Wojtek (1942–1963; Polish pronunciation: ['v?jt?k]; in English, Voytek) was a Syrian brown bear purchased, as a young cub, at a railroad station in Iran by Polish II Corps soldiers 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.
The name "Wojtek" is a hypocorism (diminutive form) of "Wojciech", an old Slavic name that is still common in Poland today and means "he who enjoys war" or "joyful warrior". Wojtek's Polish Army comrades referred to his species-of-origin as "Persian bear", and his full name on official documents was "Wojciech Perski" (Perski being the adjective, "Persian", in Polish).
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 ammunition – never dropping a single crate. 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. Wojtek with artillery shell – emblem of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company can be viewed on the Wikipedia file.
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