War hero who fought with Wojtek The Bear finally retires – at 94

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A World War Two hero turned tailor who fought alongside the famous Wojtek The Bear in the Battle of Monte Cassino has retired aged 94.

A notice was left in the window of Leatherwork in Lauriston Street in Edinburgh on Sunday (SEP 26) informing customers of the closure.

Leatherwork's famous yellow shop front
The Leatherwork shop situated on Lauriston Street.

Ludwik Jaszczur and his wife Zofia Urbanska ran the workshop for 50 years but have decided the time is right for them both to retire.

Ludwik had flirted with retirement in 2019 but the couple decided to keep the shop open.

Ludwik Jaszczur wearing old military outfit takes photo with Cllr Scott Arthur
Cllr Scott Arthur with Ludwik Jaszczur last year in Edinburgh.

The couple wrote in their notice: “After 50 years of service, it is finally time to retire.

“With great regret, we are closing the doors of our workshop and we would like to thank you with all hearts for being a loyal customer, a smile and a kind word.”

A post shared by the Twitter account @MarchmontEtc showed an image of the iconic yellow shop front along with the notice left in the window.

@MarchmontEtc wrote: “This place has been here forever, run by an amazing old couple with a fascinating story. Definitely the end of an era on Lauriston Street.”

Ludwik Jaszczur first arrived in Scotland at a displaced soldier camp in Ayrshire in 1946, aged 19.

In the seven years prior, his life was one of tragedy and heroism.

In 1939, aged just 12-year-old, Ludwik was taken by force from his family home in Poland to a farm east of Berlin.

That was the last time he ever saw his parents or brother.

Ludwik joined the second Polish Corps in 1943 after escaping Germany.

The tide was beginning to change in Central Europe, as Russian soldiers made advances towards the Axis nation.

In constant fear of being recaptured by the German Army, Ludwik and his friends headed towards Italy.

The teenager fought the Battle of Monte Cassino side by side with Wojtek, the 440lb famous ‘soldier bear’.

Ludwik previously said: “I’ll tell you the truth. Wojtek helped us to win the Second World War.”

Wojtek was said to be a gentle bear that cuddled its friends and occasionally would drink beer and smoke cigarettes.

Like Ludwik, Wojtek too ended up in Scotland after the war.

He lived out the rest of his life in Edinburgh Zoo where he was visited often by Ludwik.

Wojtek the Bear taking food from a polish soldier
Wojtek the Bear being fed by a soldier.

The Syrian brown bear passed away in 1963 at the age of 21.

A statue stands in Princes Street Gardens to memorialise the incredible story of Wojtek and the Second Polish Corps.

Leatherwork’s loyal customers took to Twitter to share their fond memories of the pair and their beloved shop.

Colin Doig wrote: “I’ve known Ludwik ever since I started working.

“He is also a great typewriter engineer.

“Affectionately known as ‘The Polish Prince’ in the Office Equipment trade.

“About bloody time he retired.”

@Pwallachi2 wrote: “My late mum used the shops for years.

“I sometimes dropped or picked up things for her when I worked in our old Lothian Road office – I won’t forget that smell.

“And such lovely people.”

Sara Sheridan wrote: “Oh I feel so sad. They were brilliant at repairing things too – loads of times I went in with leather purses and bags that had burst and they fixed them up.”

Some commented on the amazing life Ludwik lived during the war.

@Edinburgh4EU wrote: “We wish Ludwik & Zofia all the very best.

“They have served Edinburgh well and their story is of the tragedy of WW2 but also of the willingness of Europeans to strive to live peacefully alongside each other.”

Peter Brown wrote: “The gentleman from the leather workshop had participated in the landings on Omaha beach in Italy. Living History.”