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Tuesday 20th March 2018

Animated Film to Spotlight Syrian Bear's role in WWII

Media & Culture

7Dnews London

Mon, 14 Jan 2019 10:33 GMT

During World War II, Wojciech Narebski and his fellow Polish servicemen had to lift crate after heavy metal crate of artillery but there was another brave soldier helping them, Corporal Wojtek, a Syrian brown bear.

"When he saw that we were struggling, he'd want to help... He'd come over, grab a crate and carry it to the truck," Narebski, now 93, told AFP of his days with Wojtek in the 22nd Artillery Supply Company.

The bear was known as a smart, compassionate creature. He would simply stack one crate on top of the other whenever he got tired, "which also helped us, because we didn't have to lift the crate off the ground," recounted the veteran, who spent two and a half years with the friendly giant he considered a brother.
"Of course, he got a reward. Honey, marmalade. That was his favourite."

Wojtek the Bear also liked to drink beer and smoke (or rather eat) cigarettes, take showers, snuggle with his handler at night and wrestle with his comrades. When an opponent lost, Wojtek would lick their face in apology.

Old photos show the bulky beast, who grew to be over 1.8 metres (six feet) tall and weighed about 220 kilos (490 pounds), giving bear hugs, opening his toothy jaw wide for food and enjoying a day at the beach with smiling soldiers.

The unbelievable true story of the orphaned cub, who was found by Polish troops in Persia and then travelled through Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Italy and Scotland as a morale-booster, is now being turned into an animated movie.

The British-Polish filmmakers hope to release the family-friendly "A Bear Named Wojtek" in 2020 on the seventy-fifth anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.

But the film's British producer, Iain Harvey, was sceptical when Scottish animator Iain Gardner first approached him.

"To be honest I thought, 'This man has had too many whiskies'," Harvey said, before he realised that, "For once the magic is real."