Now campaigners behind a long-running drive to erect a statue in Wojtek’s honour have revealed they are just £19,000 off achieving their target – with the memorial set to be unveiled on November 7.
The 10ft bronze sculpture – designed by artist Alan Beattie Herriot – will sit in West Princes Street Gardens and depicts the iconic brown bear accompanied by a Polish soldier.
And today organisers also disclosed plans for an “emotional” opening ceremony featuring two of the Polish war veterans who were among troops who found Wojtek as a cub and later fought alongside him.
Wojtek was rescued by soldiers as they made their way through the Middle East and later served as mascot of the Free Polish Army.
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The 6ft bear quickly became one of the troops, famous for smoking cigarettes and guzzling beer. It is claimed he even helped the men carry live rounds during the devastating Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944.
After the war he travelled to Scotland with the demobbed Polish solders, and would eventually die in Edinburgh Zoo at the grand old age of 22. Wojtek Memorial Trust founder Aileen Orr, whose grandfather trained the bear’s Polish comrades in the Middle East, said the statue would commemorate “not only a brave bear, but the many brave Polish men and women who fought for their freedom, and ours”.
She said: “It also celebrates the strong historic links, and ever deepening current ties between Poland, Scotland and the Polish and Scottish peoples.
“It’s going to be really quite special. There’s lots of excitement. It’s going to be very emotional as well – I don’t know how I’m going to get through it, but I’m looking forward to it.
“What we are hoping to do is have two of the people who picked up the bear in the mountains at the ceremony. These veterans are the people who really should be there, and who should be the focal point.”
She added that the Trust was still looking for final contributions to help meet the target. More than 500 individuals and groups have contributed to a target of £300,000, the Scottish Government providing £20,000.
Simon Thompson, chair of the Trust, insisted the final memorial would be “accessible, tactile and impressive.”