Nazi-fighting bear Wojtek gets his own tartan

Kirsty Franey shows off the Wojtek tartan made as a tribute to the bear who served in the Polish infantry. Picture:  Ian Rutherford

Kirsty Franey shows off the Wojtek tartan made as a tribute to the bear who served in the Polish infantry. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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HE’S the Nazi-fighting brown bear that became the pride of the Polish infantry and is due to be immortalised in bronze within Princes Street Gardens.

But now the 6ft war hero Wojtek – who lived out his final days at Edinburgh Zoo – has been enshrined in Scots culture with the tailoring of his own tartan.

A special design has been created in honour of the famous Persian bear, who became a symbol of the Polish wartime struggle after being reared by soldiers from a cub and later recruited into the regiment.

The unlikely infantryman was said to have carried boxes of live shells to gun emplacements during the Second World War and even liked to drink beer and smoke cigarettes with his comrades.

Encompassing distinct aspects of his varied heritage, the Wojtek plaid is based on Roxburgh tartan, echoing the bear’s first Scottish station with the Free Polish Army on the Borders estate of the Duke of Roxburgh.

But incorporated into the design is the vibrant red of the Polish flag and a sandy brown – a nod to his Middle Eastern roots and earthy coat of fur.

Deirdre Kinloch Anderson, senior director at Leith-based kilt and Highland dress experts Kinloch Anderson – which designed the Wojtek tartan – said she was “extremely proud” to have helped create the fabric.

She said: “Tartan is one of Scotland’s greatest exports and can envelop a sense of relationship and belonging,

“The background and colour of the tartan puts meaning to that relationship in a visual way which enables people to participate and be part of it.

“It’s not just fanciful emotion, it’s got some meaning to it which gives it some value.”

The tartan will earn its debut outing on Polish hips after it went under the hammer at a Caledonian ball in Warsaw and will be specially tailored for the winning bidder.

Writer Aileen Orr, whose book Wojtek The Bear – Polish War Hero was published last year, has a link to the story through her grandfather, a King’s Own Scottish Borderers colour sergeant who met the bear in Egypt and Palestine before the pair were later reunited in a farm in Berwickshire.

She said: “We were included in the designing of the tartan all the way through. We felt it was important to tie in the story with the memorial.”