And now he is going to get his own memorial in Scotland and someone has written a biography. Blockbuster movie, anyone?
Wojtek was born in 1943 in what was then Persia, where a local boy sold him to the Polish 22nd. Artillery Supply Company. He was officially enlisted and travelled with them west, finishing up at the 1944 Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy.
Wojtek had arrived at his finest hour, carrying ammunition, motors and other things that go ‘’bang’, to the front lines. The Battle of Monte Cassino was and is a big deal in Poland – finally a victory by Polish troops against the Nazis.
My dad, then a very young man, was also at the Battle of Monte Cassino, though he didn’t ever tell me about a bear. (He also never mentioned any Poles at Monte Casino. When I told him a few years ago about how proud Poles were of this victory, he was surprised to hear that they were actually there. Which just shows, that in the fog of war, the last to know what the hell is going on are the soldiers in the thick of it. Maybe a good argument against embedding journalists with front line troops?)
At the end of the war, Wojtek was stationed in Berwickshire in Scotland. He was demobed in 1947 and spent a happy retirement at Edinburgh Zoo, and lived to the ripe old age (despite a modest alcohol and tobacco problem) of 22 years old.
A group of campaigners, led by Aileen Orr (well, maybe they got bored with British politics, which is quite understandable) have proposed a memorial to the soldier bear to be erected in one of Edinburgh’s parks.
But this won’t be the first to be erected to the only bear with a smokers cough to have lugged motors for the Polish army. Local high school teacher and historian, Garry Paulin, has written Wojtek’s biography aimed at the kids market – The Soldier Bear. He told the Berwickshire News:
"Since his death there have been statues put up in his honour in London and in Ottawa, Canada."
And perhaps Wojtek can become the symbol of the new Polish immigrant who has flocked and frolicked to Scotland’s bonny lowlands in the last few years. He is just like them. Nice, friendly type, who likes a drink and a smoke.
There is a nice site about Wojtek here. And Garry Paulin’s site is here.
Patryk emailed to ask me to remind you about this site dedicated to the bear.