If you have heard of Wojtek you will recognise this as an iconic image of the famous bear. If you haven’t heard of Wojtek you’re probably thinking, “What is that bear doing with an artillery shell?” My introduction to Wojtek was through a book by Aileen Orr entitled, “Wojtek The Bear: Polish War Hero“. In short, some Polish soldiers, regrouping in Iran after their released from Stalin’s gulags in 1942, adopted a bear cub as their mascot and called it Wojtek.
Wojtek grew up with the men of the 22nd Transport Company of the Polish 2nd Corps and by 1943 he was transporting artillery shells with them during the Battle of Monte Cassino, on the Italian Front. After the battle the image of a bear carrying an artillery shell became the insignia of the 22nd Transport Company.
In 1945 Wojtek ended his military career in a camp for displaced Polish servicemen unwilling to return to a Poland now occupied by Soviet troops. Wojtek retired to Edinburgh Zoo, where he was regularly visited by former Polish servicemen now settled in Britain. Wojtek died in 1963.
Although I haven’t found any evidence that Wojtek ever visited Grimsby, there is a regimental connection with Weelsby Woods. The Carpathian Lancers, the armoured element of the 2nd Polish Corps, in which Wojtek served, arrived in Grimsby in 1945 and made a camp in Weelsby Woods their home until 1947, when their demobilisation was complete.
It seems that Wojtek has become emblematic of the Free Polish struggle during the Second World War, despite being a Syrian brown bear!
You can read more about the statue on the BBC News website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-15491945) or on the Grimsby Telegraph website (http://www.grimsbytelegraph.co.uk/Polish-soldiers-meet-Wojtek-bear-8210-Grimsby-s/story-13697691-detail/story.html).