Newfoundland dogs are renown for their friendliness, love of children and for their rescuing abilities. Since the breed was developed in Newfoundland over a hundred years ago, there have been many stories told of Newfoundlands saving passengers from sinking ships and rescuing children in trouble while playing in their favourite swimming holes. But there is one Newfoundland that showed bravery and loyalty beyond what is commonly credited to the breed. His name was Gander and he gave his life protecting Canadian and other Commonwealth soldiers on the beaches of Hong Kong Island during World War II.
In 1940, Gander was the family pet of Rod Hayden, a resident of the town of Gander in Newfoundland. The dog's name at that time was Pal. He was well known in the town, but often mistaken as a bear by pilots landing at the airport. This gentle giant was loved by the neighbourhood children who used him to tow their sleds during winter. One day, while greeting a group of children, Pal's paw accidentally scratched the face of a six year old. Concerned that the dog might have to be "put down", Mr. Hayden gave Pal to the 1 st Battalion of the Royal Rifles of Canada as a mascot. His new owners called him Gander, after the military base they were responsible for protecting during the war.
Gander and the Royal Rifles were sent to Hong Kong Island in 1941 where they joined other Commonwealth troops to defend the island against attacks by the Japanese. During the Battle of the Lye Mun, Gander displayed great bravery protecting his "newfound" friends. When the Japanese landed near the Canadian section of the beach, Gander greeted the enemy with threatening barks and attempts at biting their legs. On another occasion as Japanese troops were nearing a group of wounded Canadian soldiers, Gander surprised the enemy by charging them. For some reason, the Japanese were unwilling to shoot the dog. Instead, they changed their route and the lives of the wounded soldiers were saved.
Gander showed his greatest and last act of bravery and loyalty during another Japanese attack. During the battle, an enemy grenade landed near a group of Canadian soldiers. Probably out of concern for his friends, Gander grabbed the grenade in his mouth and carried it to where it would do no harm. Unfortunately, the grenade exploded in Gander's mouth, killing him instantly. He had given his life saving the lives of the Canadian soldiers.
The story of Gander's bravery, once well-known and told many times by residents of his home town, was almost forgotten. In a conversation between Mrs. Eileen Elms, who knew the dog as Pal and whose sister had been scratched by the dog, and local historian Mr. Frank Tibbo, Gander's act of bravery was mentioned. Through their efforts, Gander's story was revived and his act of bravery recognized.
Gander, the Newfoundland dog, was posthumously awarded the prestigious Dickin Medal, equivalent to the Victoria Cross given to soldiers of the British Commonwealth for their acts of bravery. Gander was awarded the medal in August, 2000 at a Hong Kong Veterans of Canada reunion in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, And all the Virtues of Man without his Vices.