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Jhemmylrut Teng

Corporal Wojtek: The Allied Forces' Fluffy Bear Soldier During World War Two

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Jhemmylrut Teng
Jhemmylrut Teng
 2021-05-19

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The bear soldier, Corporal Wojtek with his comrades in WWII(Source: Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum)

During a battle, carrying ammunition is not an easy task. It's like another workload for the soldiers, primarily when your entire mindset is focused on winning the war. Fortunately for the Allied forces during World War Two, they had a comrade who possesses a superpower strength - he was none other than Corporal Wojtek, a Syrian brown bear.

An orphan bear

In 1942, a new Polish army was setting up in the middle east under the British command when one of the soldiers noticed a bear cub presented to them by an Iranian boy. The bear had been made an orphan after hunters killed its mother.

The soldiers purchased the cub from the Iranian boy, swapping their can goods, a Swiss knife, and a chocolate bar. The cub was taken care of by a civilian refugee in the camp.

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Young Wojtek(Source: Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum)

In August, the bear was donated to the 2nd Transport Company, also known as the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps. The Polish soldiers give the bear a name, Wojtek, which means a "happy warrior."

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Wojtek drinking his favorite drink - beer(Source: Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum)

Growing up in the hands of military soldiers, Wojtek initially had problems swallowing and was fed condensed milk from an old vodka bottle. He was subsequently given fruit, marmalade, honey, and syrup and was often rewarded with beer, which became his favorite drink. He later also enjoyed smoking (or eating) cigarettes, as well as drinking coffee in the mornings.

He also would sleep with the other soldiers if they were ever cold in the night. He enjoyed wrestling with the soldiers and was taught to salute when greeted. He was also marching alongside them on his hind legs because he saw them do so.

He became an attraction for soldiers and civilians alike and soon became an unofficial morale-boosting mascot to all the units stationed nearby.

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Wojtek playing wresting with the soldiers(Source: Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum)
wrestling

Drafted as a soldier

When the Polish Army was about to leave Egypt to enter Italy in 1943, there was a problem with Wojtek's status as an animal. He was not allowed to accompany the troops via ship as the port authorities had stringent rules in transporting animals.

To solved this predicament, Wojtek was officially enlisted into the Polish Army as a Private. He was also given his playbook and serial number. The Army then consulted the British High Command in Cairo, which eventually allow them to board the ship.

During the Battle of Monte Cassino, Private Wojtek supported the artillerymen by carrying crates of ammunition. One of his carers, Henryk Zacharewicz, has had to leave the bear alone for the day to spot targets. Therefore, Wojtek was chained near the soldiers' firing artillery and started copying what the men were doing, picking up the cranes and carrying them near the cannons.

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Wojtek during the Battle of Monte Cassino, got promoted to Corporal(Source: Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum)
,

After the battle, the 22nd Artillery Supply Company made their badge depicting a bear holding a shell. Wojtek also promoted as a Corporal.

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Emblem of the 22nd Artillery Supply Command(Source: Wikimedia)

When the war ended in 1945, Corporal Wojtek and the troops were transferred to Berwickshire, Scotland, and stationed at Winfield Camp. Many of the soldiers had to bid their farewell to their big fella mascot as their service would take them to the other parts of the world.

Following the demobilization in 1947, Corporal Wojtek would live in Edinburgh Zoo, where he became popular with the locals, visited by journalists, and his ex-Polish comrades who fought with him.

In 1963, Corporal Wojtek died at the age of 21. And on his death, BBC addressed him not as a bear, but a "famous Polish soldier."

Bear with a good soul

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Narebski paying tribute to his friend, Corporal Wojtek(Source: AFP)

Wojciech Narebski, a Polish veteran and one of Corporal Wojtek's comrades, testified to the diligence of their fluffy-giant Private.

"When he saw that we were struggling, he'd want to help... He'd come over, grab a crate and carry it to the truck." - Wojciech Narebski

Narebski spent two and a half years with Corporal Wojtek in the 22nd Artillery Supply Command. He said that even though their bear comrade got super strength, carrying crates was still exhausting for him.

So, they ensure that he gets rewarded with his favorite marmalade and honey after the big job.

"When Wojtek got tired, he would simply stack one crate on top of the other, "which also helped us, because we didn't have to lift the crate off the ground." - Wojciech Narebski

Since he got used to drinking beers with the Army, he never failed to ask for his bottle whenever he sees one.

"If someone was drinking next to him, he [Wojtek] would motion with his paws, as if to say 'give me some of that.'" - Wojciech Narebski

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Corporal Wojtek with his comrade in WWII(Source: Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum)

What was special about Corporal Wojtek, according to Narebski, was that he seemed to believe he was human. He added that whenever Wojtek won a wrestling match, he licks his lost opponent's face. It was his gesture of apology.

"Because he was brought up from a cub among people, he acquired human traits... In a bear's body, there was a Polish soul." - Wojciech Narebski

He also recalled an occasion in Italy, along the Adriatic Sea, when the hairy Corporal Wojtek managed to break away from the men and make a beeline for the water, giving beachgoers a fright.

"Well he didn't pay them any attention... it was hot and he swam around a bit, shook himself off, and then came right back." - Wojciech Narebski

The legend of Corporal Wojtek spread across Europe that his statues were erected in different parts of Poland, England, and Scotland.

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A sculpture of Corporal Wojtek with a crane in Sikorski Museum(Source: Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum)

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