Have you ever heard of Wojtek the Soldier Bear?
He was a Syrian Brown bear who enlisted in the Polish army during World War II and served as an honorary soldier. Not only did he serve as a mascot for the 22nd Transport Company, but he also helped move crates of ammunition while serving in the Middle East and Europe.
Read on to learn more about this unique and inspiring story.
How Wojtek Became a Soldier
Nestled in the Zagros Mountains of Persia, members of the Polish II Corps discovered an unexpected ally during their 1942 expedition: a bear named Wojtek. Affectionately known as “The Soldier Bear,” Wojtek quickly became a beloved companion to his newfound comrades-in-arms.
An Iranian boy had been caring for the cub at the time, having taken it in after its mother had been killed by hunters. At that moment, Lieutenant Anatol Tarnowiecki decided to take Wojtek into the fold, and so began a powerful bond between the little bear and the Soldiers.
As the men were being transported from Siberia to Egypt via The Middle East, Wojtek soon became more than just a pet – he was a soothing presence who brought hope and camaraderie to this close-knit group of men.
Though his most famous feat was carrying bags of ammunition during the Italian Campaign, this legacy of friendship remains embedded within the heart and souls of all those who served alongside him.
Wojtek’s Time At Army
As the 22nd Company traversed through the blazing desert heat of the Middle East, Wojet accompanied them every step of their arduous journey. Wojtek was taught to salute beside his comrades like any normal soldier and pilfer the supplies tent cleverly.
His lighthearted and easy-going attitude quickly made him a favorite among his bunkmates, happily drinking beer with them and generously sharing it out, almost like a commander. It seemed Wojtek had plenty of surprises up his sleeve!
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With the army preparing to move to Italy and the soldiers unable to leave the faithful companion behind, the 22nd Transport Company had no choice but to enlist their furry friend Wojtek, the bear. As one of the troops, he was even given a service number and granted the same rations as the others – just without the pay.
On February 13, 1944, the ship set sail from Alexandria and headed for Taranto, ready for the biggest battle that would witness Wojtek’s unlimited courage. Sadly for the brave soldier-bear, when the war concluded in 1945, his home country of Poland couldn’t become a reality again as it was held in an oppressive Communist grip.
With no other option, the troops created a new home in Scotland and brought along Wojtek, an unforgettable figure who has been engrained into history.
Wojtek’s Time in Scotland
The bear found a loving home in the camp which housed three thousand men. Everyone who resided at the camp or visited from the local village knew that no one, not even the toughened soldiers, could ever compare to the popular Wojtek, whose friendly spirit made him beloved by all.
Every day the children from the village would line up for their turn to sit atop his back, and Wojtek even had special dance partners lined up every night at local gatherings too.
Although no trace remains today of the camp after its closure, if you know where to look, you still might be able to find scratch marks etched into a resilient tree- said to be those of Wojtek’s own doing that remain 45 years later as a tribute to his timeless legacy.
Time at Zoo
The soldiers had a heavy weight on their hearts as the time came to part with the bear, Wojtek. They had embraced the animal as their comrade ever since they encountered the cub who took to drinking beer and saluting the soldiers.
Through thick and thin, the bond forged between them ran deep, yet it was understood that a life free from any danger or hindrance was best for the bear, no matter how difficult a decision it was for the soldiers to accept.
It was decided that the best place to ensure Edinburgh Zoo was the ideal place to ensure Wojtek’s safety and future prosperity.
The keepers welcomed Wojtek with open arms and went out of their way to make him feel at home – dressing in Polish military jackets and even attempting a few phrases of the language.
Death of Wojtek
December 2, 1963, this remarkable story ended when Wojtek passed away at the age of 21 years. His extraordinary narrative of courage and companionship has reverberated with people everywhere, leading to the development of several books, films, and monuments honoring the memory of this heroic bear.
Truly a remarkable creature well worth celebrating!