A hero of the Second World War is to be honoured

Posted by Tory Historian Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tory Historian was delighted to hear that there are moves afoot to erect a permanent memorial in Edinburgh to one of the great heroes of the Second World War, Woytek the bear. A campaign is afoot (yes, OK, but I shall refrain from the obvious pun) to erect a statue to the ursine war hero near Edinburgh, his adopted city.

In 1942 Polish soldiers who had not so long ago been released from Siberia and whose general had insisted that they fight on the western front (their officers had been killed in Katyn and other camps) were in Iran where they acquired a honey-coloured bear cub.

They fed him milk out of an old vodka bottle, reared him and treated him not as pet, but as a fellow soldier as they made their way across the Middle East to the Lebanese front.
He was said to help soldiers in their heroic fight at Monte Cassino by carrying supplies of various kinds. Wojtek became the symbol of the 22nd Transport Company.

With them he sailed to Scotland where he is supposed to have marched off the ship on his hind legs, just like a soldier. Eventually, the 22nd Company was disbanded; some of the soldiers went back to Poland but most stayed in Britain, guessing the fate that awaited them in their home country.

Wojtek spent the rest of his 22 years in Edinburgh zoo, a media celebrity, whose greatest joy was visits from his erstwhile comrades who chatted to him in Polish and smuggled in beer and cigarettes.

Wojtek has been mentioned in many accounts and a new book of his life is to be published shortly. Naturally enough, there is jubilation in Poland.

Edinburgh will be the home to two new statues: Wojtek the bear and the privately funded statue of Adam Smith by Alexander Stoddart.


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