Wojtek the Soldier Bear

December 14, 2013
Hero Bear

The Soldier Bear

Reblogged from Newzar (by Kamila Kulma)

The Wojtek Memorial Trust will erect a statue of the famous Nazi-battling brown bear that became the pride of General Władysław Anders’ Army. The bronze statue will stand in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh in 2014. “It will be a symbol of friendship between Poland and the United Kingdom,” said Robin Barnett, British Ambassador to Poland. Wojtek, a Syrian brown bear, was found in Iran by a local boy in April 1942. He sold the bear cub to soldiers of the Polish Army stationed nearby for a couple of cans of meat. As a cub, Wojtek had problems swallowing so the little bear was fed condensed milk from a vodka bottle. Later, the soldiers fed him fruit, marmalade, honey and beer, which became his favourite drink. Wojtek became the mascot of all the Polish units stationed nearby and was taught to salute. He enjoyed smoking and eating cigarettes. When the Polish Army was later deployed in Europe the only way to keep Wojtek, also known as the ‘Soldier Bear’, was given a rank and number. Consequently, Wojtek was officially drafted into the General Anders Army and listed among the soldiers of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps. Together with the soldiers, firstly as a rank-and-file soldier and then with the rank of corporal, he moved from Iran to Iraq and then through Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Italy. An image of Wojtek carrying an artillery shell became the official symbol of 22nd Company. As the end of the WWII approached, the future of the Polish Army was uncertain. Many soldiers who served in the same unit as Wojtek were from eastern Poland. This territory was invaded by Stalin in 1939 and the Yalta Conference legitimised the Soviet territorial smash-and-grab leaving many Polish soldiers with no homes to go back to. Most of them remained in exile, including Wojtek.

Polish War Hero


In 1946 the Polish bear sailed together with his brothers-in-arms of the General Anders Army to Clydes and were then transported to Berwickshire. A year later Wojtek was given to Edinburgh Zoo where he spent the remaining years of his life. He was often visited by journalists and his Polish friends from the army who tossed him sweets and cigarettes. Wojtek continued to react to words spoken in Polish. Sadly, Wojtek died in December 1963 in Edinburgh Zoo. “Wojtek deserves to be called a War Hero who moved soldiers’ hearts,” said British Ambassador to Poland, Robin Barnett. “He was a soldier who helped strengthen the friendship between Brits and Poles. As the beloved mascot of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps not only did he boost morale but he also supported his fellow soldiers on the fields of combat. He took active participation in the Battle of Monte Cassino during which Polish soldiers played a major role,” said Robin Barnett. In his opinion, the story of Wojtek is inspiring and has great historic significance. Dorota Gałaszewska-Chilczuk of the Office of War Veterans and Victims of Oppression emphasised that Wojtek made important contributions to winning WWII. She added that he served and was paid like every other soldier. In his case the salary were increased portions of food and beer as a bonus. He was very close with his fellow soldiers and lived with the other men in the same tent. During the Battle of Monte Cassino, Wojtek transported ammunition and never dropped a single crate. He also carried heavy mortar rounds. “The Soldier Bear took part in the liberation of Ancona and Bologna,” said Galaszewska-Chilczuk. She also added that Wojtek became very popular among civilians and the press when he arrived in Scotland.


Hero among Heroes

The Polish-Scottish Association made Wojtek an honorary member. “In order to pay homage to the Soldier Bear,” said Krystyna Szumelakowa, of the Wojtek Memorial Trust, “the story of war and friendship will be immortalised with a bronze statue”. The Wojtek Memorial Trust hopes that the life-sized statue will be unveiled in 2014, on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino. “The statue will be cast in Poland and given to Scottish authorities as a present from Poland,” explained Szumelakowa. Thanks to the efforts of the Trust a special tartan has been created in honour of Wojtek. Deirdre Kinloch Anderson, senior director at Leith-based kilt and Highland dress experts Kinloch Anderson, the designers of the Wojtek tartan, said she was “extremely proud” of helping to design the tartan dedicated to Wojtek. The story of Wojtek was popularised by former soldiers of the Polish II Corps, Wieslaw Lasocki, author of the book, “Wojtek from Monte Cassino – the Story of an Amazing Bear”, published in 1968. Writer Aileen Orr, whose book “Wojtek The Bear – Polish War Hero” was published in 2010, heard the story of Wojtek from her grandfather, a King’s Own Scottish Borderers colour sergeant who met the bear in Egypt and Palestine before he met him again later in Scotland. There is now a plaque dedicated to the legendary bear in Edinburgh Zoo. There are also plaques commemorate Wojtek’s war efforts in the War Museum in London, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa and in the Sikorski Insitute in London. In March 2009, the Scottish Parliament organised a reception to honour Wojtek. Every Remembrance Day, Scottish people gather at the Polish Memorial Garden in Edinburgh, many of them with teddy bears, which later are donated to charities for sick children.


Poles Apart

December 21, 2009

Plight of the Eagle

Plight of the Eagle

After the previous post (click here) I was surprised by the serendipity in my choice of topic after I discovered an article in Dziennik about the state of the Polish language around the world. Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently published a report entitled: “The Situation of Polish People Abroad”. This is the most detailed report of its kind ever published and it paints a worrying picture for the future of Polish people and the Polish language abroad.

