Gander Schools Reunion 2010

Hunt Memorial Academy, Roman Catholic School, Gander Academy, Gander Collegiate,

St. Joseph’s Academy, St. Paul’s Collegiate

 

LASTING LEGACY

 

We have received feedback from former students indicating that they would like to see a lasting legacy left in the Town in remembrance of them. 

At the May 18th meeting of the Reunion Organizing Committee, it was unanimously approved to proceed with a proposal to erect a life-size monument to Sergeant Gander, the famous Newfoundland Dog who was the Regimental Mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada.  The statue will be situated in an appropriate area of town and will be suitably landscaped and of a size that will be easily reached and accessible to a child.  It is suggested that the landscaping will tell the story of Sergeant Gander and that the sculpture bear an inscription such as or something similar to, “Erected  for the children of Gander by the first children of Gander.”

In 1941, Pal, a massive Newfoundland dog, belonging to the Hayden family of Gander, became the Regimental Mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada who were stationed at Gander at the time.  Adored by his new comrades who renamed him “Gander”, he was quickly made one of them and given the rank of Sergeant.  Sergeant Gander had his own kitbag and wore his red stripes on his harness along with his regimental badge.  As the Royal Rifles were deployed overseas to defend Hong Kong Island, Gander accompanied them.  While in Quebec City to board a train for Vancouver, the Regiment paraded up the Plains of Abraham with Sergeant Gander in the lead with his handler. 

Robyn Walker’s book entitled “Sergeant Gander” describes in detail the Battle of Hong Kong and Sergeant Gander’s part in that battle. It tells the story of Sergeant Gander’s bravery in direct battle with the Japanese forces; how he joined forces with his comrades and often charged the enemy with his own displayed ferocity, so much so that the enemy was terrified of him.  Indeed, Gander stood six feet tall on his hind legs and the enemy had never seen a dog that large before and thought he was a bear.

On December 19, 1941, “C” Company struggled to withdraw through the hills of Hong Kong.  As they fought to hold their positions, under bullets and explosions, a group of seven wounded Canadians lay along the roadside, pinned down by enemy fire.  Suddenly, a Japanese grenade was lofted through the air coming to rest near them.  As they stared at their doom, a sudden flash of black streaked past them as Gander shot forward, picked up the grenade and bolted towards the enemy.  Unfortunately, Gander did not drop the grenade in time and gave his life to save the seven wounded men.

At the British High Commission in Ottawa on October 27, 2000, and with the help of the Canadian War Museum and Jeremy Swanson, Gander was awarded the British Dickin Medal for Gallantry equal to the Victoria Cross.  On hand was Gander’s old handler, Fred Kelly; members of the PDSA, the Hong Kong Veteran’s Association;  the Royal Rifles of Canada along with other invited guests, one of which was Eileen Elms of Gander.  Also present was the Newfoundland dog, “Rimshot” standing in for “Gander.”

Gander’s citation reads “For saving the lives of Canadian Infantrymen during the Battle of Lye Mun on Hong Kong Island in December 1941.  On three documented occasions, “Gander”, the Newfoundland Mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada engaged the enemy as his regiment joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers, members of Battalion Headquarters “C” Force and other Commonwealth troops in their courageous defence of Island.  Twice “Gander’s “attacks halted the enemy’s advance and protected groups of wounded soldiers.  In a final act of bravery, the war dog was killed in action gathering a grenade.  Without “Gander’s” intervention many more lives would have been lost in the assault.”

Sergeant Gander’s death is recorded in the list of “C” Force soldiers killed or missing in Action or died of wounds as occurring December 19, 1941.  He is listed simply as “Sgt. Gander, age nk, Location of battle death, nk, 1941/12/19, No military grave or memorial!”

We have started the process of investigating the feasibility of this project and we have already been in contact with a sculptor who is familiar with the story of Sergeant Gander.  We have reason to hope that we will gain financial support from both the federal and provincial governments, and, particularly, the Town of Gander.  Indeed, we believe that a fund raising campaign within the town and aimed at the citizens of Gander would result in much support. 

This will be a major undertaking!  We propose to add a sub-committee of local individuals who have a passion to see this project come to life.  We also believe that this is a project that is well over due but who better to pay tribute to this wonderful animal than us the first children of Gander.

Your feedback on this project would be greatly appreciated.

Below is the forward written by Jeremy Swanson for Robyn Walker’s book that will give you further insight and understanding of this amazing story.  Please take a few minutes to read it.

 

Foreword for “Sergeant Gander: A Canadian Hero” by Robyn Walker-Dundern Press ISBN 978-1-55488-463-6

 

To say that I was pleased to be asked to write the foreword to this book would be an understatement; it meant so much more to me than the reader could possibly understand. It was a personal honour at the highest possible level of satisfaction, due to the extraordinary events that took place when the Gander story came to light. It is a long and important story. As such, this really can’t be a short foreword, but it is an interesting tale to relate.

 

While I was the commemorations and programs officer at the Canadian War Museum I took on several high profile projects that resulted in major nationally and internationally recognized events. The Gander project was brought to my desk at the same time as several others, when things were the busiest and most stressful. My two volunteer researchers, Professor Howard Stutt (retired) and Second World War D-Day veteran George Shearman, were already heavily involved in different aspects on several of projects at the time. My office and my staff were also actively engaged in the commemorations program to celebrate and mark the fiftieth anniversary of both VE day in May 1995, and VJ day in August 1995.

