Warsaw

Wojtek, the Soldier Bear

22 Jul 2016

Fond of a bevvy and a fag, the habits of Private Wojtek weren’t too different from any other soldier of the 22nd Polish Artillery Supply Company. However, while Wojtek’s comrades were exiled soldiers from Poland, Wojtek himself was a quite conspicuous six-foot tall brown bear from Iran.

Joining the unit in 1943 as Polish troops advanced through the Middle East, accounts differ about how the soldiers exactly came upon him, though it’s accepted that he was adopted as a homeless cub and weaned on condensed milk poured from a vodka bottle. Affectionately christened 'Wojtek,' he slept and worked alongside the men, helping in the transport of live shells and boxes of ammunition to artillery positions. Fed on a diet of marmalade and honey it wasn’t long before Wojtek started assuming human traits, including the love of a smoke and a beer – his rewards for a good day’s work, like the rest of the soldiers. By all accounts he was a social animal; during breaks in combat he would wrestle with his Polish mates, often clamping their heads in his jaws. A voracious tea drinker, sometimes taking his brew with a nip of vodka, apparently he also wasn’t averse to clandestine raids on the field canteen. More than just a mascot, Wojtek became a reliable member of his unit, mastering the controls of the shower hut, and once allegedly capturing an Arab spy hiding in the camp. With his unit reassigned to serve in the Italian campaign the soldiers faced the prospect of losing a loyal and valued comrade. The only loophole was to enlist him, and so it was that Wojtek was entered into the Polish army, complete with name, number, identity and ration papers. His unit was deployed to Monte Cassino, and handed the unenviable task of resupplying Allied troops pinned down by German gunfire. It was in these hellish conditions Wojtek earned his spurs, never once dropping a shell. His bravery was recognised by high command who changed the insignia of the 22nd Company to depict a bear carrying an artillery shell.

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09.03.2017
Mark
netherlands
White Eagle needs to read more on the history of the Polish in the UK. The Polish were welcomed after WWII and housed in the UK during their occupation and welcomed integrating themselves. As to the commemorative statue, there is one in Weelsby Woods in Grimsby.
30.05.2013
White Eagle
Scotland,
I think its a great shame that the zoo he finally ended his days in, Edinburgh, hasn't chosen to mark his life and his passing with a commemorative and explanatory statue.Britain has done much to ignore the contribution Poles made to winning the war against the Nazi's and should be ashamed for not doing more to commemorate their actions. Whether it was the Enigma, the Battle of Britain, holding the Falaise Gap or Monte Cassino, many Poles gave their lives for freedom, only to see their freedom denied by Yalta.
29.03.2013
randy63ism
Oklahoma/USA
Wow! This bear is legend! A true soldier. May Wojtek's deeds and memory never end. Greetings from the USA!
28.11.2012
Krystyna Mikula-Deegan
,
Hi Great site and info!I wondered if readers might be interested in my book about Wojtek, entitled Private Wojtek Soldier Bear', available from Amazon , good bookshops and also as an e-book for download?Publishers are Troubador Publishing Ltd.Hope you enjoy reading it, thank you!K.Mikula-Deegan
14.12.2011
Krystyna Mikula-Deegan
United Kingdom,
The article about Wojtek is very interesting as are the comments about it.I thought you might like to know that I've recently had a historical novel about Wojtek published entitled Private Wojtek-Soldier Bear and it is available either from the publishers (Troubador); Amazon.co.uk Waterstone's or W H Smith. I do hope you'll have a look and enjoy it! Thank you!
14.03.2011
Kuras
Poland,
Dear Sirs. Although I am 61 years old ,I heard for the first time about Woytek a couple of days ago. Unfortunately polish communist authorities has hidden true information regarding Woytek, offering us other films about a dog and soldiers from Russia .Marvellous story about Woytek - I desire much to commemorate that exceptionally intelligent bear in Poland. I think that it might have happened within 2-3 years , if legend about Woytek reaches more and more Poles.
23.09.2010
Elizabeth
England,
I think it is most important that Wojtek should have a memorial, plus books and films about him. I first became interested in him several years ago and as I adore bears, all bears, he holds a very special place in my heart.
03.06.2010
Will
USA, Tx
If it makes anyone feel better, he topped out a list of "True War Stories that put Action Movies to Shame" over at www.cracked.com.
04.04.2009
PRIMROSE KRASICKI
Australia,
Wojtek the bear is a marvellous story ! It well deserves all memories from books to statues and maybe a film thanks to the 22 Regiment of compassionate Poles who did not abandon him as a cub. Its also an amusing story and incredibl.But of equal interest is the extraordinary bonding of humans & a generous animal who was intelligent and adopted the regiment as his family, plus gave his "all " to his comrades. I sincerely hope Wojtek is never forgotten in Polish Military history.
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