TNB Night Owl – Wojtek The Bear

Wotjek the bear statue in Princess Street Gardens, photo by Taras Young

In 1939, Germany invaded Poland from the West. Sixteen days later, the Soviet Union responded to the German aggression by… invading Poland from the East. Poland’s military, already dealing with German forces, were easily overwhelmed and less than a month later the Soviets were in control of much of the country. The Soviets began a steady program of murder, deprivation and deportation that resulted in the subjugation of Poland for decades.

Some Poles found a way out, however. After Hitler betrayed the Soviets, the UK negotiated with the USSR to work with, and effectively free, some of their Polish soldiers. This was “Anders’ Army”, and they counted among their ranks some very dangerous fighters. Among them was Wojtek the Bear.

Whereas many people have been given nicknames of dangerous animals, Private Wojtek was different. He was an actual bear.

Wojtek was discovered by an Iranian boy, after the cub’s mother had been shot by hunters. He promptly informed some soliders, assuming they would know what to do. These soldiers were Poles, marching through Iran in 1942 on their way to join with the British for what would become the Italian Campaign. The bear was placed with a refugee camp, but after a few months the growing, and somewhat domesticated, bear was shifted to the direct control of what was to become the 22nd Artillery Supply Company.

There he mimicked human behavior and was very amiable, and he was rewarded with food. The bear became a popular mascot for the troops stationed in the area.

Then the Company had to move. British regulations prevented military groups from officially having animal mascots, so Wojtek was to be left behind. The soldiers were upset, until someone had the idea of drafting the bear.

Private Wojtek boarded the British transport to Italy with his official soldier’s serial number and a steady paycheck. Once there, he continued to raise the morale of the soldiers… until the Battle of Monte Cassino.

During the conflict, the members of the 22nd Artillery Supply were kept buy loading ammunition onto transport vehicles. Wojtek, seeing what the others were doing, decided to contribute by mimicking their actions. The bear lifted crates that normally required multiple men, and his contribution was recognized. Wojtek was promoted to Corporal.

After the war, Wojtek traveled not to Poland, but to Scotland, as did most of the soldiers he had served beside. He was placed in the Edinburgh Zoo, where he was an honored local hero until his passing at age 21, in 1963.

Question of the night: Where are your favorite zoos?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.