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Statue of Polish soldier bear unveiled in Edinburgh

PR dla Zagranicy
Nick Hodge 07.11.2015 14:36
A bronze statue of a bear who served with Polish soldiers during World War II was officially unveiled in central Edinburgh on Saturday.
Sculptor Allan Beattie Heriot with the bronze statue of Wojtek the bear. Photo: Wojtek Memorial TrustSculptor Allan Beattie Heriot with the bronze statue of Wojtek the bear. Photo: Wojtek Memorial Trust

Wojtek the bear, who ended his days in Edinburgh Zoo in 1963, had remained in Britain following WWII along with thousands of other Polish veterans of the British 8th Army, as a Soviet-backed communist regime was installed in Poland.

Poland's ambassador to the UK Witold Sobków and Donald Wilson, Edinburgh's Lord Provost, were among the dignitaries who took part in the unveiling ceremony in the city's picturesque West Princes Street Gardens on Saturday.

The bronze memorial, created by sculptor Allan Beattie Heriot, was campaigned for by the Wojtek Memorial Trust, which counts Poles and Britons among its members.

An inscription pays tribute to Polish military personnel :

In memory of the Polish men and women who fought 'for your freedom and ours'".

An unlikely soldier

Stories of the beer-drinking, cigarette-chomping bear have passed into legend.

Veterans recall Wojtek's fondness for taking a bath. He once alarmed Italian bathers on the Adriatic coast when he jumped out of a Polish jeep and made a run for the sea.

However, the bear was apparently so good-natured that soldiers could play-fight with the animal without any fear that he would lose his temper.

Wojtek was originally adopted in Iran by the Polish Second Corps, a formation chiefly made up of political prisoners released from Soviet labour camps. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin was compelled to sign an amnesty under pressure from the UK and the Polish government-in-exile based there.

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.

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. (nh/rk)

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