It is a conceit of human nature to believe that only our species is capable of selfless devotion or incredible bravery under fire. In December 1941 on an island in the Pacific, a black Newfoundland dog laid that notion to rest. Attached to “C” Force of the Canadian Royal Rifles Regiment stationed on Hong Kong Island, Gander was the mascot to a besieged army of Allies surrounded by an overwhelming Japanese force bent its destruction. Gander had come to the Canucks on a parole basis. Christened “Pal,” the strong, loyal, and calm animal had been banished from his home for accidentally scratching a child during play. The Rifles were based at Gander, so the name of the animal was a foregone conclusion. Gander became an instant hit and a morale booster for an army fearing the worst.
On the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, the seemingly invincible Imperial Japanese Army attacked Hong Kong. On December 19, the untested Rifles were thrust into the Battle of Lye Mun against a battle-hardened force of Japanese marines backed by tons of artillery that saturated The Lye Mun Passage. The overwhelming Nippon force demanded surrender on December 17, and, after a courageous refusal by the Canadians, commenced a daring nighttime water-borne assault on December 18. The Japanese came ashore along a two-mile front and were met face-to-face by the Royal Rifles and Gander. By the following day, the battle was decided, but the Canucks fought on valiantly in the lost cause.
Casualties were predictably heavy for the defenders on December 19. Several Canadians lay wounded on the beach as their comrades helplessly watched the advancing Japanese. Gander felt no such trepidation. Charging headlong into an advancing patrol snarling and snapping, Gander distracted the invaders long enough for his comrades to be saved. Incredibly, Gander would repeat the heroism twice more that day defending his military family.
Sadly on the third attempt, a Japanese soldier tossed a grenade at the faithful canine. Sensing the danger, Gander retrieved the explosive and rushed towards the Japanese lines. Gander’s final act of bravery cost his life, but saved many of his cohorts. For his efforts, Gander was awarded Britain’s highest military honor, the Victoria Cross, for “gallantry and selfless bravery under fire,” and the Dickin Medal for “displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty”.
According to the Wikipedia article about Gander that was graciously provided by commentor Dominick Turley, “At the insistence of survivors of the battle, [Gander’s] name was listed with those of 1975 men and two women on the Hong Kong Veterans Memorial Wall in Ottawa ….”
–Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger