'Soldier bear' statue unveiled in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens

image copyrightWojtek Memorial Trust
image captionSculptor Alan Heriot made the statue

A statue immortalising a beer-drinking bear who saw action in World War Two has been unveiled in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens.

Wojtek - dubbed the "Soldier Bear" - was adopted by Polish troops and helped them carry ammunition at the Battle of Monte Cassino.

After the war he lived in Scotland at Hutton in Berwickshire, before ending his days in Edinburgh Zoo.

The event was organised by the Wojtek Memorial Trust.

The trust's secretary Helena Scott said: "The Wojtek Memorial Trust wishes to thank all our supporters and donors for their generosity which has enabled us to progress and achieve a key objective of the charity, namely to erect a monument fitting to Polish veterans of the Second World War, and to the many men, women and children displaced as a consequence of the war and its aftermath, as told through the story of Wojtek, the Soldier Bear.

"Trustees consist of individuals, each with their own personal interest of the story of Wojtek, and how that story may have touched their lives.

"For those born of Polish parents, the unveiling is particularly poignant because we represent a generation that bridges between those post-war Poles who settled in Scotland and the younger generation, those that have made Scotland their home in more recent years.

"Wojtek's story has enabled us to come together and to span a history of some 70 years of post-war Polish Scottish relations - to celebrate but also to commemorate."

Edinburgh city council approved the erection of the bronze statue of Wojtek on 16 September 2013.

The statue represents Wojtek and a Polish Army Soldier "walking in peace and unity" and represents his journey from Egypt to Scotland alongside the Polish Army.

image copyrightOther
image captionWojtek was a brown bear that came to Scotland at the end of World War Two

The Lord Provost Donald Wilson said: "I am thrilled that the trust has succeeded in immortalising Wojtek the Soldier Bear in such a significant and appropriate way.

"The story of Edinburgh's adopted bear is a cherished one and has become a firm family favourite, but this statue stands for more than that.

"It makes a statement about fighting for freedom and showing support and comfort to those who are suffering.

"It celebrates the ties that have been established in Edinburgh and Poland between our communities and strives to further strengthen this bond over time.

"Being in the heart of the city, in the beautiful Princes Street Gardens and in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, is exactly the sort of prime location this memorial deserves. I hope that it can be enjoyed by residents and visitors for generations to come."

Other guests included Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, representatives of the Polish government as well as sponsors and contractors.

Wojtek - also known as Voytek - was rescued as a cub in the Middle East in 1943.

The Polish soldiers adopted him and as he grew he was trained to carry heavy mortar rounds.

When their forces were deployed to Europe the only way to take the bear with them was to "enlist" him.

So he was given a name, rank and number and took part in the Italian campaign.

At the end of the war the bear - who had also learned how to smoke and drink beer - was billeted at an army camp in the Scottish Borders.

When the Polish soldiers were demobilised he was taken to Edinburgh Zoo where he eventually died in 1963.

image copyrightOther
image captionWojtek went on many journeys as he accompanied the Polish soldiers from the Middle East to Scotland
image copyrightOther
image captionWojtek was said to have a gentle nature despite his size

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