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Statue of WW II soldier bear in Warsaw?

PR dla Zagranicy
Peter Gentle 03.01.2012 10:02
Talks have begun to erect a statue in Warsaw to honour one of Poland's most unlikely war heroes – a Syrian brown bear named Wojtek.

Wojtek with handler: photo - IPN

A 3-metre high bronze monument is already due to be installed this year in Edinburgh, where the bear ended his days in 1963 at the city's zoo.

However, the driving force behind the statue, Scottish politician Aileen Orr, is aiming for a replica to be erected in Warsaw.

“Talks have already started on the matter,” she told Polish daily Rzeczpospolita.

“It's possible that the statue of Wojtek will stand in front of the Museum of the Polish Army,” she revealed.

Although the bear was a cherished resident at Edinburgh zoo for many years, his story was little known in communist Poland.

Wojtek joined the Polish Second Corps in the West during World War II, a force led by General Wladyslaw Anders. The corps eventually became an independent part of the British Eight Army in 1944.

The bear was purchased as a cub in 1942 while the troops were stationed in Iran. He soon became a mascot of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, sleeping in the soldiers tents, drinking beer and gobbling up cigarettes.

Legend says that during the Italian campaign, he carried boxes of artillery at the Battle of Monte Cassino. The victory over the Nazi German Army in the clash opened up the road to Rome for the Allied forces.

Regardless of whether the missile-carrying antics are true, Wojtek became the official symbol of the artillery company, and an image of the bear was emblazoned on the unit's trucks.

After the war, the vast majority of General Anders's soldiers refused to return to Poland, as Stalin's Red Army had occupied the country. A puppet communist government was duly installed.

After the Second Corps was demobilized ion 1947, Wojtek found a home in Edinburgh zoo.

“Polish soldiers told my father how they would return with Wojtek to Warsaw,” said Mrs Orr.

“Poland is free now, and its possible to realise their dreams by building a statue to Wojtek in the capital,” she added. (nh/pg)

tags: wujek bear, WW II
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