The Bear That Went to War

By Izabela Stabinska

They say he liked to eat, swim, dance, and drink beer straight from a bottle.

He drove in a car with his soldier friends, carried heavy ammunition, and went to the beach in his free time. The only difference is that he was a 250 kg…brown bear.

In 1942, soldiers from the Polish Army in Persia spotted a bear cub walking alongside a local boy. The boy traded the cub for some canned food and money.

He was subsequently named Wojtek—which is a popular Polish name originating from the words “wojownik” (warrior) and “ciech” (enjoyment), together meaning “smiling warrior”—and adapted as a mascot.

He marched with the soldiers to Iraq and then through Syria, Palestine and Egypt.

Like all bears, Wojtek was a glutton and he tried to sneak into the kitchen whenever he had a chance. Once, he even munched on a huge can of shoe polish.

He liked boxing and unlit cigarettes, which he ate.

His favourite game was to swim under the waves of the sunny Adriatic Sea and emerge among terrified swimmers. For his fellow soldiers, it was a great opportunity to “rescue” beautiful ladies from the “wild” beast. Needless to say the soldiers loved him.

When the unit needed to get him on a British transport ship that sailed from Egypt to fight with the British 8th Army in the Italian campaign, he was officially drafted into the Polish Army as a private and listed among the troops of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company.

And like his fellow soldiers, he carried shells during the bloody Battle of Monte Cassino.

Some say, that Wojtek himself thought he was a human.

A new documentary directed by William Hood and Adam Lavis titled Wojtek the Bear That Went to War tells this unbelievable story.