The 22nd Artillery Company from Poland was stationed in Persia, when a young boy who was looking for food approached the men and gave them a sack with a brown bear inside, in exchange for something to eat.
The Polish soldiers adopted their new little friend, naming him Wojtek. The ‘Happy Warrior’ was at first the company’s mascot. He grew up with the soldiers, traveled with them in the Middle East and slept in a tent with his ‘Mother Bear’ (his main handler), Lance Corporal Peter Prendys.
The story of Second World War Private Wojtek has been brought to life by Krystyna Deegan, an English teacher from Sutton Coldfield, whose uncle served with Wojtek in the Polish Army. The novel of ‘Private Wojtek Soldier Bear’ was inspired by Ms Deegan’s family history and it’s based on the true story.
In her book, Krystyna writes about Wojtek’s missions during WWII, about his relationship with the other soldiers, about his love for women soldiers, beer and cigarettes, the Birmingham Mail reports.
Wojtek used to love human company and most of the time behaved just like the boys in the company. Among his favorite habits was drinking beer with the soldiers and sometimes swallowing lit cigarettes.
While in Iraq with the boys, the soldier bear managed to get himself in trouble by pulling all the underwear of some female soldiers off the clothes line. When the lads found him, Wojtek was sat down, surrounded by knickers and bras.
When the troops were told that they have to move to Egypt, they found out they weren’t allowed to bring animals with them; so the ‘Happy Warrior’ was enlisted as Private Wojtek so that he could join the men on the ship to Egypt.
“He was a mascot at first, but then he became one of them,” said Krystyna.
In May, 1944, during the battle of Monte Cassino the Polish soldiers were carrying shells “when Wojtek held out his front legs,” explained Krystyna. The officer who saw him, offered him a box of shells. The bear transported heavy boxes of supplies and ammunition throughout the bloody battle and was rewarded beer, honey and cigarettes.
After the war, Private Wojtek was given to Edinburgh Zoo. Polish soldiers would sometimes go visit him and give him beer and cigarettes. He would recognize the sound of the Polish language and wave at them.
Wojtek died in November 1963, aged 22.