'Animal VC' will honour Gander's dash for grenade

A Newfoundland dog yesterday became the first animal in 50 years to be awarded the "animal VC" for gallantry and selfless bravery under fire.

A Newfoundland dog yesterday became the first animal in 50 years to be awarded the "animal VC" for gallantry and selfless bravery under fire.

Gander, the valiant pet who will be posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal this autumn, joins an élite list of three horses, 18 dogs, 31 pigeons and one cat to have been so honoured.

Recognition for his contribution to a war effort comes more than five decades after the last animal - Simon, the ship's cat of HMS Amethyst - was decorated for bravery beyond the call of duty.

Nevertheless, after a hard-fought campaign by the Canadian War Museum, the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) announced yesterday - to coincide with VJ Day commemorations - that he was to receive the rare honour.

"Gander's gallantry relates to his exploits during the Battle of Lye Mun on Hong Kong Island in December 1941 while attached to "C" Force of the Royal Rifles of Canada.

"As Canadian and other Commonwealth forces made a brave but futile attempt to defend the island against numerically superior Japanese troops, Gander's quick action saved the lives of several Canadian soldiers," a spokesman said.

The large dog, once a family pet called Pal, saw off Japanese troops on several occasions by running, barking and snapping at them. Unfortunately, the Newfoundland's third heroic act was to lead to his death - when he picked up a grenade thrown by the Japanese and ran back towards them.

The medal, named after the PDSA's founder, Maria Dickin, was created to recognise animals "displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty".

Previous recipients have included Rob, a collie, who was parachuted behind enemy lines 20 times and awarded eight medals; Irma the German shepherd, who found 191 people trapped under rubble during the Blitz, and Judy, a English pointer believed to be the only pet officially recognised as a prisoner of war. Originally a warship mascot, the dog saved her crew from thirst when they were marooned by locating fresh spring water. Simon, mouser for the Royal Navy, was decorated for chasing rats away from food supplies during a long siege on the Yangtse river, despite being wounded in action.

Peter, a Scottish collie, who found six people buried alive in the Blitz, was presented with his medal by Sir James Ross of the Air Ministry at a ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. He lived on to the age of 11 and is buried in an Essex pet cemetery.

Stubbs, a pit bull terrier, earnt his honour for sentry work in no-man's land. He survived 17 battles with his company, the 102nd Infantry.

Among the 31 pigeons was Tyke, honoured for delivering a message which saved an American air crew. Unfortunately, the Dickin medal may not have saved one recipient of it from an ignoble end. Last year there was consternation when at the news that one pigeon, Paddy, who brought back first word from the D-Day landings in Normandy, might have been stuffed upon his death.

Yesterday, Marilyn Rydström, director general of the PDSA, said that Gander's medal would be presented to the Hong Kong Veterans of Canada Association by Sir Roland Guy, past chairman of the PDSA, in Ottawa this autumn. "We are delighted to add his name to this illustrious list," she said.