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Wojtek the Bear – on Polish Soil in Scotland

Monument of Polish Soldiers and Wojtek the Bear will be erected in the historical centre of Edinburgh. The substructure of the statue presenting an extraordinary Corporal-bear and an artillery man from the 2nd Polish Corps of General Anders will be made of Polish granite from a mine in Strzegom.

The transport of the material is scheduled for September 2 in the evening, and is entirely financed by MCKB – a general contractor from Lodz, Poland.

The project of the “Monument of Polish Soldiers and Wojtek the Bear” was initiated by the Polish-Scottish Foundation Wojtek Memorial Trust that takes care of the memory about this extraordinary soldier of the 2nd Polish Corps, who became famous for his friendship with Polish troops and service as an ammunition-man (he carried artillery shells in his paws). The substructure of the statue will be made of granite provided by a mine in Strzegom and MCKB is covering all the transport costs of 12 tons of material. The delivery that will reach Edinburgh on September 8, will be realized by a shipping company from Gdansk – Rudniccy-Magetra.

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 “We received the offer to support the project and participate in organization of the transport from the Wojtek Memorial Trust” says Piotr Grabowicz, President of the Board of MCKB.  “Aware of our history, we’re willing to join the effort of “building” the knowledge about our heroes, and surely Corporal Wojtek was one of them. The monument symbolizes brotherhood and trust in the difficult and savage times of war – feelings that helped people to survive and believe in a better tomorrow. Soldiers of Anders’s Army fought and died in a foreign land, thinking about their homeland. They were accompanied by Wojtek the bear who raised the morale of the troops and participated in the battles himself. By providing our granite for the substructure of the statue, we express our will to enable the artillery man and the extraordinary Corporal to stand on the Polish soil.”

The statue’s design was based on the memories of veterans and people who lived in the neighbourhood of Sunwick in Berwickshire where Wojtek stayed for a while after the war.  While telling the story of the bear and the man, it will act as a reminder about the Poles’ role during the Second World War.  Statues of the bear and soldier were designed so as to attract passers-by to establish a “dialogue” and evoke positive emotions. In the future, the monument will be the place of gathering for various educational, artistic and cultural events as well as those related to national heritage, Wojtek and Polish-Scottish relations.

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The terrain for the monument was designed by Raymond Muszynski from Morris & Steedman Associates in Edinburgh. The engineering works are supervised by Sir Robert McAlpine and the project is by Wojtek Memorial Trust that is a foundation created by Aileen Orr (author of “Wojtek the Bear: Polish War Hero”), Krystyna Szumelukowa and General Euan Loudon.

The idea of a memorial came from my husband, who also owned the terrains where, after the war, Wojtek’s unit was located, and the history of the extraordinary Corporal was told to me by my grandfather” says Aileen Orr.  “I thought that definitely more people should learn about the soldier-bear since his service surely deserves a unique commemoration, not only in the form of a book.  The offer of our foundation, Wojtek Memorial Trust, met with a very positive reaction from both the Polish and Scottish administration. They were most enthusiastic about the idea of the monument standing on the granite as on the Polish soil. That is when MCKB offered us to assist and covered the costs of transport of the material.  We do hope that it’s a beginning of a fruitful co-operation related to the further projects realized in the memory of Corporal Wojtek.”

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The monument, 1.5 times larger than real-life Wojtek and the soldier, will be made of bronze in the art foundry of Powderhall Bronze Ltd, Edinburgh and according to the design of one of the finest British sculptors, Alan Beattie-Herriot. The statue will be placed in the heart of the historical centre of Edinburgh at the west end of Princes Street Gardens, with the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, a place resembling Monte Cassino where Wojtek fought side by side with Polish troops. The construction works of the monument will be finished this year.

 “The story of Wojtek the Bear is one of the most interesting stories of the Second World War and one of the most positive accents of the horrible conflict”, says Konrad Czernielewski, a senior custodian in the Museum of Independence Tradition in Lodz, privately – an enthusiast of stories about animals who accompanied Polish troops on the front.  “It is an example of a beautiful friendship, based mostly on similar experiences.  Soldiers of Anders, who found Wojtek, fought for their homeland far from home that was taken from them by the invaders.  The cub was an orphan whose mother was taken from him by an Iranian hunter. Humans and a “humanized” animal were connected by longing and a ‘homelessness’ of a kind – they found consolation in their common service which, full of difficulties typical of the war life, became lighter thanks to the mentioned friendship and positive emotions connected with it.”

The monument being erected in Edinburgh is not the first dedicated to this special soldier. The incredible story of Wojtek the Bear was reflected in statues in Imoli in the Northern Italy, in the English town of Grimsby, and also in Poland: in Cracow, Szymbark and Zagan.  In the streets of Scottish cities one could see double-decker buses with a bear carrying an artillery shell and during this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2 plays telling the stories about Wojtek’s war adventures was staged.  In Edinburgh Zoo one may find a plaque commemorating his stay and a fascinating life.