On the 7th of November 2015, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe & External affairs, Fiona Hyslop MSP, joined representatives of the Polish Government, Edinburgh City Council, the Wojtek Memorial Trust, veterans, invited guests, and members of the public, in unveiling a memorial to Wojtek “the soldier bear” in Princes Street Gardens.
Wojtek’s story and the Wojtek Memorial Trust
Wojtek the bear was the mascot of a company of the Free Polish Army in the Second World War. He was given a name, rank and serial number and fought bravely alongside the soldiers who adopted him as an orphan cub – even carrying munitions at the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. After the Italian campaign, he settled in Scotland with the Polish soldiers in a displaced persons camp, and when the camp closed in 1947 he settled in Edinburgh Zoo, where he lived until he died in 1963.
The Wojtek Memorial Trust was founded in 2009 with the aims of promoting public knowledge and understanding about Wojtek, the soldier bear, his links with the peoples of Poland and Scotland, and their links with each other. In 2013 the Trust launched a campaign to raise funds for a memorial in honour of the bear and the men and women who lived and fought with him, a project which culminated in the unveiling of the iconic statue of the bear and a Polish soldier in 2015.
Celebrating Scotland’s relationship with Poland
The memorial serves as a permanent symbol of the lasting friendship between Scotland and Poland and the Scottish Government was proud to stand alongside the Polish Government in support of this project. In 2014 Fiona Hyslop announced a £20,000 contribution towards the interpretation panel which stands behind the statue of Wojtek, detailing scenes from the bear’s life. Announcing the funding, the Cabinet Secretary said:
“Wojtek the soldier bear symbolises the strong relationship between Scotland and Poland and our historic links, and I am delighted to support this statue.
“The Scottish Government recognises the huge contribution Polish immigrants make to Scottish life – from the Poles who fought alongside us, and alongside Wojtek, in World War Two, to more recent arrivals.
“The Poles who have come to Scotland to live and work have brought much more than their professional skills. They have made a huge contribution to Scotland’s culture, as well as to our economy.
“I want young Scots, including those from Polish families, to know the story of Wojtek the soldier bear.”