Today is Remembrance Day in Canada. It’s a day off work, a day one can sleep in and hide out from the driving November rain. But I would feel remiss, unpatriotic, even guilty, if I let the day pass without saying something with some sort of meaning.
Since the early days of human complexity, humans have been at war. I don’t think a year has passed without some battle occurring somewhere in the world. Many of these battles have been fought not only with human strength, but also with the aid of animals. Horses, elephants, birds, camels, tigers, dogs… I am leaving many out. In last year’s post I wrote briefly about the large contribution dogs have made to human warfare over time. Ever loyal, dogs have faced the dangers of the field by our side for thousands of years. It’s impossible to determine just how many lives were saved due to their assistance. This year, I would like to share the story of one such dog: Gander, the only Canadian dog to have been awarded the Dickin medal for bravery.
Gander was a Newfoundland dog. He began his life towing a sled carrying 45 gallons of fuel at the Gander Airport in the province of Newfoundland. He was a huge hit with local children and when not working he spent his time playing. Unfortunately, his large size and exuberant nature, caused him to accidentally harm one such child, landing her in the hospital. Gander’s owners were distraught. They couldn’t bare the thought of putting him down but they knew they couldn’t keep him. The First Battalion of the Royal Rifles of Canada happened to be located in town so they decided to give Gander to the unit. He immediately became their official mascot.
In 1941, the Canadian military sent the First Battalion to Hong Kong to defend the beaches there. As a member of the unit, Gander travelled across the ocean with them. In December of that year, the soldiers, with Gander by their side, found themselves involved in an intense seventeen-day battle against the invading Japanese.
Courageous and loyal Gander participated actively in the fray. He engaged the enemy on many occasions, barking and and charging at the legs of the enemy troops, forcing them to alter their course. His actions protected groups of injured soldiers who otherwise would have been in the direct line of sight. If it wasn’t for Gander, many more soldiers would have been captured or killed.
However, it was Gander’s final act of remarkable bravery that will be remembered the most. A gathering of injured soldiers were helpless under the intense fire of the Japanese. They could do nothing but watch as a grenade rolled by. Leaping forward, Gander grabbed the grenade in his mouth and ran. He was able to run far enough away the soldiers were saved from the inevitable explosion. Gander was not.
In the year 2000, Gander’s memory was honoured with the Dickin Medal in an official ceremony. Created in 1943, the bronze medal is awarded to animals who have performed magnificent actions in war. As mentioned above, Gander is the only Canadian dog to have received the medal. One of his former handlers, one of the men Gander worked so hard to protect, accepted it for him with great pride.