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    Story of unusual bear Wojtek, soldier of Anders’ Army

    75 years ago, Wojtek the bear was separated from the soldiers of the Anders’ Army and taken to the Edinburgh Zoo.

    Polish soldier with Wojtek (right) in 1942

    Wojtek was a Syrian brown bear adopted by soldiers of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company in the 2nd Polish Corps commanded by General Wladysław Anders. He took part in the Battle of Monte Cassino, during which he carried boxes of ammunition and pulled a supply cart behind him. For his services to the Polish Army, he was promoted to the rank of corporal.

    Lovely orphan bear called to army

    Polish soldiers marching with civilian refugees from Pahlavi in Iran to Palestine met a Persian boy carrying a baby brown bear on 8 April 1942. The bear’s mother had most likely been shot by hunters. The bear so delighted 18-year-old Irena (Inka) Bokiewicz that she persuaded Lieutenant Anatol Tarnowiecki to buy it for her. The baby spent the next three months in Inka’s care in a refugee camp near Tehran. In August 1942, the bear was donated to the 22nd Artillery Supply Company. The bear could not yet eat and the soldiers fed him condensed milk mixed with water from a bottle and a teat twisted from rags. Apparently, because of this, Wojtek’s fondness for drinks from such a bottle remained forever. Wojtek was officially registered with the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, with which he followed the entire combat route from Iran through Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Egypt to Italy and, after demobilisation, to Great Britain.

    Cuddling friend and comrade-in-arms

    The bear was looked after with care. His favourite treats were fruit, sweet syrups, marmalade, honey and beer, which he received for good behaviour. He ate together with the soldiers and slept with them in the tent. When he grew up, he was given his own bedroom in a large wooden box, but he did not like solitude and would often go at night to cuddle with the soldiers sleeping in the tent. He was a gentle animal having complete trust in people. This often created amusing situations with foreign soldiers or civilians.

    Soldiers recollect that Wojtek loved to ride in military trucks – in the cab or sometimes on a box, which caused quite a sensation on the road. He also liked wrestling with soldiers, which usually ended in his victory: the defeated lay “on his shoulder blades” and a bear licked him on the face. Among the stories about Wojtek, there is also one about how, during the operations at Monte Cassino, Corporal Wojtek helped other soldiers to carry heavy crates of artillery ammunition and never happened to drop any. Since then, the symbol of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company has become a bear with a shell in its paws. This badge appeared on military vehicles, pennants and soldiers’ uniforms.

    Well-deserved retirement

    After the end of the Second World War, Wojtek the bear, along with many Polish soldiers, was transported to Scotland. He ended up in the Edinburgh Zoo, where he was visited by his company mates. Years of living among humans did not allow him to adapt to life among other bears, which posed a serious problem for Wojtek. He spent 16 years in a Scottish zoo. He died in 1963.


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