Back in 1942, the world was in complete crisis, thousands of people were trying to run away from the war in order to survive. Many people in Europe were able to escape to different countries, even reaching other continents. The unluckiest ones were captured by the enemies and their destiny was unclear for them.
The Anders Army
In the middle of the Second World War, thousands of Poles were deported to the Soviet Union to work-camps. Many of them were able to escape but it was almost impossible for them to survive on their own. A Polish general –Władysław Albert Anders– with the help of the British army, decided to start grouping people who escaped from the Soviet Union in order to form a new Polish army and defend their country. This new group of civilians and soldiers was called the Anders Army.
Many civilians joined Anders Army, but the issue was: those people were not able to come back to Poland. Therefore, they decided to cross different countries in the Middle East and Africa in order to reach Italy to help the rest of the Polish army during the war.
The Child Who Was Carrying a Surprise
When the Anders Army was crossing Iran, they encountered with a child that had found a bear cub after its mother was shot by a hunter. The soldiers were really curious when they saw this still ‘small’ animal, so they decided to help the child and they purchased the bear cub. The animal was not able to chew any food, and this is why the soldiers thought it was a good idea to give milk to him in a vodka bottle! (Classic Poles).
The Joyful Warrior
When the bear cub started to grow up, he was donated to the 22nd Transport Company and here it was when the bear was given the name of Wojtek, which meant joyful warrior. The soldiers later started to feed him with fruit and marmalade, but they also gave him beer! Eventually, as any male in the world it became his personal favourite drink! :D When Wojtek finished the beer, he would look into the bottle to see if there was more beer, and if that was not the case he waited patiently for more.
Since very beginning Wojtek’s popularity was huge and he gained love of all the other soldiers. It is said that Wojtek liked to spend time around the kitchen, but also ‘smoking’ cigarettes… well, many people said that he would hold a cigarette and after few minutes he would eat it!.
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Wojtek Wrestling With The Soldiers
Wojtek stayed with the soldiers from the 22nd Transport Company for years and helped them in many activities. One of his favourite ones was to wrestle against them, however, not all the soldiers wanted to play with the fluffy bear-soldier, because sometimes Wojtek would scratch them by accident.
The bear was extremely popular whenever the soldiers arrived, he loved to make new friends – it is said that he had 2 best friends: Dymitr Szawlugo and Henryk Zacharewicz. One day Wojtek was bitten by a scorpion, all of the soldiers thought that it was the end for him, but his friend Henryk took care of him, and after a couple of days Wojtek was healthy again and ready to go back to his life.
Making Wojtek a True Soldier
Before this Polish army entered to Italy, they realised that animals were not allowed to be with the soldiers during the fight. That’s why they decided to give Wojtek a serial number and a rank of private. With these Wojtek officially became part of the Polish army and he was ready to defend Poland.
During the fight, many soldiers saw Wojtek carrying and moving ammunition close to a truck showing a great responsibility for his fellows soldiers. When the fight was over, given the bravery of Wojtek, the soldiers decided to ask for permission to change the 22nd Transport Company’s Emblem to the one that showed a bear carrying a massive artillery shell.
The Future of Wojtek
In 1945 when the war was over, the Polish soldiers were able to come back to their country, but the destiny of Wojtek was unclear. Many soldiers were afraid that if the bear was sent back to Poland, the Soviet forces would steal him and make the bear a symbol of the communism.
Wojtek was sent instead to Scotland together with other Polish soldiers, they were living in a village and he certainly was the main attraction for the locals and for the press. Two years later, in 1947, Wojtek was given to the Scottish zoo: Edinburgh Zoo. He spent the rest of his life in this place, but he was never forgotten, many people visited him and threw at him cigarettes, which eventually he ate because he liked to do this.
In 1963, Wojtek died at the age of 21. This was one of the saddest days for many people, but he would always be remembered. In 2015, the Wojtek’s statue was presented in Edinburgh, Scotland :)
Did you know this story? It is great, isn’t it?
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