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WWII hero bear to get statue in Scotland

Dec. 29, 2012 at 12:40 AM   |   Comments

EDINBURGH, Scotland, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- "Private Wojtek," a brown bear adopted by a unit of Polish soldiers during World War II, is to be honored with a memorial statue in the Scottish capital.

After the war, Wojtek found a new home in the Edinburgh Zoo. The Wojtek Memorial Trust hopes to have the statue in place in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh in time for the 50th anniversary of the bear's death in 2013, The Scotsman reported Saturday.

The Polish Second Corps, fighting with the Allies in Persia after their homeland fell to the Germans, adopted Wojtek as a cub from a local shepherd, trading the bear for a stash of canned meat. Wojtek traveled with them to Egypt and participated in the Allied invasion of Italy.

Aileen Orr, author of "Wojtek The Bear: Polish War Hero," said the soldiers hoped to take Wojtek back to Poland after the war. But they had to leave him behind in Scotland, where their unit had its peacetime camp.

Wojtek was not just a mascot. The bear helped carry ammunition and is said to have picked up bad habits -- drinking beer and smoking cigarettes -- from his human companions.

By the end of the war, the bear was a symbol, appearing on the buttons of the Polish Transport Corps.

"The soldiers dearly wanted to take Wojtek back to Poland," Orr said. "They used to dream of traveling from their camp in the Borders to Edinburgh, marching with the bear from Princes Street to Leith Docks then boarding a ship and setting sail to Gdansk in Poland. There, they would hold victory marches through all the cities and towns on their way to Warsaw."

The Trust hopes to have delayed victory marches, parading the statue in Warsaw and Edinburgh.

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