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Scottish government backs 'Wojtek the soldier bear' statue

PR dla Zagranicy
Nick Hodge 30.10.2014 12:14
Scotland's government is donating 20,000 pounds towards a statue of the bear who 'served' with Polish soldiers in WWII, before ending his days in Edinburgh Zoo.

Wojtek the bear: photo - wikipedia

“Wojtek the soldier bear symbolises the strong relationship between Scotland and Poland and our historic links, and I am delighted to support this statue,” says Culture and External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop.

“The Scottish Government recognises the huge contribution Polish immigrants make to Scottish life - from the Poles who fought alongside us, and alongside Wojtek, in World War Two, to more recent arrivals.

“I want young Scots to know the story of Wojtek the soldier bear," she said.

Wojtek was adopted in Iran by the Polish Second Corps, a formation chiefly made up of men released from Soviet labour camps after Stalin was compelled to sign an amnesty in 1941.

As part of the British 8th Army, the Polish Second Corps advanced from Egypt to Italy, where Wojtek was present at the Battle of Monte Cassino - reputedly carrying boxes of ammo - a clash which opened the road to Rome.

He became the mascot of the 22nd Transport Company, with the official rank of private, not to mention a double daily ration of food.

Veterans recall that the bear was so good-natured that they could play-fight with the animal without any fear that he would lose his temper.

Wojtek enjoyed drinking a beer with the troops, and he was also known for eating cigarettes.

As the majority of the Second Corps had witnessed the Soviet Union at first hand through deportations to Siberia and other far-flung corners of the Russian empire, most soldiers refused to return to Poland after a Moscow-backed communist regime was installed in Warsaw after the war.

When Wojtek's company was demobbed in Scotland in 1947, the bear was accepted at Edinburgh Zoo, where he died in 1963.

The Scottish cabinet's donation means that campaigners backing the monument are now two thirds of the way towards reaching their target of 300,000 pounds.

It is hoped that the statue will be unveiled next year at the prestigious West Princes Street Gardens, to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. (nh)

Source: The Scotsman

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