Radek On a Mission

Radek On a Mission

The report looked at thirty countries around the world, most of them European states. According to Radosław Sikorski, Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the purpose of the report is ascertain what particular problems affect the Polonia (the Polish community outside Poland) around the globe so that the Ministry can then implement a plan to help them tackle these difficulties.

South America Tops

South America Tops

In the report we find several important pieces of information. Firstly, the number of Poles living in each country, the number of Polish schools and the local state’s attitude and policy with regards to Polish people. The report shows that Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Sweden stand out as the ‘best’ countries for Poles to live in, that is their rights are respected most in those states.

Curie-ing Favour with the French?

Curie-ing Favour with the French?

However, in the other countries found in the report, Polish ex-pats and the Polish language have little chance for support. In France, Polish children may be surprised to learn that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising were one in the same and there was much anti-Semitic feeling during WWII; in Germany they are taught that Chopin and Marie Curie-Skłodowska were French.

United in Intolerance?

United in Intolerance?

This report, once again, shows us that any talk of European solidarity and tolerance is just that – talk. Actions speak louder than words, of course, and if we truly are committed to building a united Europe then it is probably about time to do away with nationalism and intolerance. This goes for ALL the countries of the European Union, Poland included. Pie in the sky? I hope not…

Plumbers heading back

February 17, 2008

PlumberA recent article in The Times is music to a lot of people’s ears. According to the British government’s register of migrant workers there has been a drop of 18% in the number of migrant workers in the third quarter of 2007 compared to the previous year. Official sources claim that there are more Poles leaving Britain (and returning to Poland) than entering.

Hard Facts
According to The Times 468,000 Poles have applied for work permits in the UK between 2004 and 2007. These are of course government figures and do not take into consideration the number of illegal workers in the UK. Estimates put the number of Polish migrants at around 1 million. The Home Office mentions the fact that Polish people have been drawn to the average British monthly wage of almost £2,000 compared to £800 in Poland.

Tide has turned
However, something has changed. Polish people are coming back to Poland after having their fill of the ‘Golden Land’. One of the reasons is the change in attitude in Poland largely due to a change in government with Civic Platform committed to doing everything to ‘bring back’ the emigré Poles. Another reason may be the increasingly powerful zloty. In 2004 £1 was worth 7.23 PLN. It is now worth 4.83 PLN. The knowledge that they are manking less zlotys per pound has also been a major reason for many Polish workers to return home.

New Future
What doe this spell for Poland? Well, we’re hardly going to have 1 million UK Poles suddenly flooding the market but a fresh influx of people could pose problems for Donald Tusk’s government. Tusk et al will have to cope with rising unemployment as a large plop of people descend on Poland. Hopefully, it’s not all doom and gloom and the returning people will have a different attitude to work and life and provide fresh cultural and social impetus for Poland. On the other hand, the people who return might be the ones who were unsuccessful in finding jobs, frustrated and disenchanted.
Watch this space…

Splintered Society (Part II)

February 3, 2008

Continued from Part I

Integration and Influx
Integration And then came EU accession. The Poles in England were overjoyed that at last their homeland was truly free – a member of NATO and now the EU. They took in the new Poles with open arms inviting them into their houses, clubs, churches, giving them beds, money and jobs, anything to help their fellow Poles who had had the horrible experience of communism. This is what the Polonia had been fighting for all their lives. This was the actual realisation of a generational dream which had taken on mythical proportions during fifty or more years of forced exile.

Rude Awakening
No Immigrants What happened next can be called many things but I call it a disaster. The so-called ‘imports’ (a term developed by the now native Polish-Brits) hit the Isles like a tempest flooding the communities with fresh blood, new ideas, new language, new values. The old generation found that they had absolutely nothing in common with these fresh-faced fellow Polish youngbloods. Polish churches in the UK are full but the divisions are clear. The old generation tend to sit near the front (or in the pews that they’ve been sitting in for years) and the ‘imports’ sit or stand at the back.

Communication Breakdown
After BabelObserving these two communities who were different in every aspect I got the feeling that something was very wrong. The only thing that brought these two wholly different groups together was some vague notion of Polishness. In fact, the language of the two groups was drastically different. The older generation use a fossilised Polish with a large number of borrowings from English (‘hoover’, ‘sink’, for example), whereas the new ‘imports’ use words like ‘spoko’, ‘luz’ which are alien to the older Polonia group. These divisions have become highlighted by the fact that the new Poles have an awful reputation in the UK which is tarnishing the reputation of the Polonia.

Boiling Point
Melting PotWhat we are witnessing is the forced melding together of two social groups which have absolutely nothing in common (bar the above-mentioned vague notion of Polishness). The Polonia worked to bring freedom back to Poland and their love for the homeland is admirable yet idealised. The younger group chose to leave their country, have not had to work to build up a community and have an ambivalent attitude towards Poland. Watching this dangerously bubbling melting pot one gets the impression that something is about to explode and explode very soon.

Poles in the UK

November 14, 2007

I’m not a fan of posting videos and suchlike but I thought this little vid summed up the linguistic life of Poles living in the UK. This is a Polish chappy trying to undertake an important transaction in English. Enjoy: