Every once in a while we come across a story that truly makes our jaws hit the floor. Stories like these have all the elements needed to capture our emotions and ingrain a powerful memory into our brains. A memory that we look forward to sharing with our friends as soon as possible. We find special, personal aspects that tug at our hearts, grip onto our fears, or make us laugh absolutely hysterically. Well I’ve just came across one such story that I had to share. It has all the elements of the perfect drama and the best part of it is that it’s true. It is a story that involves a significant war hero, a giant, one of a kind bear, and most importantly, a true lifelong bond. Surprisingly, those three incredible characters are actually the one in the same. This is the almost unbelievable story of Wojtek (Voytek) the bear and it is truly one of a kind.
A boy who lived in Hamadan, Iran came across a female bear who had just been shot. To his surprise, there was a baby bear cub next to its mothers side. Knowing the bear was helpless and stood no chance, the boy decided to take the bear cub. He sold the bear to a Polish refugee who had just fled the Soviet Union. She cared for the bear until he became too big (which was very quick) and donated the bear cub to the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps.
The soldiers were happy to take on such an unusual pet and decided to name him Wojtek, pronounced Voytek. The soldiers cared for the bear and fed him condensed milk, fruit, marmalade, honey, and syrup. When the soldiers would have a beer, they would offer Wojtek a beer, which he loved. Wojtek had also picked up the habit of smoking cigarettes. He was just one of the boys and began to grow a strong bond with the 22nd Artillery Supply Company.
The troop was ordered to move to Palestine and on the long journey, Wojtek was adopted as the mascot of the 22nd Company. The bear became quite fond of sitting around the fire, drinking and smoking with the boys. He would even sleep in the same tent with the rest of the soldiers.
Wojtek’s favorite activity was wrestling with the soldiers. Probably because they stood no chance against the now fully grown bear. He was always gentle and truly enjoyed rough-housing with the boys. It must have been quite the sight to see.
Wojtek was taught to salute just like the other soldiers when greeted. When they were required to drive the convoy anywhere, Wojtek would sit right up in the front seat with his enormous head sticking out the window. They would blow people’s minds as they drove through different towns. What would you do if you saw a huge bear sitting shotgun in the passenger seat of a military vehicle?
There soon became a big problem with the situation. The British High Command had a rule that did not allow soldiers to have any pets or animals in their camp. The 22nd Command quickly talked to their superiors and the Polish Army enlisted Wojtek the bear into their ranks. He started his military career as a private but quickly rose in ranks. He was an official soldier and given a serial number and was included in all official unit rosters.
The 22nd Command is most recognized for The Battle Of Monte Cassino. The battle was one of the bloodiest fights on the Western Front. The Polish Army was pushing the resisting forces back in a final attempt to capture their fortress. During the entire battle, Wojtek was right there assisting his fellow soldiers.
Because of his size, he was able to carry multiple ammunition boxes up to the front lines. He would stack multiple 100 pound boxes of ammunition from the supply trucks to positions all over the front lines. The Polish depended on their friend and fellow soldier, who ended up delivering the necessary supplies to conquer the opposing forces leading to the capture of the fortress.
His actions were so heroic and inspiring to the soldiers that immediately after the battle, the 22nd Artillery Supply Company changed their insignia to Wojtek carrying an armload of howitzer ammunition.
After the war in 1945, Wojtek and many of the other soldiers were reassigned to different places. After 2 years in Scotland, Wojtek was reassigned to retire with a spoiled life in the Edinburgh Zoo.
Wojtek would perk right up and interact with any visitors who would speak Polish to him. He was quite the attraction drawing many visitors every day. People traveled from all over to visit the heroic bear who became quite the legend in many parts of the world.
His fellow soldiers would visit him whenever they could. They would throw him packs of cigarettes which he was ecstatic to receive. Some of the soldiers who had grown a strong bond with Wojtek over the years, would actually jump down into his enclosure and wrestle with him. The crowd’s eyes would light up with bewilderment when they would see this.
The bear was a World War II hero and given the recognition he deserved. Wojtek has plaques and statues all over the world telling his brave and captivating story. He has statues in Poland, Edinburgh, the Imperial War Museum, as well as the Canadian War Museum.
Wojtek died, known as a true war hero, in 1963 at the age of 22 and was made an honorary member of the Scottish-Polish Association.
Wojtek weighed in at over 500 pounds and stood over 6 feet tall. He intimidated the enemy to an extent that would put fear into the strongest soldier. His fellow soldiers knew that he was a friend who would never hurt them. He was raised by these soldiers and bonded with them, he fought with them and cared for them as they did the same for him.
Wojtak proved to be a vital asset to the war even though he started his military career as just a cute novelty.
I have heard of very few animals that have been used in battle before. Police K9’s prove their heroism every single day. This is heroics on a different level though. This is a baby bear cub who was donated by a young refugee woman. He had a personality that could not be taught, that’s what makes Wojtek so special. That is exactly what sets him apart from most animals.
Wojtek became a part of history and a vital part of the Polish Army. His bravery in World War II has become legendary and will not be forgotten.
Have you ever heard such a captivating story? An enlisted soldier delivering ammunition from the supply trucks to the soldiers on the front lines. That soldier just happens to be a giant 500 pound bear. This bear hangs out with his fellow soldiers and even throws back a beer when they were able to relax. I’d imagine that Wojtek is going to need more than just a few beers. Wojtek was a true friend that took care of his fellow soldiers. They loved him as one of their brothers and have a war story that goes unmatched. Simply unbelievable. What are your thoughts?