 

We were very thin on the ground and there was precious little time or resources to spare for something new. It was an exhausting program for us all, with meetings and events that seemed to happen every second or third day. In the middle of all of that there were research projects for the posthumous award of the Polish Home Army Cross to twenty-six Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) aircrew by the Polish government killed in action over Poland in 1940–45 (1996), and the commemoration of the heroic act of Perth resident, Howard Stokes, in saving the life of a young Dutch boy in 1945 (1997).

 

All of those projects would eventually have highly successful outcomes, but at that particular moment their completion seemed impossible. Into the midst of this frantic activity came the dog Gander. He came to my attention in the strangest of ways; many people have since remarked that it seemed to have been pre-ordained. Whatever it was that made it happen, it was certainly at the most appropriate of times.

 

The Canadian government had introduced the long overdue “Hong Kong” clasp to the CVSM (the Canadian Volunteer Service medal), a general service medal for veterans of the Hong Kong Battle of December 8 to 25, 1941, on July 2, 1995. The first presentations of the new bar were made by Veterans Affairs in Ottawa on August 11, 1995, as part of the VJ Day fiftieth anniversary.

 

At the ceremony I was accompanying the family of Canada’s first Victoria Cross winner, Sergeant Major John Osborne of Winnipeg, who was killed at Hong Kong in the selfless act of saving several of his men by throwing himself on a hand grenade. The family were the guests of the Canadian War Museum as they had donated the medal to the Museum, and I was tasked with looking after them during their stay in Ottawa.

 

At the social gathering after the medals award ceremony I was gathered with a group of Hong Kong veterans from both the Royal Rifles of Canada and Winnipeg Rifles, and the family of John Osborne. We were discussing the medals and the courage of Sergeant Major Osborne. I made a casual remark to the assembled guests that it must have taken tremendous courage and immediate instinctive reaction to have performed such a deed with a deadly smoking hand-grenade just feet away, waiting to deliver death and destruction to many.

 

One of the veterans near me, who I believe was Bob Manchester of the Royal Rifles, answered my statement by replying “Yes. Just like that damn dog.” In answer to my immediate question, Bob Manchester and his friend Robert “Flash” Clayton told me all about Gander and what he had done. I shall never forget it; I was stunned by what I heard. I had heard many stories about the battles in Hong Kong, and indeed in many other wars, but never one about a dog picking up a grenade in the middle of battle. That night Manchester told me that he and his comrades had always felt that the dog deserved a medal for what he had done in saving the lives of seven wounded men, but that in the aftermath of war and history no one wanted to know about a dog mascot. Still, they kept hoping it would happen. And so it has.

 

So that night in August 1995, Gander, the beloved dog mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada, entered the story and my life. It was the start of three years of dedicated work by my volunteer group and office staff to find out what had happened, research all the evidence, and present the story to the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) in the United Kingdom for eligibility for the award of the “Dicken Medal,” known as the “Animal’s Victoria Cross.”

 

For me, one of the most poignant moments came at the end of August 1995 when Roger Cyr, past president of the Hong Kong Veterans’ Association (HKVA), sat in front of me in my office at the War Museum and told me the story of Gander from the point of view of the men who were there and knew him. Roger told the story with difficulty because he had to tell me about the regiment’s battle at the same time. He burst into tears in the middle of it and said to me through his tears, “Jeremy don’t ever let them forget us!” I have always felt that in this meeting, in the moment of tearful memory while he told the story of Gander, he was also telling me the story of the men he served with, and that somehow by recognizing Gander’s bravery perhaps we could all remember the courage of the men who fought, died, and endured unspeakable horrors at Hong Kong, so many years before. It seemed that Gander’s recognition would help the generations that follow to understand and recognize what the soldiers had done.

 

Roger Cyr was a wise man, as well as a brave one. It would not have been easy to deny a request from a man with such heart and soul. That afternoon I promised him that I would do what he had asked. I did not let him down. It took three years to complete, but we did it. Roger was there at the award ceremony. I am sure I saw a glint in his eye and a wink of thanks as he presented me a life membership in the Hong Kong Veterans’ Association in October 2000, in recognition of my work for Gander and the Association.

 

What took place between the moment of Gander’s story being revealed and the awarding of the Dicken medal is contained within this fine book by Robyn Walker. It is a fascinating tale. I have never asked Robyn how she learned of Gander, or why she wanted to do the book, but in meeting with her I did know that it was going to be a good one and that the story would be complete, which it has proved to be. In reading this book I have been immensely gratified to learn so many things about the Gander story that my volunteers and office group did not know at the time. I realize now that there were many “blanks” in the narrative and many unanswered questions over the years, which time and events did not allow us to understand, but now we have them all gathered here, in Robyn’s book.

 

This is a wonderful story that will ensure that Gander’s story will be remembered in Canadian history for all time. As a result of this book, and Robyn Walker’s impeccable research and hard work, I hope that generations of children will learn about Gander and come face to face with Canadian history, in particular with the history of the veterans of Hong Kong. The late Roger Cyr and Bob Manchester would be pleased. Roger would surely agree that his tearful moment with me, over a decade ago, was worth it for him, his comrades, and for their mascot who has been recognized at last. Let this book, and the story of the brave and wonderful Gander, serve as a literary memorial to them all and a testament to their collective courage. All because of that “damn dog.”

 

So now we have had the recognition of the veterans and the medal for Gander, and now we have the story in print. I hope to live to see a statue of Gander erected in Ottawa, so that Canadian children and visitors will ask about it, and learn about the extraordinary Canadian men who fought at Hong Kong in extraordinary times. It is a heroic tale indeed.

 

Jeremy Swanson

Ottawa, Ontario

 

Other website references:

Gander- The Nfld. Dog

Living the History of Gander