If you find yourself at Edinburgh Zoo, and you can tear yourself away from the pandas, we heartily recommend heading to the Rainforest Room in the Education Centre for a fantastic exhibition called ‘Animals Beyond the Call of Duty’. The exhibition aims to tell the story of animals in war, and includes two very close to Birlinn’s heart.
Just as brave and cuddly as Bamse, if even larger, was Wojtek, a 500-pound cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking brown bear who was adopted as a cub by the Polish Army in Iran also in WWII. He became an enlisted soldier so he could accompany his comrades onboard ship to Italy - bears weren’t allowed on boats - but he did more than just keep morale up with his cute antics. During battle, and under fire, Wojtek carried heavy shells to the soldiers operating the guns without flinching. After the war Wojtek joined other Polish exiles in Scotland, finally retiring to Edinburgh Zoo where he never failed to get very excited at the sound of Polish being spoken. Aileen Orr, whose grandfather met Wojtek on active service, tells his remarkable story in Wojtek: Polish War Hero.
|LTR: Angus Whitson, Aileen Orr, Andrew Orr|