A BEAR that fought the Nazis before seeing out the rest of its days in Edinburgh Zoo is set to be immortalised by a statue in the city’s Princes Street Gardens.
The six-foot-tall orphan Syrian bear was known as Private Wojtek and was the pride of the Polish infantry.
The bear was reared by soldiers and helped them during their desperate struggle against the Nazis by carrying boxes of shells from lorries to gun emplacements.
And like many of his human comrades, Private Wojtek was known to recover from the fighting by drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.
A huge bronze cast of the bear – expected to cost £200,000 – is set to be placed in the gardens next year to mark the 50th anniversary of his death.
The sculpture, by Alan Heriot, will be the centrepiece of a campaign by the Wojtek Memorial Trust to highlight the story of the bear and honour Poland’s wartime sacrifice.
Aileen Orr, author of Wojtek The Bear: Polish War Hero, said: “This is one of the classic stories of the Second World War.
“You don’t have to embellish it because the story itself is incredibly exciting and sad.”
Wojtek – meaning “smiling warrior” – was attached to the Polish army’s Second Corps while still a baby in Persia in 1942.
A shepherd boy traded him in for a can of tinned meat.
Within two years he had been enrolled in the Polish Army despite rules specifically banning Allied soldiers taking animals into the war zone.
Wojtek was eventually adopted as an emblem of the Polish struggle and the Transport Corps redrew their banner and buttons in his image.
The bear moved with his unit to Berwickshire following the war as a result of the Soviet occupation of their country.
He stayed behind when the troops went home and was given his own home at Edinburgh Zoo in 1947, staying there for the rest of his life.
She added: “The soldiers dearly wanted to take Wojtek back to Poland.
“They used to dream of travelling from their camp in the Borders to Edinburgh, marching with the bear from Princes Street to Leith Docks then boarding a ship and setting sail to Gdansk in Poland.
“There, they would hold victory marches through all the cities and towns on their way to Warsaw.”
The trust hopes to fulfil at least part of that dream in 2013 by parading the statue through the streets of Edinburgh and Warsaw.