b. 1937 Oslo, Norway. d. 22/07/1944 Montrose, Scotland.
DATE OF PDSA GOLD MEDAL ACTION: 1941-1942
Bamse was bought in Oslo, Norway by Captain Erling Hafto, the master of the Norwegian whale-catcher Thorodd, and he was taken to sea from an early age. In her childhood memories of pre-war Honningsvåg, Captain Hafto's daughter Vigdis remembers Bamse as a very kind dog that would look after the children while they were playing.
At the onset of the Second World War, Thorodd was drafted into the Royal Norwegian Navy as a coastal patrol vessel, based in Hammerfest, and Bamse was enrolled as an official crew member on 9 February 1940. After the Nazi invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940 the Thorodd was part of the naval opposition to the Germans and had as one of its uses POW transport. Shortly before the 10 June 1940 capitulation of mainland Norway, Thorodd was one of 13 Norwegian naval vessels to escape to the UK, arriving 17 June 1940. She was converted to a minesweeper in Rosyth from 30 June 1940 and stationed in Montrose and Dundee in Scotland, where she remained for the rest of the war.
Bamse lifted the morale of the ship's crew, and became well known to the local civilian population. In battle, he would stand on the front gun tower of the boat, and the crew made him a special metal helmet. His acts of heroism included saving a young lieutenant commander who had been attacked by a man wielding a knife by pushing the assailant into the sea, and dragging back to shore a sailor who had fallen overboard. He was also known for breaking up fights amongst his crewmates by putting his paws on their shoulders, calming them down and then leading them back to the ship. One of Bamse's tasks in Scotland was to round up his crew and escort them back to the ship in time for duty or curfew. To do this, he travelled on the local buses unaccompanied, and the crew bought him a bus pass which was attached to his collar. Bamse would wander down to the bus stop at Broughty Ferry Road and take the bus down to Dundee. He would get off at the bus stop near his crew's favourite watering hole, the Bodega Bar and go in to fetch them. If he could not locate his friends he would take the bus back to base.
From his ship's mascot, Bamse became mascot of the Royal Norwegian Navy, and then of all the Free Norwegian Forces. An iconic photograph of him wearing a Norwegian sailor's cap was used on patriotic Easter cards and Christmas cards during the war. The PDSA made him an official Allied Forces Mascot.
Suffering from heart failure, Bamse died on the dockside at Montrose on 22 July 1944. He was buried with full military honours. Hundreds of Norwegian sailors, Allied servicemen, schoolchildren and townsfolk from Montrose and Dundee attended his funeral. His grave site in the sand dunes has been looked after by local people. The Royal Norwegian Navy holds a commemorative ceremony every ten years.
Bamse was posthumously awarded Norges Hundeorden (Norwegian Order of Dogs) on 30 September 1984 for his war service. In 2006, he was also awarded the PDSA Gold Medal (sometimes known as the "animals' George Cross") for gallantry and devotion to duty, the only World War II animal to have received this honour.
On 17 October 2006, HRH The Duke of York unveiled a larger than life sized bronze statue of Bamse, made by Scottish sculptor Alan Herriot, on Montrose's Wharf Street. The Norwegian consul in Edinburgh, Bjørn Eilertsen, brought greetings from Norway's king, Harald V. Other attendees included the Lathallan School Pipe Band, Royal Norwegian Navy representatives, Hans Petter Oset (director of the Royal Norwegian Navy Museum), and Vigdis Hafto (the daughter of Bamse's owner).
In August 2008 author and columnist Angus Whitson and Andrew Orr of the Montrose Bamse Project published a new book, Sea Dog Bamse. The book charts Bamse's life — from prewar days in Honningsvåg, through the five years of war, until his heartfelt death. Using extensive source material and new eyewitness accounts, it relates stories of the Hafto family, the Norwegian Campaign, the minesweeper Thorodd and its crew, the naval war off East Scotland, and the bonds between the Norwegians and the Scots are threaded together. The hardback version became a Scottish best-seller, and a paperback version was released in October 2009.
PDSA GOLD MEDAL CITATION:
For saving the life of two members of the crew of Royal Norwegian Navy minesweeper, The Thorodd, and for his unstinting devotion to duty as ship’s mascot during WWII.
BURIAL LOCATION: MONTROSE HARBOUR, MONTROSE, SCOTLAND.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: UNKNOWN.
NO IMAGE AVAILABLE