Bamse (pronounced Bump-sa) was a large St. Bernard dog who lived in Honningsvag, Norway, with Captain & Mrs Erling Hafto. When Vigdis, the youngest of the Hafto’s four children, became seriously ill, Bamse guarded her bedside for twelve days and nights.
Soon afterwards, World War II broke out and Captain Hafto took Bamse with him on the minesweeper, ‘The Thorodd’, as a registered crew-member.
During the war, the ship was stationed in Dundee and Montrose, where Bamse became a great favourite. Wearing a personalised steel helmet, Bamse stood guard in the foremost gun tower on the ship and that was his action station until the war was over.
The crew took up a collection for Bamse’s bus pass, which hung around his neck in a plastic wallet. Bus drivers stopped whenever they saw him and Bamse would clamber on to the top deck seemingly aware that dogs were not allowed downstairs.
Bamse also knew when the crew had to be back on board ship and would make his way around the pubs of Montrose dragging his sailors back before the curfew ended. When a pub brawl involved one of his men, Bamse stood on his hind legs (all six foot of him with his 2ft wide chest), clamped his paws on the offender’s shoulders and that was the end of the fight.
When Captain Hafto was giving another posting the crew declared that they would not return to the ship unless Bamse remained. Captain Hafto was forced to entrust Bamse to his successor with the understanding that he would be returned to the Hafto family after the war.
Bamse loved sport and when the crew played football on deck, he was goalkeeper and centre forward. On one occasion, the Norwegian sailors were playing against a Polish team in Dundee. At every goal or near-goal, Bamse leapt out of his seat to bark and howl with delight. Children from far afield came to see Bamse and he patiently gave them rides and playfully rolled on the ground.
One night, when Bamse was strolling on the docks of Dundee with the ship’s Second in Command, a man jumped out of the shadows wielding a knife. Bamse grabbed and dragged the assailant to the edge of the dock and threw him into the water.
Bamse was a PDSA Allied Forces mascot and during the darkest days of the Second World War, was the toast of Norway and Scotland. Dressed mariner’s cap with the words Royal Norske Marine, his photograph was sent to Norwegian naval troops all over the world to raise morale.
In July 1944, Bamse’s huge heart failed. His coffin draped with the Royal Norwegian flag with his sailor’s cap perched on it, was carried by six of The Thorodd’s crew. Eight hundred children, along with shopkeepers, factory workers, housewives and local dignitaries silently lined the way, with the crew of six Norwegian ships standing guard of honour.
Bamse was buried in the sand-dunes on the banks of the South Esk River outside Glaxo, facing towards Norway.
Bamse was awarded the PDSA Gold Medal for gallantry and devotion to duty – the first World War II animal to receive this accolade. This medal was presented on 22 July 2006 at the House of Dun by Montrose to Vigdis Hafto, the little girl who Bamse had protected when she was ill.