Wojtek The Iranian-Polish War Bear

On November 22, 2014 by Tim Newman

Wojtek Bear - baby bear

Wojtek, an orphaned Syrian brown bear, touched the hearts and minds of many military men from Syria to Edinburgh, from Poland to Egypt. He’s commemorated worldwide and all he did was carry stuff about and eat cigarettes. He was a bit of a legend by all accounts.

Wojtek Bear - baby

Wojtek was initially discovered in Iran by a young girl after his mother had been shot. The youngster sold the abandoned bear cub to Irena (Inka) Bokiewicz, a young Polish refugee walking across the Elbruz mountains to escape from the Soviet Union.

Wojtek Bear - Being Fed

The bear soon became too big for Bokiewicz to look after so she donated it to the Polish Army. At this stage the bear was still less than a year old and had trouble swallowing. The troops looked after the bear as best they could, feeding it condensed milk from an emptied vodka bottle and giving it treats like marmalade, honey and syrup. Wojtek picked up some bad habits along the way too, beer became his favourite drink and he liked to smoke and eat cigarettes.

Wojtek Bear - Hero in Iran

Wojtek enjoyed a good old-fashioned wrestle and was taught how to salute on command. He was a popular bear and an unofficial mascot; he moved with the Polish Army as they traveled to Iraq, Palestine, Syria and Egypt.

Wojtek Bear - In Vehicle

In order to get Wojtek aboard an English military vessel that was leaving Egypt they had to officially sign him up to the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps. Two soldiers were put in charge of him and he strolled aboard with the rest of the troops.

Wojtek Bear - Playing

Wojtek Bear - Polis sholdier feeding Wojtek Bear - Riding a bear

Wojtek Bear with other troops

During the Battle of Monte Cassino Wojtek helped by transporting ammunition – never dropping a single box of bombs, which is fortunate. He slept in a crate or in tents with the other soldiers. He was so popular he made it onto the 22nd Transport Company’s official emblem:

Wojtek Bear - 22nd Transport Company logo emblem

After the war Wojtek moved with some of II Corps to Scotland which would be his final resting place. As the troops were demobilized in 1947 Wojtek was donated to Edinburgh zoo where he lived out the remaining 16 years of his life. He was a popular attraction at the zoo and people would occasionally throw cigarettes into the cage for him; he had to eat the cigarettes though, because no one was there to light them for him. Poor chap.

Wojtek Bear - Poland - David Harding

If you feel like you would like to pay your respects to this well-loved and well-traveled bear there are plenty of places to do so. There is a stone tablet in Edinburgh Zoo in his honor, plaques in the Imperial War Museum and Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, as well as a sculpture by artist David Harding in the Sikorski Museum in London (pictured above) and a carved wooden sculpture in Weelsby Woods, Grimsby (pictured below with a Polish veteran).

Wojtek Polish War Bear in Grimsby

On 25 April 2013, Kraków city council decided to erect a statue of the bear in Park Jordana. It was unveiled on 18 May 2014:

Wojtek Bear - Poland - Kraków city Park Jordana

That’s a nice little story isn’t it?






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