Friday, January 25, 2008

A memorial to a Polish bear

There's a campaign to erect a memorial a Polish bear. Well, an Iranian bear enlisted in the Polish army.

No joke.

Known as the "soldier bear" he saw action at Monte Cassino, in Italy, before being billeted - along with about 3,000 other Polish troops - at a camp in the Scottish borders.

And like any other combatant, he is even said to have had an official name, rank and number.

Now a campaign is underway to build a permanent British memorial to the remarkable bear who fought so valiantly for the Allied forces and lived out his final days in Edinburgh Zoo.

Voytek the Bear carried munitions for the troops and also discovered a spy. And his reward? Beer and cigarettes and access to the shower hut. Oh, and a retirement villa at the Edinburgh Zoo, where apparently his old comrades tried to chuck him cigarettes.

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, where died in 1963.

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. "As soon as I mentioned 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."

Yes, you can just imagine the Polish old soldier tossing lit cigarettes into the bear enclosure. Or did he toss him cigarettes and a lighter. If so, that's one talented bear.

Anyway, best of luck getting a memorial to Voytek the Polish bear.


Reminds me of that bear that lived at a gas station in Pigeon Forge, TN. It was before my time, but I've been told that there was a bear that lived in a cage at this gas station in Pigeon Forge. It was kind of a tourist attraction. Obviously you can't do that sort of thing anymore, but folks would do anything to drum up business. Even cage a bear and show it off to the motor tourists. Sad really.

And like Voytek, this bear was partial to treats of a human nature. You know, junk food. Snack cakes. Peanuts. Bottles of coke and 7-up. He especially liked the coke. You could hand it into his big paws (if you were brave enough) and he'd tip it up and drink it right down.

Well, one day some drunken rednecks or maybe it was some uncouth yankees who weren't raised to know any better gave the bear some gasoline in one of those coke bottles. Just handed it right over. They probably reckoned that the bear wouldn't actually drink it. But it did. Just tipped the bottle up and drank it right down.

Well, that gas didn't agree with the bear. It started frothing at the mouth and raging and rattling in its cage and throwing itself about. And to be honest, the workmanship on the cage maybe wasn't what it should have been. Anyway, the bear got loose (scaring the pants off the drunken rednecks or uncouth yankees, depending on who's telling the story). And it took off up the road. Back towards the park. I guess it wanted to go home. (Well, who can blame it?)

That bear ran right up the road. And the people in the cars were pulling over. It ran up past where the outlet malls are. It ran up past the all those miniature golf places that are there now. It ran past where Porpoise Island used to be. It ran on past where Dollywood is now. It just ran and ran.

It was running up toward the park and then, just about where the welcome sign is for the park it just stopped. Fell over in the road. Fell into a huddled hunk of bear right there.

And you know what happened?






It ran out of gas.


Sorry. Sorry. My friend Vol-K told me that story one time as we were leaving the park, just as we were passing the sign and going the other way into Pigeon Forge. Man, she totally got me, too.

Years and years later she was visiting me in London and telling me about the bear scene in that horrible movie Borat and I said -"Did I ever tell you about that bear that was up in Pigeon Forge?" And she said no - and she had totally forgotten the story and I got her with it. Ha, joke revenge.


Check out these awesome bear pics. Including this one, which should be a lesson to all gas station bears.

Welcome sign photo from Flickr user The Paradigm Shifter used under Creative Commons license.


Expatmum said...

Hi there. Loved your post. I'm a Brit married to a southerner (of Texan ranching stock), living in Chicago so can't imagine what the change might have been for you. My pa-in-law's big joke is that he though Damn Yankee was one word until he was 13!

Vol K said...