Wojtek endeared himself to members of a Polish army unit in 1942 when he alerted them to the presence of a spy in their camp. The Polish soldiers, who were released by Russia after the German invasion in 1941, were passing through the Middle East on their way back to Europe. Picking up new members on such a trip wouldn’t be unusual, but Wojtek’s case was a little different, because he was a bear. Wojtek, whose mother is thought to have been shot by hunters, was bought by Polish soldiers while they were in Iran and eventually joined what would become the Polish II Corps’ 22nd artillery supply company in 1942.
Filmmakers released a documentary about Wojtek in 2011. Harvey’s project, “A Bear Named Wojtek,” has secured funding from Poland, but he is still seeking a British partner, telling The Times that he would contact Channel 4 and the BBC as well as companies like Netflix reports BusinessInsider. Harvey’s project is being set up for release on the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day on May 8, 2020.
The bear smoked, drank, and wrestled with soldiers
Wojtek was a Syrian brown bear purchased, as a young cub, at a railway station in Hamadan, Iran, by Polish II Corpssoldiers who had been evacuated from the Soviet Union. In order to provide for his rations and transportation, he was eventually enlisted officially as a soldier with the rank of private, and was subsequently promoted to corporal.
He accompanied the bulk of the Polish Second Corps to Italy, serving with the 22nd Artillery Supply Company. During the Battle of Monte Cassino, in Italy in 1944, Wojtek helped move crates of ammunition and became a celebrity with visiting Allied generals and statesmen. After the war, mustered out of the Polish Army, he was billeted and lived out the rest of his life at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland.
To get him onto a British transport ship when the unit sailed with the rest of the Polish II Corps from Egypt to fight alongside the British 8th Army in the Italian campaign, Wojtek was officially drafted into the Polish Army as a private and was listed among the soldiers of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company. Henryk Zacharewicz and Dymitr Szawlugo were assigned as his caretakers.
As an enlisted soldier of the company, with his own paybook, rank and serial number, he lived with the other men in tents or in a special wooden crate, which was transported by truck. According to numerous accounts, during the Battle of Monte Cassino Wojtek helped by carrying 100-pound crates of 25-pound artillery shells, all without dropping a single one. In recognition of the bear’s popularity, the HQ approved a depiction of a bear carrying an artillery shell as the official emblem of the 22nd Company.