Statue under way to honour hero Wojtek the bear

An artist's impression of the Wojtek statue. Picture: Contributed
An artist's impression of the Wojtek statue. Picture: Contributed
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Work will today begin to install a memorial to soldier bear Wojtek, who was brought to the Capital after serving as an unlikely mascot in the Second World War.

A 10ft bronze sculpture depicting the brown bear and a Polish soldier will take pride of place in West Princes Street Gardens.

The placing of this memorial pays respect to their effort and sacrifice

Raymond Muszynski

The famous 6ft animal was rescued by soldiers from the Free Polish Army as they made their way through the Middle East.

He was known for smoking cigarettes and drinking beer with the troops and it is claimed that he even helped the men carry live rounds during battle.

After the war, he travelled to Scotland with the demobbed Polish solders before spending his twilight years in Edinburgh Zoo.

The installation of the Wojtek Memorial is the culmination of a long-running campaign which has been supported by more than 500 individuals and groups.

The Wojtek Memorial Trust is still several thousand pounds short of its £300,000 target, and donations are being encouraged.

It is hoped that the new attraction – designed by Alan Beattie Herriot and cast at Powerhall Bronze – will serve as a reminder of the sacrifices in the war, and celebrate close links between Polish and 
Scottish communities today. This morning, workers from Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd will underpin the granite platform for the statue after pledging to give the time and materials for free.

The platform, which will be set by G Laing Stonecraft, was quarried, cut and inscribed by Polish-based company 
Piramida.

And the setting of the statue was designed by Raymond Muszynski of Morris and Steedman Associates, who said: “The placing of this memorial in what must be one of the most beautiful and important urban spaces in Britain pays respect to their effort and sacrifice.”

Andrew McAlpine, of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, said it was difficult not to be moved by Wojtek’s “extraordinary story”.

He said: “We are fortunate to employ staff from a range of backgrounds, and our members from the Polish community have contributed significantly to our ongoing success.”

The memorial is set to be unveiled on November 7 in an opening ceremony featuring two of the Polish war veterans who found Wojtek as a cub.

A spokesman for the trustees of the Wojtek Memorial Trust said: “Millions of people will visit the memorial and many will see it on a daily basis as they pass by in Princes Street Gardens. Its image will be photographed and posted around the world.”