Voytek - The Soldier Bear

THE image of a bear has long taken it's place on the official emblem of Berwick, but to many people there has never been a definitive 'Berwick Bear'.

Although pre-dated by the town's crest, a bear which has a strong connection with Berwick is Voytek - an animal with an incredible history. His links to Berwickshire are even stronger, having arrived at Winfield in 1946.

And the life and times of Voytek have now been put into paperback thanks to Eyemouth High School teacher Garry Paulin.

Since hearing of the bear just over a year ago, Garry, who now lives in Berwick, has ploughed himself into researching the subject and now 'Voytek- The Soldier Bear' is ready to be published.

Garry's main reason for putting pen to paper was his belief that many people in Berwick and Berwickshire know little about Voytek and how he came to be in these parts.

"Voytek or to give him his polish name- Wojtek- ended up in Winfield Camp at the end of World War Two," said Garry.

"He was the mascot of the Polish Army who travelled over here but his origins are more from the Middle East. He was taken by the Poles from the mountains of Iran, where he was born, and he was much more than a mascot.

"He is probably most famous for getting onto his back legs and helping load ammunition. He was with the Polish Army at the battle of Monte Cassino. In fact one of the lasting images people have of Voytek is of him carrying mortar shells."

Although known for his time in the Borders and North Northumberland, Voytek gained plaudits all over the world and with it a host of admirers.

"After spending time with the Polish army near Berwick, Voytek was taken to Edinburgh Zoo," said Garry.

"He was a big attraction for many visitors before he died in 1963 and my family, who are from Dalkeith, remember going to see him. Since his death there have been statues put up in his honour in London and in Ottawa, Canada."

But despite all of this some people still see Voytek as a fictitious creature and aren't aware of his history at all.

"There are people I've spoken to who have never heard of Voytek at all and see the story as some sort of myth. It was refreshing to talk to some of the Polish community in Berwick and the Borders to see what they knew about Voytek and how much he means to their country."

Those in the know about Voytek appear to be in the minority, and younger generations particularly seem to know little about the famous soldier bear.

"I think it's important that people know the facts about Voytek, that's why I've aimed the book at children as well. Even youngsters in the Polish community have little knowledge of the bear and people in this area are also in the dark about him.

"This is the first book that I've written and it's in English and Polish to make it accessible to more people. It's taken a lot of research to produce the end result so I hope it's going to be worth it.

"I'm financing the whole venture myself so I'm hoping the book will be successful enough to clear my fee!"

'Voytek - The Soldier Bear', which is being published by Martin's of Spittal, will be available next month and adding to the local connection the ilustrations are being provided by Sophie Stubbs of Ayton, a former pupil of Garry's.

Garry can be contacted at www.voytekbear.com