Polish warrior bear set to get Scottish statue

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Wojtek is reported to have carried shells at the Battle of Monte Cassino

A NAZI-battling Polish bear is set to be immortalised with a new statue – in Scotland.

The 500lb animal helped fight against Hitler’s forces during the Second World War, but spent his last days in Edinburgh Zoo.

Now campaigners plan to put up a £200,000 bronze memorial to “Private Wojtek”.

After previous attempts to place a statue at Edinburgh Castle and Calton Hill failed, St Mary’s Roman Catholic cathedral in Edinburgh has been earmarked as a potential site.

The nine-foot bronze statue would feature Wojtek and his “keeper” Peter Prendys.

The project is being driven by the Wojtek Memorial Trust, which counts Cardinal Keith O’Brien and author Aileen Orr amongst its members.

The Syrian brown bear was acquired by members of the Polish Second Corp in 1942.

While stationed in Persia, in modern day Iran, the soldiers were approached by a shepherd boy who gave them the orphaned bear cub in exchange for some tinned meat.

The soldiers reared him on condensed milk from an emptied vodka bottle, later feeding him on fed with fruits, marmalade, honey and syrup.

They even taught their mascot to salute when greeted. However they also taught him how to smoke, a habit he kept until his death.

History

Wojtek, whose name means “smiling warrior” travelled with the unit as they fought in Egypt and Italy, and within two years was enrolled in the army against rules which forbade animals to join the soldiers in the Allied advance on Italy.

The six-foot animal became a ledged at the battle of Monte Cassino, where he reared on his hind legs and carried boxes of live shells from lorries to the gun emplacements.

He was later adopted as a symbol of the Polish war effort and the 22nd Company, which had been renamed to 22nd Transport Company had the image of a bear incorporated in their buttons and the image of a bear carrying a shell painted on all of their vehicles.

After the war Wojtek travelled to Berwickshire with his unit to escape the Soviet occupation of Poland.

When the unit left Scotland, Wojtek was left behind and entered Edinburgh Zoo in 1947 where he spent the rest of his life. Wojtek died in December 1963, at the age of 22.

Aileen Orr, who wrote a book about the beer-drinking bear, entitled Wojtek the Bear, Polish War Hero, said there was global interest in the animal’s story.

Aileen, whose soldier father met Wojtek in Egypt and Palestine and again in Berwickshire, said: “Wojtek is a part of our own history, a feel-good story that has captivated so many people around the world.

“We have a potential venue for the statue in front of the St Mary’s cathedral.

“It’s a fair bit away from the main steps on a grassy knoll that already commemorates the Battle of Monte Cassino.

“It’s hugely positive for Scotland and also a huge tourist draw. This is not a military thing. It’s very much a humanitarian, touching story, a story beyond politics and war. It’s about comradeship.”

3 COMMENTS

  1. How sad that the unit he undoubtedly helped to lift spirits and save lives for deserted him at the end to die in a zoo.

  2. Yes as part of the demob effort after the most tumultuous period the world had ever seen, the first thing on the polish troops minds was what about the bear!!! Most were unable to go back to their own country for fear of jail or execution from the Soviets. They then settled in this country and made a life for themselves – through hard work. Little time for have a bear in the back garden me thinks

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