Bamse: Norwegian Sea Dog

Bamse became famous in history as the mascot to the Norwegian ship Thorodd during the Second World War. He looked after his crew, saved two lives and was loved by all.

Bamse (pronounced Bump-sa, the Norwegian word for teddy bear) was a Saint Bernard belonging to Captain Erling Hafto. During WWII, before the fall of Norway, the Captain and his crew on the Thorodd were able to escape to the UK. The ship was stationed at Dundee and Montrose in Scotland and was used as a minesweeper.

The Captain took Bamse with him and made him an official member of the Royal Norwegian Navy - the ship's mascot. The crew took an immediate liking to him, and Bamse became a guardian to them. During action he would stand guard in the foremost gun tower, wearing a steel helmet, and would not leave his post until all was safe. During downtime he would go ashore and roam the area, wearing a sailor's collar and mariner's cap, becoming a favorite among the townspeople. The crew even bought Bamse a bus pass which he wore around his neck. He would often board the bus on his own and climb to the top deck where he was allowed to sit.

Bamse knew which pubs the crew frequented and when they had to be back on the ship. He would keep a watchful eye on his men. He made sure they returned to the ship before curfew and when a pub brawl involved one of his men he would place his front paws on the offender's shoulders, putting an immediate end to the fight. Sometimes Bamse would enjoy a pint of beer with the guys. On one reported occasion, the pub's cat was sitting on the bar where Bamse wanted to sit and the determined dog stood up and casually pushed the cat aside to make room for his bowl of beer.

Bamse was credited for saving the lives of two of his men. One was Lieutenant Commander Nilsen. While walking along the quayside, the Commander was attacked by a man with a knife. Bamse saw the attack, bounded up the quayside, and pushed the attacker into the water. The other was a crew member who was believed to have been drunk. The man fell overboard and Bamse was the only one to notice the fall. He alerted the men with his loud barking, jumped into the water, and struggled to keep the man afloat until both of them were safely pulled aboard.

The crew loved Bamse. When Captain Hafto was assigned to another post, they refused to return to the ship unless the Captain agreed to leave Bamse with them. Hafto finally gave in, with the understanding Bamse would be returned to him at the end of the war.

On July 22, 1944 Bamse died of a failed heart in Montrose. He was about seven years old. Bamse was buried with full military honors in the sand dunes on the banks of the South Esk River in Montrose. Norwegian sailors, allied servicemen and townspeople were present. Schools even closed for the day so hundreds of children could attend the funeral.

Evelyn Le Chene in her book Silent Heroes describes the effect of Bamse’s death:

"Grown men who had stoically endured a cruel war, separation from their families, grave losses and exile from their country cried openly. Grief was not confined to the Thorodd it was instantly echoed far and wide, in the naval depots, on visiting ships, buses and in all local schools. There could not have been a more loving bond between two peoples, the Norwegians and Scots, than that which Bamse had created".

Bamse was posthumously awarded the PDSA Gold Medal in 2006 for his exceptional acts of gallantry and devotion to duty, the only WWII animal to have received this honor. Captain Hafto's daughter Vigdis accepted the medal on behalf of Bamse. That same year a statue of Bamse was unveiled by Prince Andrew on Wharf Street in Montrose. Every 10 years the Norwegian Navy sends a ship to Scotland to hold a commemorative ceremony for Bamse.