When I first heard the story of Wojtek the bear it sounded like a fictional Hollywood movie. The tale of a bear that was purchased in the desert in Iran by Polish soldiers during World War ii that ate cigarettes, drank beer and had active service in a battle in Italy carrying ammunition. A bear who sat in the front passenger seat of military trucks who was given a military rank and ration book. For recreation wrestled with the troops and loved to swim.
However, it is not fiction but a remarkable true story of a wild brown bear and residents of a certain age in the village may remember Wojtek who lived for a short while after WWii in Winfield Camp just a few miles over the border in Scotland. His Polish keepers were often seen with their tame bear at dances in village halls in the area. Perhaps he even came to Norham?
One of Wojtek’s favourite outings was to swim in the River Tweed at the Union Chain Bridge. The Polish troops who owned Wojtek also changed their insignia to that of a bear.
There are three statues commemorating this amazing bear.
Wojtek Memorial in Duns Scotland.
The memorial in Edinburgh. Wojtek lived his final years in the zoo there.
The memorial in Krakow Poland. Wojtek did not visit Poland but Polish troops rescued Wojtek by purchasing him from a desert trader in Iran. If they had not bought him the cub would most likely have led a sad life as a street entertainer at the mercy of a cruel handler. The Polish troops often gave some of their rations to feed him and were extremely kind and caring towards the bear. Wojtek roughly translates as 'Happy Warrior'.
There is a short video on YouTube which has had over 8 million views.
The story is so remarkable it would make a fantastic film based on a true story.
Below is a further resource from the BBC
There is also an informative and excellent book by Aileen Orr – Wojtek The Bear.
(Sourced from local book shops or online)