The words 'Hutton, Berwickshire' leaped up at me from the pages (well, Page 3 actually) of the Scotsman yesterday. A whole page heasded Tribute to Voytek, the smoking drinking fighting soldier bear
The Story begins :
HE ENJOYED a cigarette and a bottle of cold beer and could carry more mortar rounds than any other soldier. But Voytek wasn't one of the ordinary dogs of war – he was a battling bear.
Adopted by the Polish army, the European brown bear "fought" at the bloody Battle of Monte Cassino before dying, not of a bullet wound, but of old age, in Edinburgh Zoo. Now a campaign has been started to build a monument to him.
Voytek was adopted as a cub in the Middle East in 1943, before growing into much more than a mascot. He eventually stood 6ft on his hind legs and weighed 35 stone, and he used his strength to help the armed forces, carrying ammunition at the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy the following year. The four-month battle, one of western Europe's bloodiest, left a quarter of a million soldiers dead
He was given a name, rank and number and took part in the Italian campaign.
All very well I hear you grunt but what about Hutton?
Well, about 3000 Polish Troops were stationed at Wingfield near Hutton for a year or two before D Day and Voytek was with the Poles. And :
Campaigner Aileen Orr*, who lives in Hutton, said she first heard about Voytek as a child from her grandfather who served with the King's Own Scottish Borderers.
She said: "I thought he had made it up, to be quite honest – it was only when I got married and came here that I knew, in fact, he was here. Voytek was here.
"When I heard from the community that so few people knew about him, I began to actually research the facts.
The story is totally amazing, and it would be good if we could have some memorial in Scotland, perhaps at Holyrood, to celebrate the bear's life."One remaining Pole from that time still lives in Hutton
Polish veteran Augustyn Karolewski, 82, who still lives near the site of the camp in Berwickshire, said: "He was like a big dog; no-one was scared of him.
"He liked a cigarette, he liked a bottle of beer – he drank a bottle of beer like any man."When the troops were demobilised, Voytek spent his last days at Edinburgh Zoo. Mr Karolewski went back to see him on a couple of occasions and found he still responded to the Polish language.
He explained: "I went to Edinburgh Zoo once or twice when Voytek was there. And as soon as I said his name, he would sit on his backside and shake his head wanting a cigarette. "It wasn't easy to
throw a cigarette to him – all the attempts I made until he eventually got one.
A book about Voytek: The Soldier Bear is due out next month.
It's good to see a mention of the indefatigable Mrs Orr-'Campaigner' is her label apparently. I hope she can campaign to have the statue of the bear, not in Holyrood for goodness sake but in Hutton. Another attraction for the Hutton Tourist Trail which is still at the planning stage.
I am indebted to Google for this image of Voytek chatting to soldiers and soliciting Two pints of lager, a packet of crisps and any spare Senior Service fags.And the other image from the Washington Post shows the Bear as part of the Polish military unit's regimental emblem'
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Labels: Hutton, soldier bear, Voytek