Guest author: History Raetold

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At the beginning of WWII, the Soviet Army needed manpower to fight the rising tide of Fascism, and so released a bunch of Polish prisoners from the horrors of the Siberian gulags to go fight the Nazis, and I know that's not a cheerful beginning to this story but I promise you this is going to be DELIGHTFUL.

So the 22nd Artillery Supply Company was travelling through Iran on their way to Italy to fight alongside the British, and they were all a bit down because they’d been in a fucking gulag for years and they were far from home and were probably going to die horribly in a war they had nothing to do with and had no idea if their families were dead or alive but either way would probably never see them again and I PROMISE you this is a nice story we just have to wade through the horrors of war and forced conscription first.

While they were camping out in Iran one night, they met this wee boy who for some fucking idiot reason had an entire bear in a sack. Like, just a baby one, so it wasn’t about to eat him or anything, but I still feel like he didn’t have a long-term plan for this bear-in-a-sack business. He sold it to the soldiers for some chocolate and a tin of soup and was off on his merry way to live a life of not being eaten alive by a fucking bear. 

And so the lads of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company raised this bear like a hairy, deadly child, and it all somehow inexplicably didn’t end in awful, bloody disaster. They fed him condensed milk out of a vodka bottle, because #Polish, and he would sometimes come and cuddle with one of the soldiers, a guy called Henryk, at night if he got scared, and thus grew became the unofficial mascot of the Polish troops. Despite being an apex predator and literal killing machine, he was generally quite adorable and quirky. He drank beer and would sit and stare at his empty bottle until someone brought him a fresh one, like that one bastard who never gets a round in. He also used to eat lit cigarettes (but ONLY lit ones), because he was a FUCKING BEAR who didn’t understand the concept of smoking. And look, I know they’re just teenage ex-prisoners, but I feel like the soldiers should have known not to let their pet bear eat literal fire, so clearly there wasn’t that much common sense floating around the Polish army at that time.

To be fair, though, he was cute as FUCK. Look at him. Lil alcoholic baby. I’d probably let him sleep in my bed too.

Sometimes, Army Bear would wrestle the soldiers for fun. Genuinely shockingly, nobody died. These guys were taunting death at this point. Raise a bear. Sleep with a bear in your bed. Fight a fucking bear. Sure, pals. You do you.  Army Bear also became pals with the other mascots at the time, Army Dog and Army Monkey. Sadly, AD and AM both died, and Army Bear himself was close to death at one point, when a scorpion stung him on his wee bear nose. His pal Henryk nursed him back to health, though, not leaving his side day and night, and Army Bear survived, and it was all very heartwarming and completely normal. At one point, Army Bear actually saved them from a spy who snuck into their camp, because there are benefits to having a bear in your bed (something something gay joke). Good work, Army Bear.

When they reached the port at Cairo, ready to cross to Italy and begin War, DISASTER STRUCK. The Egyptian port officials refused to let Army Bear on the transport ship because the ship was intended for soldiers and not wild fucking animals that would clearly eat everyone onboard. But instead of accepting this as reasonable common sense and leaving the bear behind, the soldiers, who, as we’ve established, lacked literally any common sense whatsoever, went to the official embassy in Cairo and ENLISTED. THE. FUCKING. BEAR. INTO. THE. FUCKING. ARMY. And everyone was just sort of… fine with this? “Yes, I see you want to enlist this bear into the army, well that all seems perfectly normal and reasonable, here’s his fucking bear passport”. 

Jesus, guys. Fuck. There’s a war on. 

Just… uh… having a little taste here. Nothing to worry about. Definitely not about to eat your entire arm, no sir.

And so Army Bear became Private Wojtek, which means “smiling warrior” in Polish, and he had his own official papers and pay book and everything, which showed how easy it is for a male to get a job with no fucking qualifications. And the port officials, who were apparently idiot bit characters from a Jack Kirby comic, were like “hang on we told you you couldn’t take your bear aboard this… what’s that? He’s a soldier? Well why didn’t you SAY so I’m so terribly sorry I thought you were a bear, my mistake, come onboard respected soldier” and LET HIM ON THE SHIP. A BEAR.

The entirety of human history is a fucking Buster Keaton film I swear to fucking god. When they reached Italy, Private Wojtek truly earned his rank, carrying heavy crates of ammunition into battle. Aside from the adorable novelty of having a bear do this, it had multiple benefits: firstly, he was strong, because he was a bear, secondly, he scared the shit out of the enemy forces, because he was a bear, and thirdly, he wasn’t at all scared of the gunfire and explosions. Because he was a bear. In honour of Wojtek’s service, the 22nd Artillery Supply Company changed their official badge, which they wore on their uniforms and vehicles, to a bear carrying a giant artillery shell. Which feels to me like… come on, guys. It’s like the guy whose ENTIRE personality is that he has a beard or some shit. It’s exhausting. You’re just “the guys with the bear”. Get a personality, guys. You’re more than your weird pet.

Not that we don’t love your weird pet, because we do. But maybe… get a hobby or something?

At some point, Wojtek got promoted to Corporal. Due to the entire extent of my research being a half-hour google search on the train this morning, and one 4-minute Buzzfeed video, I’m not entirely sure when or why this happened, but everyone involved in this whole situation was fucking mental so I guess it makes sense.

When the war ended, Wojtek was sent to Scotland (well, Berwick upon Tweed, which is ARGUABLY Scotland) with the rest of his regiment. Note that they were NOT SCOTTISH. I don’t know why they didn’t get to go back to Poland. The Allied forces just got a real kick out of displacing people, I guess. Wojtek lived with a family in the Highlands for a bit, which is, again, perfectly normal, and then moved to Edinburgh Zoo. His pal Henryk visited him at the zoo a bunch of times, and said he always responded to his name, sitting up and demanding a cigarette, which is heartwarming I guess.

Wojtek died in the 1960s aged 22, which is a respectable age for a bear who, may I remind you, ate lit cigarettes. Also he was in a war and didn’t explode, so good work there. They had a parade for him in Edinburgh in 2011, which feels a little late, but parades are pretty tricky to organise so I’ll allow it.

We love you, Corporal Wojtek. We love you, Army bear.

There’s actually a Wojtek statue in Edinburgh, if that’s your vibe. I think it’s in Prince’s Street Gardens. I haven’t been to visit it yet but I will because I can’t begin to tell you how much I love EVERYTHING about this batshit adorable story.

There’s actually a Wojtek statue in Edinburgh, if that’s your vibe. I think it’s in Prince’s Street Gardens. I haven’t been to visit it yet but I will because I can’t begin to tell you how much I love EVERYTHING about this batshit adorable story.


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