Statue of Bamse in Honningsvag

When we saw this statue of Bamse on our recent holiday I vaguely remembered hearing about him when a matching statue was installed in Montrose, Scotland a few years ago but could not remember the whole story, so I ordered a splendid book about him…. “Sea Dog Bamse, WW2 canine hero”  by Angus Whitson and Andrew Orr.

He was a 14 stone St. Bernard who was originally bought as a family pet by Captain Hafto. He was a gentle giant and had a remarkable affinity with humans and appointed himself as guardian to the four children, shepherding them around and giving rides on his back, carrying shopping home in the panniers on his back and pulling a sledge in winter.

When Germany invaded Norway Captain Hafto was recalled to the Norwegian navy. He was to take command of the Thorodd a former whaling ship which was fitted out for coastal protection. He took Bamse with him and in February 1940 Bamse was formally entered on the ship’s muster roll. A broom cupboard was fitted out as a cabin for him as a kennel, where he could retreat in bad weather (He suffered badly from sea sickness).

In the 62 days between the invasion and capitulation Bamse built his reputation for “fearless in action” and “steadfast under fire”. He refused to go below decks and took his place by the Oerlikon gunner, snarling at the enemy, wearing his steel helmet, hackles erect. He inspired the crew with his courage. Many of these were only boys and probably scared to death and Bamse was a kindly confidante.

There were some Allied victories around Narvik but by 3rd June the order was given for the Allied forces to withdraw and 7th June the Norwegian Royal Navy was ordred to save their ships and make for Britain. The Norwegian Royal family, government and diplomats and most of the gold reserves were spirited away from Tromso by HMS Devonshire.

Thorodd managed to sail over to Scotland and whilst she was being converted to a mine sweeper the crew had to get used to life in Britain. Bamse soon adapted to this very different lifestyle, learned to ride on a bus, ride on a train and got a liking for beer. He regularly accompanied the crew to the pub and shepherded them safely back to barracks! If he had stayed on board he would go out on “curfew patrol” and make sure that his crew was back on time. He could not bear violence and fighting and stories are told of how he would deal with any troublemakers. He was never aggressive, it was enough that he would raise himself on his hind legs to his full height of 6 feet, place his huge paws on the miscreant’s shoulders and push him away. He would also take his turn at guarding the gangway. He planted himself at the top of the gangway and refused to allow anyone onboard until given permission by the sailor in charge.

Bamse had an enormous appetite and quickly developed friendships with several food shop owners and made his daily round of visits. 🙂 Luckily he had a liking for fish.

Bamse’s fame spread and he became a symbol of hope for many of the exiled Norwegians. On at least two occasions he is credited with saving the lives of “his” human friends. The first was when he was following a sailor back to the ship. A ruffian attacked the sailor with a knife.  Bamse saw what was happening and bounded along the quaysideto his rescue. He raised himself onto his hind legs and pushed the attacker away and over the edge of the quay.

The second time was when a seaman fell overboard into the fast flowing river. Bamse was the only one to see it and after barking furiously to raise the alarm he leapt over the meter high gunwale and managed to keep the seaman and himself afloat until they could be rescued.

By 1944 Bamse’s health was failing, in common with many large breeds St Bernards are not long lived and he was about 7 years old. By this time they were docked in Montrose and when Bamse died they had a funeral for him which was attended by many sailors and towns people, there are reports that when he was buried there was a crowd of several hundred spread among the dunes.

The grave has been maintained to this day and in 2006 a statue of Bamse facing Norway was was unveiled by Prince Andrew in Montrose. He was also awarded a post humous gold medal from the PDSA. In 2009 a matching statue was erected in Honningvag (facing South East towards Montrose)