Have you ever heard of a bear, who was a soldier? Yes, this is a real story and now I want to tell it to you. It is a beautiful, yet sad story of Wojtek the bear, who was a Polish soldier.
On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland from the west, and 16 days later, the Soviet Union attacked it from the east, taking into captivity 230 thousand Polish prisoners of war. Most of them were exiled to Siberia. In 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The country became an ally of the Western world, and many Polish prisoners of war were allowed to join the army of General Anders, created in the Soviet Union. In 1942 the Anders Army were evacuated to the Middle East, so that his troops could fight for Polish independence and Europe alongside the Allies.
Wojtek (born in 1942 near Hamadan in Iran, died in 1963 in Edinburgh) â€“ a Syrian brown bear adopted by the soldiers of 22 Artillery Supply Company in the 2nd Polish Corps under the command of General Anders. The bear took part in the battle of Monte Cassino, where, according to the story he carried the boxes of ammunition.
In April of 1942. Irena Bokiewicz, an 18-year-old Polish woman, after a two-year stay in Siberia, was among thousands of civilians evacuated from the Soviet Union, together with the Anders Army. Going to a camp for civilians in Tehran they stopped near the city of Hamadan (Iran). During the stay a group of Persian boys came up to them, one of them holding a tiny baby bear in his arms. Irena was so delighted with it that Lieutenant Anatoly Tarnowiecki bought it for her . It was 8 April, 1942. Unfortunately, the bear caused a lot of problems and Irena was forced to hand it over. She offered it to General Boruta - Spiechowicz and the bear went to the headquarters staff. However, it kept making trouble, so it was taken to Palestine, where the Polish army had already stayed.
Wojtek went to the 2nd Transport Company (renamed in 1943 of 22nd Artillery Supply Company) on 22 August, 1942. The bear could not even eat at that time and the soldiers had to feed it with diluted condensed milk using a vodka bottle with a dummy made of rags.
The bear was being looked after carefully. It grew up and got stronger. His favourite delicacies were fruit, sweet syrup, marmalade, honey and beer, which he was awarded for the good behaviour.
For this reason, and a few others, Wojtek was drafted into the army, with all its consequences â€“ he was registered in the Company personnel list, got military papers with its name Wojtek the Bear and received the lowest rank of a private. Henceforth he got a regular soldierâ€™s pay which was an increased ration. The bear ate and slept in the tent together with other soldiers.
Wojtek didnâ€™t smoke cigarettes, but he ate them. The strangest thing was that it had to be a smoking cigarette.
Wojtek went through the entire war trail with the 22nd Artillery Supply Company from Iran through Iraq, Palestine, Egypt to Italy.
The map coming from the book „Dziadek i niedźwiadek” made by Marcin Ćwikła
Soldiers remember that Wojtek loved to ride military trucks, sitting in the cab, and sometimes in the crate which fact caused a lot of sensation on the road..
He liked wrestling and boxing with the soldiers, which generally ended in Wojtekâ€™s victory: the one who was defeated, was lying on the ground and the bear licked his face.
Wojtek was a very useful animal. He helped the soldiers to carry heavy crates of artillery ammunition, and never had a case of any drop. Since then, the symbol of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company has become a bear carrying a shell. Such a sign appeared on the military vehicles, uniforms and pennants.
After the war, 22 Company being a part of the 2nd Polish Corps was transported to Glasgow in Scotland, altogether with Wojtek. The company stationed in Winfield Park and Wojtek soon became a favourite of the whole camp and the local people. He also was the subject of numerous newspaper articles. The local Polish-Scottish Society appointed him its member.
After the demobilization of the unit, it was decided to give the bear to the zoo in Edinburgh. The director agreed to take care of Wojtek and not to give it to anyone without the permission of the commander Anthony CheĹ‚kowski. 15 November, 1947 was the day of parting with Wojtek. Later, soldiers kept visiting Wojtek. Ignoring the concerns of the zoo workers they often crossed the fence.
Wojtek died in December 1963, at the age of 22. His death was announced on the UK radio stations. Being adult he weighed nearly 500 pounds (250 kg) and measured well over 6 feet (over 180 cm).
And many more which you can find here: on our eTwinning website
There were two films made PIWKO DLA NIEDŹWIEDZIA (A BEER FOR THE BEAR)
• the plaque at the zoo in Edinburgh, • the monument in Edinburgh, • a few plaques at theImperial War Museum in London and the Canadian War Museum in Ottava, • the sculpture at the Polish Institute and theGeneral Sikorski Museum in London.
Wojtek at the Polish Institute and the General Sikorski Museum in London.
Wojtek history is still little known, especially in Poland, and yet he fully deserves to be called a hero, he was an extraordinary soldier after all! Our goal is to tell the story of Wojtek to as many people as possible and to make it and the one of the of 2nd Polish Corps of General Anders soldiers close to everyone. We created a comic â€žHow Wojtek , a bear became a Polish soldierâ€? which can help propagate this good and true story.