The companionship between man and beast is truly something. Wojtek, (pronounced as voy-tek) was just a cub when Polish troops adopted him into their regiment. The story goes that a young Syrian boy found the cub alone after hunters killed its mother. The boy sold the bear cub to the lieutenant of a refugee camp. The bear stayed at the camp for a few months where he nursed on condensed milk in a bottle. Eventually he was taken in by the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, where he was given the name Wojtek, meaning “joyful warrior”. Ultimately, he would become Wojtek the Soldier Bear! He wasn’t just a mascot of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, but also considered a member of their family.
Wojtek’s Just One of the Guys
Wojtek wasn’t what you’d consider a “normal” bear. Wojtek was always quite curious, and often enjoyed following and copying the behavior of his fellow soldiers. So much so, that his human companions were under the impression Wojtek thought he was a soldier.
He liked to drink beer and wine, even looking into an empty bottle patiently waiting for more. He liked cigarettes just as well as the next guy. Except he would mostly eat them, not smoke them. It is also said that he was a very sociable creature who loved to wrestle his comrades… Well, at least those who were willing to risk having their uniform torn up by his claws or teeth.
Wojtek seemed to be especially fond of the soldiers in the 4th Platoon. Two of his closest friends were soldiers by the names of Dymitr Szawlugo and Henryk Zacharewicz, who will be seen in many pictures of Wojtek.
Wojtek the Soldier Bear Gets His Marching Orders.
In 1943, as part of World War II, the Polish troops were given orders to report to Italy, but there was a problem: Wojtek wasn’t permitted on the ship taking the 22nd Artillery Supply Company to the campaign front.
How did the Company get around this issue? They gave him his own pay book, rank, and serial number, officially drafting Wojtek into the Polish Army with the rank of Private.
Presto! Now there’s no question Wojtek is truly a soldier!
It was during his time in Italy, at the battle of Monte Cassino, that Wojtek earned his claim to fame.
Do you remember how Wojtek liked to mimic his fellow soldiers?
Well, at one point he began helping carry ammunition over to cannons during battle. Eventually, Wojtek began to move crates of ammunition. Even during the chaos and thundering sound of a brutal war being waged, he supposedly never dropped a single crate.
It was after the battle of Monte Cassino that Wojtek the Soldier Bear became the mascot of 22nd Transport Company: the official badge adorned on the Company’s uniforms bore the likeness of the bear holding an ammunition shell.
Wojtek’s Military Career Ended with World War II
In 1945, when the war ended, the 22nd Company had to say their farewells. Most soldiers went back to their homes and families. Wojtek found his home at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland where he and his story became famous. It’s said he lived happily until the December of 1963, when he passed away at the age of 21.
To see some live footage, and learn a little more about Wojtek the Soldier Bear, give this brief video a watch.
Can you imagine befriending such a dangerous animal?
While not in class I like to spend my free time playing my guitar, reading a good book, or simply enjoying the company of friends and family.
Growing up I’ve always been a part of Scouting, from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, resulting in a love for the outdoors and camping.
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