Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gander the war dog.

Our countries remain neighbors in location and hearts. My mother and father spoke of this day and just like the death of John Kennedy and numerous other historical events, Pearl Harbor was remembered in my household.

Canada declared war almost immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. My country had already committed to the War by the deployment of two Canadian infantry battalions to the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong. Those battalions, the first Canadians to see land action in World War II, were destroyed when the Japanese took Hong Kong. During WWII, Pearl Harbor had an immense effect on Canada. So many Canadian men and women lost their lives in the war and many others were injured. In an earlier post of mine, I featured the Elgin Regiment which is comprised of men from my own area.

To tell the story of the Battle of Hong Kong, I write about The Riflemen of The Royal Rifles of Canada and the Grenadiers of The Winnipeg Grenadiers who fought one of the Second World War's most savage battles. The Hong Kong contingent consisted of soldiers drawn from the Quebec-based Royal Rifles and the Winnipeg Grenadiers. They were the first Canadian infantry units to see combat in the Second World War and for 18 days in December 1941 they fought, died, were wounded and finally captured on December 25th to spend 44 months in a Japanese POW camp.

This is the story about their dog Gander: Hailed the dauntless war dog.

The dog was originally named Pal and was a great favourite among the children. But Pal got into trouble one day, when he innocently scratched a child's face with his paw. It was an accident; Pal was only greeting the child with his usual exuberance however, Pal's owner, worried he would be forced to put down the dog, gave him to the soldiers as their mascot.

The soldiers changed his name to Gander and took the dog to heart.

Gander, who was so large he was often mistaken for a bear, quickly adapted to military life. He was elevated to sergeant faster than any enlisted man and on parade, he would proudly march up front, wearing his sergeant's stripes and the regimental badge fixed to his harness."

Sergeant Gander accompanied the Royal Rifles when they sailed to Hong Kong in the fall of 1941.

Gander settled in and could often be found sleeping in the shade of a veranda. A favorite story is that some Chinese workers on the base tried to abscond with him once in hopes of turning him into dinner and a snarling Gander rounded on them and drove them off, adding to his status among the soldiers.

When the invasion began the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, Gander was ready to fight.

"Gander showed no fear of guns or bombs," It was written by Andrew "Ando" Flanagan." At the battle of Lye Mun Gap, he also attacked the Japanese troops as they landed near the Canadian section of the beach."

During the fight, one caring soldier put Gander with his wounded men for his own protection. When a few Japanese soldiers ventured too close to his wounded comrades, Gander attacked them and the enemy ran away shouting 'Black devil' in Japanese.

"Later during interrogation," Ando wrote, "the Japanese asked some Canadians about the black devil. Apparently, they thought the Canadians had trained black beasts to fight in battle."

Gander became more than a simple mascot after he was killed in action. He was lost when he scooped up a grenade that was tossed by the enemy into a group of wounded soldiers and it exploded in his mouth as he was running away with it towards Japanese lines. So typical with our beloved pets, he gave his own life and saved the soldiers lives. He lived on as a hero though and became a source of pride and encouragement for the Canadians who were captured and who spent almost four years in the notoriously cruel Japanese POW system.

In 2000, Gander was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal, an award for "any animal displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty whilst serving with the British Commonwealth armed forces."

Gander's citation states:

"For saving the lives of Canadian infantrymen during the Battle of Lye Mun on Hong Kong Island in December, 1941. On three documented occasions, Gander, the Newfoundland mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada, engaged the enemy as his regiment joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers, members of Battalion Headquarters 'C' Force and other Commonwealth troops in their courageous defense of the island. Twice Gander's attacks halted the enemy's advance and protected groups of wounded soldiers. In a final act of bravery the war dog was killed in action gathering a grenade. Without Gander's intervention, many more lives would have been lost in the assault."

Gander's medal is also on permanent display in the Hong Kong section of the Canadian War Museum.

You'll see Gander's name where he belongs now, forever beside the soldiers names who he loved and served with at the Hong Kong Veterans Memorial Wall, unveiled on August 15th, 2009. The memorial wall a monument to the Canadians, sits on Sussex Drive, a few blocks from Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

The surviving Hong Kong vets made certain that Gander's name was etched on the memorial among the 1,975 men and two women, (two nursing sisters,) who fought for Canada in this battle.

The soldiers who lived in squalid prisoner-of-war camps after the fall of the island had one unwavering policy: They shared any food that came into their possession just as they had shared their rations with Gander. In the same spirit, they wanted Gander to share in their public remembrance, a twenty foot high concrete wall encased in granite.

Yes Gander, the a massive Newfoundland dog who fought and died at their side. Lest we forget!


  1. What a great story! Thanks for sharing!

  2. That story brought tears to my eyes. I have owned two Newfoundlands in my life, and they were wonderful dugs.

  3. What a wonderful story. Gander certainly deserves his place of honor. I just loved this story, Lucy. Thank you so much for sharing it. Dogs are naturally selfless, but for Gander to go above and beyond, it just makes me grateful for their presence in our lives.

  4. Fascinating and sad story. I too remember my mother talking about Pearl Harbor and the whole family listening to President Roosevelt on the radio that day. I had the privilege of seeing Pearl Harbor five years ago and was very moved. The memory lives with me.

  5. Thanks for sharing that wonderful story.

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