Wojtek (bear)

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Wojtek
the Soldier Bear
Wojtek the bear.jpg
Wojtek (right) with a Polish soldier in 1942
Born1942
near Hamadan, Iran
Died2 December 1963(1963-12-02) (aged 21)
Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland
Service/branchFlag of the Polish Land Forces.svg Polish Land Forces
Years of service1943–45
RankKapral.png Kapral
Unit3522, 22nd Artillery Supply Company, II Corps (Poland)
Battles/warsWorld War II
MemorialsWojtek Memorial Trust
Websitethesoldierbear.com

Wojtek (1942–1963; Polish pronunciation: [ˈvɔjtɛk]; in English, sometimes spelled Voytek and so pronounced) was a Syrian brown bear bought, as a young cub, at a railway 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.[1]

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 in Scotland.

History[edit]

Two Polish soldiers in Iran

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 Kurdish 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 buy 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.[2] 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 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.[3][4] 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.[5]

The name Wojtek is the nickname, diminutive form, or hypocorism of "Wojciech" (Happy Warrior), an old Slavic name that is still common in Poland.[6]

Private Wojtek[edit]

Wojtek with artillery shell: Emblem of 22nd Artillery Supply Company[7]

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, because regulations forbade mascot and pet animals, 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 100-pound crates of 25-pound artillery shells, all without dropping a single one.[8] 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.[5]

Postwar[edit]

After World War II, in 1945, Wojtek was transported to Berwickshire, 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 an honorary member.

Following demobilisation on 15 November 1947, Wojtek was given to the 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.[9]

Media attention contributed to Wojtek's popularity. He was a frequent guest on BBC television's Blue Peter programme for children.[10]

Wojtek died in December 1963, at the age of 21. At the time of his death he weighed nearly 35 stone (220 kg), or 490 pounds, and was over 1.8 metres (6 feet) tall.[5]

Legacy[edit]

Monument to Wojtek in Jordan Park, Kraków

The many memorials to the soldier-bear include a plaque in the Imperial War Museum, in London; a sculpture by David Harding in the Sikorski Museum, in London; and a wooden sculpture in Weelsby Woods, Grimsby.[11]

On 25 April 2013, the Kraków city council decided to erect a statue of Wojtek in the city's Jordan Park. It was unveiled on 18 May 2014, the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino.[12][13]

Monument to Wojtek in West Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

On 16 September 2013, the City of Edinburgh Council approved the erection of a bronze statue of Wojtek, by Alan Beattie Herriot, to stand in the city's West Princes Street Gardens.[14] Unveiled on 7 November 2015, it presents Wojtek and a fellow Polish Army soldier walking together. A 4-metre (five-foot-long) relief documents Wojtek's journey from Egypt to Scotland with the Polish Army.[15][16]

On 30 December 2011, a film, Wojtek: The Bear That Went to War, was broadcast on BBC Two Scotland, narrated by Brian Blessed.[17]

British songwriter Katy Carr released a music video called 'Wojtek,' on 17 September 2014 – the 75th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland.[18]

He is referenced in Hearts of Iron IV, as an Easter egg achievement, 'Bearer of Artillery'.[19]

In the Scythe board game, a fictionalized Poland known as "Polania Republic" is represented with the characters "Anna & Wojtek", where Wojtek is Anna's bear companion.[20]

In the anime series Girls und Panzer, the emblem of the Poland-inspired school, Bonple, features a bear carrying an artillery shell, as a reference to the emblem of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company and Wojtek.[21] In the 2015 feature film to the series, the name "Wojtek" is also used for a teddy-shaped amusement park vehicle and later museum exhibit for the in-series Boko franchise.

In the online digital collectible card game Gwent, Wojtek is named in an audible voice line in reference to a bear summoned by a unit card of the Skellige starter deck.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "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.
  2. ^ "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.
  3. ^ "Wojtek wraca" [Wojtek returns]. Polityka (in Polish). 2 February 2008. p. 11.
  4. ^ "Smarter than the average bear .. by far". Edinburgh Evening News. 28 March 2007. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  5. ^ a b c "Private Wojtek, the 35 stone bear who battled Nazis to be remembered with statue". Mail Online. 14 October 2010. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  6. ^ "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Wojciech". Behind the Name. 2014. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Orr, Aileen (1 November 2010). Wojtek the Bear – Polish War Hero. Birlinn Publishers. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-84158-845-2.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "The story of Wojtek – the soldier bear who was promoted to Corporal". iNews. 2017-12-29. Retrieved 2018-06-22.
  11. ^ "Polish soldiers meet Wojtek the bear ‒ Grimsby's tribute to Second World War heroes". Grimsby Telegraph. 29 October 2011. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  12. ^ "Krakow votes for WWII soldier bear statue". Polskie Radio. 26 April 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "The Statue". Wojtek Memorial Trust. Retrieved 2016-03-31.
  15. ^ McCann, David (29 May 2013). "Prince Street Gardens statue of Polish army bear". The Scotsman. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  16. ^ "Niedźwiedź Wojtek w Princes Street Gardens" [Wojtek the Bear in Princes Street Gardens] (in Polish). Emito.net. 30 September 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  17. ^ "Wojtek: The Bear That Went to War". BBC Two. 30 December 2011. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  18. ^ Gallacher, Alex (17 September 2015). "Video Premiere: Katy Carr – Wojtek". Folk Radio UK. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
  19. ^ "Hearts of Iron IV achievements".
  20. ^ "Scythe Character Details". Retrieved 25 July 2017.
  21. ^ "School emblems of Girls und Panzer".

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.

External links[edit]