Wojtek plans granted

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Another piece of the Wojtek jigsaw is complete with the news Edinburgh City Council have granted planning permission for a memorial of the famous soldier bear.

Wojtek’s story has captured the hearts of many since being brought back to prominence by a book by Berwickshire author Aileen Orr which led to the much loved animal and his journey to British shores with the Polish army, becoming the subject of documentaries screened worldwide as well as a series of exhibitions.

Plans for a permanent memorial to Wojtek in Edinburgh, the place where he passed away after spending a number of happy years at the city’s zoo, have gathered pace over the last few years after sculptor Alan Beattie Herriot made a smaller version of the statue.

The statue of Wojtek will be placed in Princes Street Gardens, following in the footsteps of a memorial dedicated to the bear in Poland, a place where he is also held in high regard.

Speaking to ‘The Berwickshire’, Aileen said “When I commissioned the statue in 2008 to be placed on our farm at the site of the old camp, little did either of us know big this project would become.

“But the combination of the story and Alan’s fantastic work has touched the hearts of thousands around the world.

“Not only that, we hope it will bring visitors and interest to Berwickshire and the Borders to see where the story was based.”

Wojtek arrived in these parts after being rescued from the Iranian mountains by Polish troops . He went on to play a pivotal role in the Battle of Monte Cassino when he helped to carry ammunition.

Once arriving at Sunwick, where Aileen lives now, Wojtek became a popular character in the local community.

He’d often be spotted smoking cigarettes and drew a lot of attention when he used to journey to Berwick with his Polish counterparts for a swim.

Following demobilization on November 15, 1947, Wojtek was given to the Edinburgh Zoo, where he was often visited by journalists and former Polish soldiers.

He died in December 1963, at the age of 22

And Aileen said it was only right that just as he was during his time at the zoo, Wojtek would once again be a popular draw for visitors.

“The site in Princes Street Gardens is exactly right, it will be accessible, in that the memorial will not be placed on a plinth and remote, it will be a hands on piece of art just as Wojtek was a hands on animal.

“We hope people will travel from all around the world to visit Wojtek and remember what the story is about.”