrose DD10 8HP

Bamse's story is remarkable, and like Greyfriars Bobby, just couldn't be invented.

For those who live in, or are visiting, the Montrose area there is an exhibition of children's art commemorating Bamse   For more information see
         www.angusahead.com    

If you have enjoyed Country Claivers please tell your friends about this breath of fresh air from Scotland.

Best wishes

Angus Whitson
Man with two dogs

Written on Monday, April 17th, 2006 at 8:54 pm for Claivers.