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 their four children, became seriously ill, Bamse guarded her bedside for twelve days and nights until the crisis was over. World War II broke out and Captain Hafto took Bamse with him on the minesweeper 'The Thorodd' as a registered crew-member.
The ship was stationed in Dundee and Montrose during the war and Bamse became a great favourite of everyone. Wearing a personalised steel helmet, Bamse stood guard in the foremost gun tower and didn't move until hostilities were over.
The crew in Montrose and Dundee 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 clambered on to the top deck aware that dogs were not allowed downstairs. Bamse knew when the crew had to be back on board whip and made 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 leaving for another posting, the crew asked where Bamse was going. "Why? With me of course" answered the Captain, "He's my dog!" The crew declared they would not return to ship unless Bamse remained. Captain Hafto was forced to entrust Bamse to his successor with the understanding that he would be reclaimed for the family after the war.
Bamse loved participating in sports and when the crew played football on deck, he was goalkeeper and centre forward, flying into the air to butt the ball, cheered on by the sailors. 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 as much as the match. He patiently gave them rides and playfully rolled on the ground.
One night, strolling on the docks of Dundee with his Second in Command, several yards ahead Bamse witnessed a man jump out of the shadows wielding a knife ready to attack his Officer. Bamse raced to the scene, 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, Bamse was the toast of Norway and Scotland. His photograph dressed in mariner's cap with the words Royal Norske Marine was sent to Norwegian Naval troops all over the world at Christmas and Easter to raise morale.
Bamse has just been awarded the PDSA Gold Medal for gallantry and devotion to duty: the first World War ll animal to receive this accolade. The Gold Medal was presented on 22 July 2006 at the House of Dun by Montrose to its original owner Vigdis Hafto who flew in from Norway with her family to receive it.
Bamse moved seamlessly from family pet to sea-dog to global mascot for the Royal Norwegian forces, but in July 1944, his huge heart failed and he died. Bamse's 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 silently lined the way and shopkeepers, factory workers and housewives turned out with them. Local dignitaries and the crew of six Norwegain ships stood guard of honour. Bamse was buried in the sand-dunes on the banks of the South Esk River outside Glaxo, facing towards Norway.
On 14 July 2006 the Imperial War Museum opened their major exhibition entitled 'The Animal's War' and Bamse will feature in the bronze model created by internationally known sculptor Alan Herriot for the larger than life statue that will be unveiled later this year at Montrose Harbour. The exhibition continues until Easter 2007.
The Bamse Project under Montrose Heritage Trust is raising £50,000 to erect a larger than life-size bronze statue of Bamse at Montrose Harbour. So far £38,000 has been raised, half of it coming from Norway. Anyone wishing to make a donation please make it payable to Montrose Heritage Trust and send to: Mrs Jean Stevenson, CA, 186 High Street, Montrose DD10 8PH.
A statue of Bamse in Montrose will create national and international interest for animal lovers, children, artists and visitors interested in the heritage of Montrose and will add to the Town's reputation as the Sculpture Trail of Scotland.