A BEAR renowned for its help in some of the most significant battles of the Second World War is to have a Hollywood film made about him.
Wojtek, a Syrian brown bear who drank two bottles of beer a day, fought alongside Polish soldiers during the war before spending his final years at Edinburgh zoo.
He was adopted by soldiers of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps in 1942 and helped move ammunition during the Battle of Monte Cassino.
Brendan Foley, a writer and director from Belfast, has bought the film rights for Wojtek the Bear and plans to bring his story to the big screen with Ned Dowd, who worked as the producer on Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.
Mr Foley said: “It is an amazing story- a bit like War Horse but with humour and pathos alongside the action, and the bear is a real character.”
One of the studios believed to be interested is Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks, which made War Horse.
Mr Foley said: “Making a major film is always a long process, but we very much hope that some of the work and the locations will be in Scotland, where the bear and his soldier
minders ended up after the war.”
Wojtek was an orphaned cub found by a boy in Hamadan in Iran who sold him for two tins of meat to Polish soldiers stationed nearby.
These soldiers had been held in Russian internment camps but were released after Hitler began his invasion of Russia in June 1941.
They were now heading for North Africa with the allied forces opposing Rommel’s tanks in the desert.
Wojtek grew up among the men who fed him condensed milk from an empty vodka bottle and later honey, marmalade and syrup.
The large bear lived in a tent with the men, drank two bottles of ale a day and used to swallow lit cigarette and exhale smoke as his party trick.
He was taught how to salute when greeted and was enlisted as a private soldier with an official rank and number.
Wojtek became known as a legend when he helped in the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy where he used his giant paws to carry heavy boxes of mortar shells from trucks to gun emplacements.
The image of him carrying a shell became the regiment’s official emblem.
When the war ended in 1945, Wojtek was dispatched to Berwickshire with some of his Polish comrades-in-arms.
He was then taken into the care of Edinburgh zoo in 1947 when the soldiers were demobbed as an attraction until he died there in 1963.
It is believed that soldiers would continue to visit him and occasionally enter his enclosure to hug him.
Aileen Orr, the author of Wojtek the Bear who sold the rights to Mr Foley, discovered the story growing up in Berwickshire and by visiting Edinburgh Zoo.
She is part of a trust that is raising funds to create a statue of Wojtek with a Polish soldier that was his minder.
They want the statue to be placed on a plinth made from stone quarried from the Polish soldiers’ former camp in Berwickshire and displayed in the Scottish capital.
She said: “I knew after speaking to one of the Poles who was in the camp that I wanted this statue to be a moment in time reflecting what the bear did hear in the Scottish Borders.
“He was free to run around; he was humanised and had no idea he was a bear; he thought he was a soldier, and so he could wander down the road with one of the men and just as villagers stopped to speak, he would stop and listen to the exchange.
“After a while, this was not deemed to be a remarkable thing as everyone got used to seeing him.
“But it is a remarkable story.”