the Soldier Bear
|Died||2 December 1963
Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland
|Service/branch||Polish Land Forces|
|Years of service||1943–45|
|Unit||3522, 22nd Artillery Supply Company, II Corps (Poland)|
|Battles/wars||Battle of Monte Cassino|
|Memorials||Wojtek Memorial Trust|
Wojtek (1942–1963; Polish pronunciation: [ˈvɔjtɛk]; in English, usually spelled Voytek) was a Syrian brown bear purchased, as a young cub, at a railroad station in Hamadan, Iran, by Polish II Corps soldiers who had been evacuated from the Soviet Union. In order to provide for his rations and transportation, he was eventually enlisted officially as a soldier with the rank of private, and was subsequently promoted to corporal.
He accompanied the bulk of the Polish Second Corps to Italy, serving with the 22nd Artillery Supply Company. During the Battle of Monte Cassino, in Italy in 1944, Wojtek helped move crates of ammunition and became a celebrity with visiting Allied generals and statesmen.
After the war, mustered out of the Polish Army, he was billeted, and lived out the rest of his life, at the Edinburgh Zoo.
The name "Wojtek" is a hypocorism (diminutive form) of "Wojciech", an old Slavic name that is still common in Poland today and means "he who enjoys war" or "joyful warrior". Wojtek's Polish Army comrades referred to his species-of-origin as "Persian bear", and his full name on official documents was "Wojciech Perski" (Perski being the adjective, "Persian", in Polish).
In the spring of 1942 the newly formed Anders Army left the Soviet Union for Iran, accompanied by thousands of Polish civilians who had been deported to the gulags following the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939. During a rest stop near the town of Hamadan while en route to Tehran on 8 April 1942, a group of Polish soldiers encountered a young Iranian boy who had found a bear cub after its mother had been shot by hunters. One of the civilian refugees in their midst, eighteen-year-old Irena Bokiewicz, was very taken with the cub, which prompted lieutenant Anatol Tarnowiecki to purchase the young bear, who spent the next three months in the Polish refugee camp that was established near Tehran, principally under the care of Irena. In August the bear was donated to the 2nd Transport Company, which later became the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, and he was given the name Wojtek by the soldiers.
Wojtek initially had problems swallowing and was fed with condensed milk from an old vodka bottle. He was subsequently given fruit, marmalade, honey and syrup, and was often rewarded with beer, which became his favourite drink. He later also enjoyed smoking (or eating) cigarettes. He loved wrestling with the soldiers and was taught to salute when greeted. Wojtek became quite an attraction for soldiers and civilians alike, and soon became an unofficial mascot of all units stationed nearby. With the 22nd Company he moved to Iraq and then through Syria, Palestine and Egypt.
To get him onto a British transport ship when the unit sailed with the rest of the Polish II Corps from Egypt to fight alongside the British 8th Army in the Italian campaign, Wojtek was officially drafted into the Polish Army as a Private and was listed among the soldiers of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company. Henryk Zacharewicz and Dymitr Szawlugo were assigned as his caretakers.
As an enlisted soldier of the company, with his own paybook, rank and serial number, he lived with the other men in tents or in a special wooden crate, which was transported by truck. According to numerous accounts, during the Battle of Monte Cassino Wojtek helped by carrying ammunition – never dropping a single crate. In recognition of the bear's popularity, the HQ approved a depiction of a bear carrying an artillery shell as the official emblem of the 22nd Company.
Following the end of World War II in 1945, Wojtek was transported to Berwickshire in Scotland with the rest of the 22nd Company. They were stationed at Winfield Airfield on Sunwick Farm, near the village of Hutton, Scottish Borders. Wojtek soon became popular among local civilians and the press, and the Polish-Scottish Association made him one of its honorary members.
Following demobilisation on 15 November 1947, Wojtek was given to Edinburgh Zoo, where he spent the rest of his life, often visited by journalists and former Polish soldiers, some of whom would toss him cigarettes, which he proceeded to eat because there was no one there to light them for him.
Wojtek died in December 1963, at the age of 21. At the time of his death he weighed nearly 35 stone (220 kg) and was over 1.8 meters (6 feet) tall.
Among the many memorials commemorating the soldier-bear are plaques in the Imperial War Museum in London and as well as a sculpture by artist David Harding in the Sikorski Museum (also in London) and a carved wooden sculpture in Weelsby Woods, Grimsby.
On 16 September 2013 the City of Edinburgh Council approved the erection of a bronze statue of Wojtek to stand in the city's Princes Street Gardens. It is by the sculptor Alan Beattie Herriot and was unveiled on 7 November 2015 and represents Wojtek and a Polish Army Soldier walking in peace and unity. A 4 m (13 ft) long relief documents his journey from Egypt to Scotland alongside the Polish Army.
