Skip to main content

Remembrance Day in Canada is a solemn occasion when we honour the sacrifices of our veterans who served in times of war and conflict. While we often think of human heroes, it’s essential to remember that animals, too, played a significant role during wartime. In this blog, we’ll pay tribute to our four-legged friends and tell the heartwarming story of Gander, a remarkable dog who left an indelible mark on Canada’s history.

Gander: A Canadian War Hero

 

Infantrymen of “C” Company, Royal Rifles of Canada, and their mascot en route to Hong Kong. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, ca. 27 October 1941.

In the annals of history, some of the most compelling heroes emerge from the most unexpected places. Meet Gander, a lovable puppy who would go on to become an emblem of courage and loyalty for the Royal Rifles of Canada stationed in Quebec City. His remarkable journey from a family pet in Gander, Newfoundland, to becoming the Regimental Mascot Sgt. Gander is a tale filled with heartwarming twists of fate.

Gander’s story begins in the cozy town of Gander, Newfoundland, where he was known as “Pal.” As he grew, he found himself spending more and more time at the local airport, forging an unbreakable bond with the soldiers stationed there. Yet, his rapid growth raised concerns among his family, who felt he was becoming too large to keep as a pet. It was at this juncture that destiny intervened, and the Royal Rifles willingly embraced Gander as their cherished mascot.

Officially donning the title of Regimental Mascot Sgt. Gander, this spirited pup embarked on a journey that would span countless miles and, ultimately, lead him to the battle of Lye Mun on Hong Kong Island. Little did anyone know that this cheerful Newfoundland would soon prove his mettle in the most extraordinary ways.

The Royal Rifles of Canada with their mascot, Gander, en route to Hong Kong c. October 1941.

During his tenure as the Rifles’ mascot, Gander displayed his unwavering valour on multiple occasions. There are at least three documented instances of Gander selflessly protecting the troops, showcasing his unwavering dedication to their safety and well-being.

In one gripping incident, a wave of attackers landed on the beach, and Gander fearlessly charged at them, barking and nipping at their heels, holding the line and defending his comrades. Another remarkable episode unfolded under the cover of night when a group of injured Canadians lay on the road, vulnerable to a group of approaching Japanese soldiers. Gander, the guardian angel in fur, fearlessly launched himself at the intruders, forcing them to change course and saving his compatriots from harm.

But it was Gander’s final, and most heart-wrenching, act of bravery that cemented his place in history. A deadly grenade was hurled toward a group of soldiers led by Captain Gavey. Trapped and unable to escape due to intense Japanese gunfire, Gander, without hesitation, raced forward to retrieve the grenade in his mouth and carried it away from his comrades. Tragically, the ensuing explosion claimed his life, but his sacrifice spared the lives of the men he had served so devotedly.

Gander’s Sacrifice Remembered

Gander’s extraordinary heroism did not go unnoticed. In recognition of his acts of conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in wartime, he was posthumously awarded the prestigious Dickin Medal. This distinguished honor, awarded by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), an animal veterinary charity in the United Kingdom, ensures that Gander’s legacy will forever be etched in the annals of history as a symbol of unwavering loyalty, courage, and sacrifice.

The Royal Rifles of Canada memorial in Gander Heritage Memorial Park.

Gander’s legacy lives on through a life-sized bronze statue erected in his honour in Bowring Park, St. John’s, Newfoundland. His story serves as a reminder of the unwavering loyalty and sacrifice that pets have made in the service of their human companions during times of war.

Honouring All Pets on Remembrance Day

Gander’s story is just one example of the countless pets who have made a difference during wartime. On Remembrance Day, it’s crucial to remember and honour the role of these furry heroes. As we pay tribute to our veterans, let’s also take a moment to reflect on the bond between humans and their pets, which transcends time, boundaries, and even the darkest moments of history. During times of war, pets provided a source of solace for soldiers, both on the front lines and at home. Many soldiers developed strong bonds with the animals they encountered during their service, finding in them a sense of normalcy and a connection to their civilian lives.

Horses: The Unsung Heroes

Horses were invaluable to the Canadian military during both World Wars. Thousands of these noble animals were deployed to carry soldiers, artillery, and supplies across treacherous terrains. In the mud and blood-soaked battlefields of Europe, horses were the lifeline of the Canadian forces. They endured harsh conditions, pulling heavy loads through mud and snow, and often became victims of war themselves. Their sacrifice was immense, and their contribution to the war effort immeasurable.

Pigeons: Messengers of Hope

During the First World War, pigeons were used as messengers to deliver vital information from the front lines to the command post. These brave birds would fly through enemy fire, carrying messages that saved countless lives. Their speed and reliability made them an essential part of military communication. Pigeons like “Cher Ami,” a famous war hero, played a pivotal role in ensuring the safety of Canadian soldiers.

Dogs: Companions and Protectors

Dogs served in various roles during wartime, from providing companionship to soldiers in the trenches to working as search and rescue dogs, sentries, and messengers. In more recent conflicts, such as the Afghanistan mission, Canadian military dogs played a significant role in detecting explosive devices and providing security. These loyal canines have saved countless lives through their bravery and dedication.

Mascots and Symbols

Many Canadian regiments and units adopted animals as mascots or symbols. These animals provided a sense of comfort, unity, and connection to home for the soldiers. Some notable examples include “Bonnie,” a black bear who served as the mascot for the Royal Canadian Dragoons during the Second World War, and “Juno,” a Newfoundland dog who became the mascot of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, symbolizing the unwavering spirit of the soldiers from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Remembrance Day is a time to reflect on the sacrifices made by our veterans, but it’s also an opportunity to recognize the unsung heroes of war, our pets. Gander’s story is a poignant reminder of the profound impact animals can have in times of conflict. So, as we wear our poppies and observe a moment of silence, let’s also take a moment to remember the furry companions who stood by our side, offering comfort, courage, and unwavering loyalty during the most challenging of times.