Before the war, Bamse was part of the Hafto family and lived with his four human siblings, in the town of Honningsvag, Norway. He was an incredibly caring and protective dog of those he loved. For instance, when the family’s youngest daughter, Vigdis, fell ill, Bamse stayed by her bedside for twelve days, allowing only the doctor and her mother near her, until she recovered.
However, Bamse was remembered not only as a beloved member of the Hafto family, but also as a hero dog, a sailor and a model crew member of the Thorodd.
Bamse The Hero Dog
Since he was a puppy, Bamse’s dad, Captain Hafto, would take the pooch to the sea on the massive Thorodd. During the World War II, the dog was deeply appreciated by the crew which made him a steel helmet to wear while he stood guard on the main gun tower.
Just like the stories of miraculous rescues in the Alps that made Saint Bernards earn their reputation as a rescue dogs, there are many valuable stories starring Bamse and many people who owe him their life. One of them was Lt. Commander Olav August Johan Nilsen from the Royal Norwegian Navy, who was attacked by a man with a knife as he was walking by the quayside. The dog, seeing this, approached them, rose up onto his hind legs and pushed the attacker away and ultimately into the water.
Another rescue was that of a man who fell overboard and nobody noticed, except for Bamse. He jumped in the water after the man and with great difficulty kept both the man and himself afloat until the crew was alerted by his barks and able to pull them back onboard.
A Talented Working Dog
Despite being remembered for his performance during wartime, Bamse was a peacemaker as well. Like other dogs of this breed, he had a calm, kind and very sociable temperament.
Whenever any of the crew members was about to get involved in a fight, he would stand on his hind legs and put his paws on the other man’s shoulders and thus prevent the fight from taking place.
Given his working dog nature, he was a good companion for different activities and had numerous talents. His adventures were the source of inspiration for many stories, many of them compiled in the book Sea Dog Bamse: World War II Canine Hero, written by Andrew Orr, Angus Whitson and Andrew A. Orr and published in 2008.
Bamse’s adventures didn’t end just there. When the crew got him a bus pass to hang around his neck, he would travel by bus by himself and go to every pub to gather all members of the crew when curfew was near its end. Sometimes, he would also visit local bakeries.
This incredible hero was also good in sports and every time the crew played soccer, he was assigned the position of goalkeeper, where he excelled.
He was also quite a comical character. There was one time when he returned covered in coal powder from head to paw. His thick coat was so unbelievably filthy that the crew refused to let him on board. In a funny display of his sense of humor, Bamse offered them a solution when he sat next to a bucket of water awaiting a bath.
Bamse was more than the crew’s mascot, he had earned his place as a crew member. It is understandable why, when Captain Hafto was retiring and was about to take Bamse with him, the crew announced they would not return to the ship without their furry crew member. This forced the Captain to leave Bamse with the crew and his successor until the war ended.
A Hero Dog Tribute
On July 22nd of 1944, Bamse passed away of heart failure close to his boat. On this day, local schools in his hometown were closed and several hundreds of children attended his funeral. He was buried with his head facing his homeland of Norway and received a burial with full military honors. Every ten years the Royal Norwegian Navy holds a commemorative ceremony in his honor.
After his death, he was awarded the Norges Hundeorden in 1984 for his war service as well as the PDSA Gold Medal for gallantry and devotion to duty, which makes him the only World War II animal to have received this. For his 60th anniversary, crew members from the Norwegian force and about 100 invited guests, including the daughter of Captain Hafto, Vigdis, and her family paid their respects.
Several statues of him have been installed in different places in Norway and a £50,000 bronze memorial stands in Wharf Street, Montrose, Scotland, where the Thorodd was based and where Bamse passed away. It was unveiled by Prince Andrew in 2006 and created by Scottish sculptor Allan Herriot with the money raised by the Montrose Bamse Project, an organization founded to keep the story of this amazing dog always alive.
Bamse Historic Trail
During his time aboard the Thorodd, Bamse visited numerous ports. He always managed to get someone to take him for a walk, especially since his presence was very well received by the local women.
In his last port, it is possible to find the “Bamse Trail” which is a walking tour through the area of the Montrose pier in Scotland, which goes from the statue of Bamse to the site where his grave is located. Through the circuit, it is possible to appreciate different views of the port as well as the different bars, pubs and businesses in the area where our hero left his pawprint in time.