CAMPAIGNERS battling to erect a memorial of the famous Nazi-fighting Polish bear, who carried boxes of live shells to gun emplacement in World War Two, have received a £20,000 funding boost from the Scottish Government.
Private Wojtek, the six-foot brown bear and war hero, was the pride of the Polish infantry during the Second World War and even liked to drink beer and smoke cigarettes with his comrades.
He was brought to Scotland by Polish soldiers after the war - following a distinguished career fighting German troops in Italy at the height of the conflict.
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Now the Scottish Government has announced a grant for the Wojtek Memorial Trust, the charity seeking to build a memorial to the bear in West Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh to mark the 70th anniversary of the war’s end.
A Trust spokesman said they hoped to unveil the new statue next year, after so far achieving two thirds of their initial £300,000 funding target.
Wojtek joined the Polish army as a motherless cub, when he was bought by a truckload of soldiers in 1942.
He was bought with a tin of corned beef.
Raised by the infantrymen of 22nd Company, Wojtek liked to wrestle and drink with his comrades, and he slept alongside them.
He considered himself one of them - the clinching proof of that demonstrated at Monte Cassino, where Wojtek joined in the battle.
Having watched the soldiers unloading artillery shells from a truck as the battle raged, Wojtek copied them, holding out his paws to take 100lb boxes of shells and carrying them as though they were boxes of feathers.
He was also reported to drink and smoke with his fellow soldiers.
First assigned as a private and then as a corporal, Wojtek stayed with his comrades after the war when the unit moved to Glasgow then Berwickshire.
When the Polish battalions returned home, Wojtek stayed behind and entered Edinburgh Zoo in 1947, where he spent the rest of his life.
The government’s cash injection will go towards a panel explaining the significance of the memorial - with the Polish government also set to make a contribution.
Simon Thompson, chair of the Trust, hailed the donation as “great for the Trust and great for the statue.”
Announcing the government’s cash boost to the campaign, Culture and External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “Wojtek the soldier bear symbolises the strong relationship between Scotland and Poland and our historic links, and I am delighted to support this statue.
“The Scottish Government recognises the huge contribution Polish immigrants make to Scottish life - from the Poles who fought alongside us, and alongside Wojtek, in World War Two, to more recent arrivals.”
She added: “I want young Scots to know the story of Wojtek the soldier bear.”
Private Wojtek was also honoured with his own tartan last year.
The plaid is based on Roxburgh tartan, echoing the bear’s first Scottish station with the Free Polish Army on the Borders estate of the Duke of Roxburgh.
But incorporated into the design is the vibrant red of the Polish flag and a sandy brown, a nod to his Middle Eastern roots and earthy coat of fur.
Mr Thompson said: “Wojtek’s story, which is becoming better known around the world, reminds us not only of the strong historic links between Poland and Scotland, but also of the ever increasing current links between our two nations.
“Wojtek is a powerful symbol of these links, and of the gratitude felt in Scotland to the Polish men, women - and a bear - who fought for their freedom and ours.”
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