World War II is the deadliest war in history. For one thing, it led to nearly 75 million deaths, most of which were civilians.
Humans weren’t the only ones involved either—many animals went to war as well. For example, horses, mules, and donkeys were used to carry ammunition, food, water, and medical supplies to those at the front.
Perhaps the most notable animal of all, however, is Wojtek. A Syrian brown bear, he helped fight against the Nazis as a soldier.
Where did he come from? What happened to him after the war? These are some of the things that we’ll be talking about in this post—so make sure to keep reading!
Wojtek was born in 1942. He was found by a young boy after his mother was found shot by hunters.
Taken to a railroad station, he was eventually adopted by Polish II Corps soldiers. From there, he was brought to the 22nd Artillery Supply Company.
Not long afterward, he was named “Wojtek” aka “Happy Warrior.”
Most if not all of the soldiers enjoyed Wojtek's company. In fact, he became a huge morale boost for the troops.
However, the soldiers were eventually reassigned to fight in the Italian campaign. While they wanted to take Wojtek with them, their transport ship forbade pet animals and mascots.
To get around this rule, Wojtek was enlisted into the Polish Army. A soldier of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, he was cared for by Dymitr Szawlugo and Henryk Zacharewicz. It's said that he even drank beer!
An enlisted soldier, he had his own serial number, rank—even a paybook! During the Battle of Monte Cassino, he helped his unit carry 45kg crates of artillery shells. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he didn’t drop any of them!
His service would later earn him the rank of corporal. Not only that, but he was made the official mascot of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company. From there, he was added to the company's emblem as a bear carrying an artillery shell.
Following the end of the war, the bear was transported to Scotland, along with the rest of the 22nd Company. While he was there, he became a popular figure among local citizens.
Two years later, he was brought to the Edinburgh Zoo, where he would go on to spend the rest of his life. During that time, he was often visited by former soldiers and journalists.
Wojtek eventually died in 1963, at the age of 21.
Since his death, many memorials have been constructed for Wojtek including a plaque in the Imperial War Museum. If anything, his legacy continues to live on!