03/09

PRIVATE WOJTEK, THE WWII POLISH SOLDIER WHO JUST HAPPENED TO BE A MOTHERFUCKING BEAR

By Geisha Bar

If a bear that smoked durries, drank beer and fought Nazis during World War II is your ideal war hero, then you’re in luck – the aforementioned bear actually existed.
Wojtek (pronounced Voytek) was a brown bear that was discovered by some of the Polish 22nd Transport Artillery Supply Co. men when trekking through the Iran desert. The bear cub was being carried by a young Iranian boy, who was more than happy to accept a few benjamins for the bear (which must have been kind of heavy for him to carry anyway). The Polish soldiers realised that the bear was in poor health so they fed it condensed milk from a bottle, keeping it warm and safe. Once he was revived to good health, the bear grew to be loved and accepted as a mascot by the men of the 22nd Co, who named him Wojtek, meaning “he who enjoys war” or “smiling warrior”. Wojtek especially loved smoking ciggies and drinking beer (straight from the bottle!) around the campfire with the rest of the men, also joining in with gusto on the wrestling and play-fighting that went on in their camp.
Wojtek was over six feet tall, weighed over 220kg and was pretty much treated the same as all the soldiers. He was originally a morale-booster for the men, and would join the unit on marching missions, marching on his hind legs and standing up at his full six feet. When he wasn’t marching, he would also ride shotgun in the army jeeps, and learned to properly salute soldiers when greeted.
Wojtek loved hot showers and baths, and had taught himself how to operate the showers quickly, meaning that he was often to be found just hanging out in the shower huts – which came in very handy one day, when he discovered an enemy spy hiding in there. Wojtek mauled the unfamiliar enemy spy, who surrendered immediately and ended up giving the Poles top secret information on the enemy, which made Wojtek a hero amongst the men.
Shortly after this, The 22nd Co. were to head over to fight in Monte Cassion, Italy, with the British 8th Army, who firmly did not tolerate animals or pets in their camps. So naturally, the Poles decided that the obvious solution was to officially enlist Wojtek into the Polish army, which they did. Wojtek was issued a serial number and held the rank of Private, and was also assigned to all official unit rosters. The Brits didn’t seem to find anything amiss here, and were completely happy to fight alongside a motherfucking bear.
Things were rough in Monte Cassino, and Wojtek carried 50kg boxes of ammo in his arms from supply depots to the front lines. He was a fearless, energetic soldier and was such an inspiration to his comrades that the 22nd Co. actually changed their emblem to a depiction of Wojtek carrying an armload of ammo. Largely due to the constant supply of ammo by Wojtek, the Poles and Brits were able to take Monte Cassino from the Nazis, and cleared them out of Italy altogether.
After the end of the war, some of the Polish Army were redeployed to Scotland, including Wojtek, who was homed in Edinburgh Zoo. According to many, Wojtek showed signs of excitement upon hearing anybody speaking Polish at the zoo, and he was often visited by his old buddies from the Polish Army, who would throw ciggies to him and jump into his enclosure for a wee wrestle, like the good old days. After serving with the army in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Italy, Wojtek had earned a peaceful life and stayed in the zoo for the remainder of it, passing away in December 1963 at the age of 22. Amazing.