Gander the Dog, a Canadian War Hero

Fact: Dogs are awesome.

This is not only supported by science, but by their loving, forever loyal nature. Their loyalty can inspire acts of bravery and this has made them a fixture on the battlefield since the days of the Ancient Egyptians. As such, during both World Wars dogs fought along soldiers and a memorable example of this comes from a Canadian dog during World War II.

Pal with Eileen, Jack Hayden and Mike Ratcliffe

Sergeant Gander was a Newfoundland dog who saved the lives of a number of Canadian soldiers during the Battle of Lye Mun on Hong Kong Island in December 1941. Back in 1940 though, his name was Pal and he belonged to the Hayden family who lived in Gander, Newfoundland. Pal loved to play with the neighbourhood children and he was often used as a sled dog. Now, as you can see from the photos, Newfoundland dogs are wonderfully big dogs, (Gander was reportedly 130 lbs). Little kids + big dogs = accident waiting to happen. While playing with the kids, Pal accidentally scratched the face of six-year-old Eileen. Given that a doctor was required, the Hayden family was faced with the decision of having Pal put down or giving him away. They chose to give him to the soldiers stations at the air base, RCAF Station Gander. After being renamed Gander, the dog became the regimental mascot for the 1st Battalion of the Royal Rifles of Canada.

Gander with the Royal Rifles of Canada (1st Battalion)

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

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

In 1941, the 1st Battalion were sent to Hong Kong to defend the land from the invading Japanese. Rather than leave Gander behind, the men promoted him to the rank of “Sergeant” and he joined to soldiers on their mission. Rifleman Fred Kelly was responsible for taking care of Gander. During his time in Hong Kong, Kelly let Gander take long cold showers to help deal with the immense heat. According to Kelly, Gander was also a fan of beer.

Gander with an unidentified Royal Rifles soldier.

The Battle of Hong Kong began on December 8, 1941 and Gander helped fight the Japanese invaders on three occasions. He charged at any Japanese soldier who made the mistake of  getting too close to the Canadians troops and tackled them. “He growled and ran at the enemy soldiers, biting at their heels,” Rifleman Reginald Law recalled. Most battles took place at night and Gander’s black fur made him hard to see. As a result, instead of shooting him, the Japanese hightailed it out of there to escape Gander’s wrath.  Later on, the Japanese interrogated Canadian prisoners of war about “Black Beast,” fearing that the Allies were training ferocious animals for warfare.

Shaking the paw of the “Black Beast.”

On December 19th just after midnight, the Battle of Lye Mun broke out. Gander fought off the Japanese as he always did, until a grenade was thrown near a group of injured Canadians. Knowing what was about to happen, Gander picked up the grenade with his mouth and tore off with it. The grenade exploded and Gander was killed, but in doing so he had saved the lives of the seven soldiers.

Artist: Anne Mainman
Courtesy of: Newfound Friends – Newfoundland Dogs Working For Childrens Charities

60 years later, Gander was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal for Gallantry by The People’s Dispensary For Sick Animals (essentially the Victoria Cross for animals) on Oct. 27, 2000. It had not been awarded since 1949, but the PDSA felt that Gander was most deserving. This ceremony was attended by 20 surviving members of Gander’s regiment. Fred Kelly, with a Newfoundland dog at his side, accepted the medal on Gander’s behalf. The medal is on display in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. Also, when the Hong Kong Veterans Memorial Wall was created, Gander’s name was listed alongside the 1977 Canadians who died during the battle.

…Okay so, this post turned out to be a lot more depressing than I intended. To end things on a happy note…

Newfoundland Puppies!


Beard, Sue, and Sergeant Major George S. MacDonell, A Dog Named Gander, Toronto: 2014.

Moore, Brenda, “Beyond the Call of Duty,” Cricket Magazine, January 2011. Accessed from:

One thought on “Gander the Dog, a Canadian War Hero

Comments are closed.