Gander: Canada's Black Beast

Gander, a large Newfoundland, became famous in history as the mascot for the 1st Battalion of the Royal Rifles of Canada. He terrorized the enemy protecting his troops, and lost his life saving them.

In 1940, the 130 pound Newfoundland dog was a family pet named Pal, living in Gander, Newfoundland. Like most dogs in the town, Pal roamed freely and was well known by the townsfolk. He was a friendly dog to all, and the children loved playing with him. One day Pal exuberantly jumped on a six year old girl and accidentally scratched her face, requiring medical attention. The family was worried they would be forced to have Pal put down so they chose to give their beloved pet to the Royal Rifles of Canada, a regiment of the Canadian Army stationed at Gander International Airport. The soldiers renamed him Gander, promoted him to sergeant and made him their official mascot.

Pal pulling children on a sled

In 1941, the unit was shipped to Hong Kong to defend the land from the invading Japanese. Initially, the city was peaceful and life was good. According to Rifleman Fred Kelly, who was responsible for taking care of Gander, the dog would take long cold showers and even enjoy a few beers to help deal with the immense heat. On December 8, 1941 things changed when the Battle of Hong Kong began, and Gander had no problem giving up his luxurious life to protect his fellow soldiers during battle.

There are at least three documented occasions of Gander protecting his troops. The first was when Japanese troops landed on the beach. Gander rushed at them, barking, growling and snapping at their legs, diverting the attackers away from his men. The second occurred at night when Gander was looking after wounded soldiers lying near a road. When a group of Japanese soldiers advanced toward them, Gander charged at them, causing them to change direction and saving the wounded soldiers from discovery. The third unfortunately cost Gander his life. The soldiers were pinned down during close fighting and when a Japanese soldier threw a grenade towards them Gander swooped up the grenade with his mouth and ran toward the enemy. Gander was instantly killed when the grenade exploded in his mouth, saving his soldiers' lives.

Eighteen days after the battle began, Hong Kong fell to the Japanese and the surviving soldiers were sent to prison camps. According to anecdotes, the Japanese interrogated the prisoners about the black beast, fearing that the Canadians were training ferocious animals to fight in its army.

On October 27, 2000, Gander was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal for Gallantry. Fred Kelly accepted the medal on Gander's behalf. In 2009, when the Hong Kong Veterans Memorial Wall was created, survivors of the war insisted that Gander's name be listed alongside the 1,977 Canadians who died during the battle. In 2015, the Gander Heritage Memorial Park unveiled a statue of Sergeant Gander, a true WWII hero.