Despite the fact that nowadays more and more countries realize that animals also deserve a decent life and must be protected from humans, this unfortunately still does not apply everywhere. Fortunately, though, it is slightly improving in recent times, circuses nowadays have stricter rules for working with animals.
At the time of the Second World War, this was not yet the case. In fact: sometimes animals to show up at the strangest times and places. For example, read this story about Wojtek, who supported the Polish army during the war from 1942 onwards.
The bear’s story began in the mountains of the Iranian city of Hamadan. After the poor animal’s mother was shot by a hunter, he ended up in the care of a young Persian boy. Not much later he decided to sell the bear to a lieutenant of the Polish army for a few cans of beef.
This soldier gave the brown bear its name Wojtek, and later he also got the official rank of soldier and his own army records with an identification number and all. Immediately the soldiers loved the bear and took care of the bear as if it was part of there company.
Because Wojtek was not yet able to eat independently, the soldiers fed him with condensed milk from an old vodka bottle, improvised with a pacifier to a baby bottle. Over time, the bear switched to a diet consisting of fruit, sweet syrup, marmalade, honey and even beer, which he received from the soldiers.
The bear was soon seen as a mascot of this 22nd Artillery Supply Company and eventually accompanied them during the entire war route through Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Italy. All of the soldiers became attached to their new friend, mostly because the bear was a welcome distraction from the daily war reality.
In the first months, the soldiers let him sleep in their own blankets or uniforms, but as the beast grew larger, they transformed the trunk of a truck to become Wojtek’s permanent place to sleep. The bear was seen as excellent company.
Whenever the depleted soldiers returned to the army base, Wojtek greeted them joyfully, greatly improving the soldiers’ state of mind. Over time, however, the bear turned out to be not only a mascot of the company but actually started to participate in the war effort.
Wojtek was also a full-fledged combatant. For example, he dragged ammunition with him during fights. Despite the chaos and the exploding grenades, he bravely brought ammunition to the artillery positions. His heroism was even rewarded with a promotion to the rank of corporal.
Towards the end of the war, the artillery was transferred to Scotland. At the base, Wojtek soon became the sweetheart of the local population. After the demobilization, the fate of the friendly bear changed dramatically …
No one could take the bear home and care for it, so there was no choice but to donate the bear to the zoo in Edinburgh. The director promised to take good care of Wojtek and not to entrust the animal to anyone else without permission from company commander Antoni Chełkowski.
On November 15, 1947 the soldiers had to say goodbye to Wojtek, they went back to their families. The (former) soldiers, however, did not forget their companion, and in the following years the bear was regularly visited by his old companions. Until Wojtek died a natural death in 1963 …