He wasn’t a panserbjørn, just an ordinary brown bear from the Middle East. But like his fictional counterparts in The Golden Compass, he fought bravely in battle, namely with the Polish Army during World War Two. He marched with Polish troops in Glasgow in 1946, was demobilized in 1947 and lived out his years in the comfort of the Edinburgh Zoo. He died in 1963 but lived on in the hearts of his fellow (human) soldiers. And now he is about to be honored with a statue, courtesy of the Wojtek Memorial Trust Fund. (h/t iDNES)
That’s the story of Wojtek, an orphan bear who joined the Polish 2nd Corps during World War Two. The 2nd Corps was formed in 1943 from thousands of Polish soldiers who had escaped from occupied Poland, plus many thousands of others who had been released from Soviet Gulag after the Germans invaded the USSR. The Poles who had left the USSR passed through Persia and Syria en route to British Palestine. It was there that they had traded a few cans of food for a bear cub whom they named Wojtek.
Wojtek became a loyal friend who learned to salute when greeted. He was a fearless friend who shrugged off artillery fire while delivering ammunition to his human friends during the vicious battle of Monte Cassino. In that crucial fight, the Polish 2nd Corps played a major part in cracking formidable German mountain defensive positions, allowing Allied forces to advance north, link up with American and British forces breaking out from the Anzio beachhead and ultimately capture Rome.
The idea for a statue to this redoubtable animal came from the author Aileen Orr, who hopes to raise enough money not just for a statue in Scotland but an identical one in Poland and at Monte Cassino, Italy.