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.

A Corner of a Scottish Field that is Forever Norway – The Scottish Banner

January 31st, 2012

P1020587ON THE waterfront of the historic east of Scotland port of Montrose stands an eye-catching larger than life bronze statue of a St Bernard dog. The dog was called Bamse (pronounced “Bum-sa”) and his inspirational wartime story has been revived and perpetuated for future generations with the unveiling of his statue by Prince Andrew, HRH The Duke of York on 17th October 2006.

Bamse was a seadog in the truest sense, because he truly went to sea during World War II, and saw action. Ship’s dogs are a familiar sight on Norwegian vessels and Bamse was ship’s mascot of the Royal Norwegian Navy minesweeper KNM Thorodd (“Too-rod”), FY 1905, which was based at Montrose in 1943 and 1944. Thorodd played a vital role as part of the 71st Minesweeper Group, securing the shipping lanes on Scotland’s east coast and allowing safe passage for the Royal Navy warships and Russian convoys sailing to the North Atlantic and the Murmansk routes.

Bamse (the name comes from the Scandinavian meaning teddy bear) seems an appropriate name for this generous-hearted dog whose outward placid temperament masked great strength of character. He started life as the family pet of Thorodd’s captain, Erling Hafto and, had it not been for the outbreak of war, would have likely reached old age still enjoying the comfortable home life he grew up in.

On 9th April 1940 Germany invaded Norway, unleashing Operation Weserubung, the greatest combined army, navy and air force operation of the twentieth century up to that time. At 0355 hours on 8th June Thorodd cast off her moorings from the northern Norwegian port of Tromso and set course for Scotland, following in the wake of Royal Navy heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire which had spirited away the Norwegian king, Haakon VII, and the Royal Family, to set up a Norwegian government in exile in London. On Thorodd, accompanying his master, was Skipshunden Bamse escaping to Scotland to carry on his personal war to liberate his homeland from the German invaders.
Bamse had already shown himself to be outgoing and gregarious and very much a peoples’ dog. He could be the gentlest of dogs, allowing children to clamber on him for piggy-back rides, but from an early age he displayed a strong sense of responsibility, especially towards the Hafto children for whom he became a canine guardian.

When he became a dog of war he developed a remarkable bond and affinity with Thorodd’s crew, which spilled over into his relationships with humans generally. 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, the crew confronted him and refused to allow it. So essential had the dog become to crew morale, they threatened to refuse to return to sea without him. Bamse stayed on!

He was undoubtedly a dog of exceptional character and loyalty. Two members of the crew owed their lives directly to him. Lt. August Nilsen, Thorodd’s second-in-command was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant when the ship made a visit to Dundee. Sensing the danger, Bamse tackled the aggressor and pushed him into the harbour. Another crew member who fell overboard was saved from drowning when Bamse dived in to save him.

He had 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 Forces Sweetheart, Vera Lynn, show. Nobody would confront the sailors until Bamse’s towering presence, fourteen stone and rearing up six foot high on his hind legs, restored a sense of order to the situation.

Bamse cared for his crew faithfully. There are numerous tales of him patrolling Thorodd’s gangway most effectively against all comers except her 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 berth at Montrose. Towards closing time Bamse would appear and physically coax his fellow sailors out of the bar and escort them back to the ship in time to beat the curfew deadline and sleep off their excesses.

His contribution to crew morale was highlighted by his great self-control and indifference to the clamour of battle when he took up his self-appointed position on the platform of the bow-mounted 20-mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft cannon, alongside the gunner. He had his own Norwegian Navy sailor’s cap and a specially adapted steel helmet which he wore during action. As German fighter planes attacked Thorodd, Bamse is described as standing with “teeth bared, eyes blazing and tail straight out behind him” – typical signs of canine aggression.

The gentler side of his nature was reflected in an apparent deep love of music which sometimes moved him to a mournful, bass accompaniment. By comparison he was a vociferous follower of Scotland’s national game of football – supporters coming to see Bamse’s touchline antics almost as much as to watch the football itself.

He had all the other dog characteristics you would expect. His appetite matched his size, and there are still memories in Montrose of him purposefully appearing at the town’s butchers and bakers wearing a look of haggard starvation. These may have been days of wartime shortages but his heart-rending expression was always rewarded. And he was certainly 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, and surrounded by his shipmates. The local vet was called who decided, after a thorough examination, that the most humane thing to do was put the dog to sleep. The date was 22nd July 1944.

The loss to the community was palpable. The townsfolk of Montrose had taken the refugee dog to their hearts and, such was the respect for the dignified animal, the schools closed and several hundred mourners, including school children, attended his funeral. So he did not live to see Norway’s liberation and was buried in sand dunes overlooking the entrance to Montrose Harbour, with his head pointing towards his homeland. His grave is cared for to this day by Montrosians who still remember.

Bamse repaid in equal measure the respect and affection shown him by his Scottish hosts and adopted homeland. The people of Montrose and Norway, linked by a common respect for this animal hero, have never let his memory fade. Sixty two years after his death the PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) decided to award the old seadog the veterinary charity’s Gold Medal, the animal equivalent of the UK’s George Cross. This posthumous recognition of Bamse’s gallantry and devotion to duty is likely to be unique. It was the first time the medal was awarded for World War II service, and likely to be the last, because of the difficulty now of gathering evidence.

His story has been told in Scottish best seller ‘Sea Dog Bamse, World War II Canine Hero’ by Angus Whitson and Andrew Orr, and can be followed also in www.bamsemontrose.co.uk

Written on Tuesday, January 31st, 2012 at 6:03 pm for Claivers.