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Sergeant Gander reporting for duty!

For the week of Monday October 27, 2014

On October 27, 1941, during the Second World War, Canada's Royal Rifles set sail for Hong Kong with their mascot, “Sergeant” Gander, the Newfoundland dog. It was common for military units to take in mascots in order to keep morale up, so when the giant canine outgrew his family, “C” Company of the Royal Rifles adopted him.

The Royal Rifles with their mascot Gander, the Newfoundland dog
© Canada. Dept of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-116791
The Canadian contingent in Hong Kong, composed of the Royal Rifles, Winnipeg Grenadiers and headquarters staff, numbered 1,975 soldiers. They had little combat training, but thought they had time to prepare in Hong Kong. That time ran out on December 7 when Japan entered the war with their attack on Pearl Harbour. The next day, after intensive aerial raids, the Japanese invaded mainland Hong Kong.

During the night of December 18, Japanese ground troops invaded Hong Kong Island where the Canadians, including “C” Company of the Royal Rifles and the dog, were stationed. Newfoundland dogs are well known for their rescue instincts and Gander did his best to protect the soldiers. He should have been hidden away inside one of the buildings, but escaped in the commotion to join “C” Company in the fight. As “C” Company was forced to retreat, Gander charged and snapped at enemy soldiers and forced them to change directions. Gander embodied all of the courage of the Canadian troops that he was fighting with.

Newfoundland dogs, like the one pictured here, can weigh up to 67 kg and are often mistaken for bears
© Dandeeshots / Dan Morgan / 2006

In his last great feat of bravery, Gander saw seven wounded soldiers pinned under fire, unable to escape. When a grenade was thrown at them, Gander picked it up with his mouth and charged the enemy. The grenade exploded and the lovable beast was killed while defending his comrades.

On October 27, 2000, the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals awarded “Sergeant" Gander the Dickin Medal for animal gallantry, also known as the animal’s Victoria Cross. The Canadian Role in the Defence of Hong Kong is a National Historic Event.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. Check out the This Week in History archives to learn more about Canada and the Battle of Hong Kong or read about other Canadian efforts during the Second World War, such as Calling Out the ReservesDisaster at Dieppe, Making Waves: Women in Uniform and The Battle of the Scheldt – Victory on the Dykes.

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