In the Scythe board game, Wojtek is referenced as a war bear in one of the card artworks.
- History of Poland (1939–45)
- Polish Armed Forces in the West
- Polish Armed Forces in the East
- Polish Resettlement Corps
- History of Edinburgh Zoo
- Wojtek Memorial Trust
- List of Poles
- "Pomnik legendarnego niedźwiedzia Wojtka stanął w Krakowie" [Statue of the legendary bear Wojtek unveiled in Krakow]. Telewizja Polska (in Polish). 19 May 2014. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
- "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Wojciech". Behind the Name. 2014. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- "O niedźwiedziu, który był polskim żołnierzem" [The bear, who was a Polish soldier]. Polonia Włoska Biuletyn Informacyjny (in Polish). Wiosna/Lato: 24. 17 July 2013. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
- "Wojtek wraca" [Wojtek returns]. Polityka (in Polish). 2 February 2008. p. 11.
- "Smarter than the average bear .. by far". Edinburgh Evening News. 28 March 2007. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- "Private Wojtek, the 35 stone bear who battled Nazis to be remembered with statue". Mail Online. 14 October 2010. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- Sansone, Adele (9 July 2013). "'Private Wojtek' alias Voytek, ein Bär im Dienste der Armee" ['Private Wojtek' alias Voytek, a bear in the service of the Army]. Suite101 (in German). Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- Orr, Aileen (1 November 2010). Wojtek the Bear – Polish War Hero. Birlinn Publishers. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-84158-845-2.
- Hale, Beth (25 January 2008). "The hero bear who went to war (and loved a smoke and a beer)". Mail Online. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- "Polish soldiers meet Wojtek the bear ‒ Grimsby's tribute to Second World War heroes". Grimsby Telegraph. 29 October 2011. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- "Krakow votes for WWII soldier bear statue". Polskie Radio. 26 April 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- Polski, Pilnuj (13 May 2014). "Niedźwiedź Wojtek będzie miał swój pomnik w krakowskim Parku Jordana" [Wojtek the Bear will have his monument in Krakow's Jordana Park] (in Polish). Wpolityce.pl. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- "The Statue". Wojtek Memorial Trust. Retrieved 2016-03-31.
- McCann, David (29 May 2013). "Prince Street Gardens statue of Polish army bear". The Scotsman. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- "Niedźwiedź Wojtek w Princes Street Gardens" [Wojtek the Bear in Princes Street Gardens] (in Polish). Emito.net. 30 September 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- "Wojtek: The Bear That Went to War". BBC Two. 30 December 2011. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- Gallacher, Alex (17 September 2015). "Video Premiere: Katy Carr – Wojtek". Folk Radio UK. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
- "Hearts of Iron IV achievements".
- "Scythe, the most-hyped board game of 2016, delivers". Retrieved 2016-08-01.
- Anders, Wladyslaw (1949). An Army in Exile, the Story of the Second Polish Corps. London: Macmillan.
- Kleczkowski, Stefan (1945). Poland's first 100,000: Story of the Rebirth of the Polish Army, Navy and Air Force After the September Campaign. London & New York: Hutchinson.
- Morgan, Geoffrey; Lasocki, Wiesław A. (1970). Soldier Bear. London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-211793-2.
- Dumon Tak, Bibi (2011). Soldier Bear. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. ISBN 978-0-8028-5375-2.
- Orr, Aileen (2012). Wojtek the Bear: Polish War Hero. Edinburgh: Birlinn Publishers. ISBN 978-1-84341-057-7.
- Ivell, Krystyna; Baczor, Vic (2013). Wojtek Album. London: Self-published. ISBN 978-0-9926327-0-0.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Wojtek (soldier bear).|
- "Honour sought for 'Soldier Bear'". BBC News. London: BBC. 25 January 2008.
- Polec, Patryk (2008). "Wojtek The Soldier Bear – In the Ranks of Victors". wojtek-soldierbear.weebly.com.
- "Wojtek the Bear". wojtekthebear.com. 2014.
- "Wojtek – the Soldier Bear – Niedźwiedź Żołnierz". Facebook. 2014. A group supporting and publicizing historical projects around the world.
- "Kresy-Siberia Virtual Museum". kresy-siberia.org. 2014. Site devoted to preserving the history into which Wojtek fits.
- Burman, J. (25 June 2011). "Polish veteran had special comrade". The Hamilton Spectator.
- Vennard, Martin (16 November 2011). "Story of Poland's 'soldier bear' Wojtek turned into film". BBC World Service.
- "Article in Polish with lots of links about Wojtek".
- One Photo One Story: Wojtek the Soldier Bear, Culture.pl