Having a name that can be translated into son of the man who turns into a bear in battle can give you a soft spot for a story like this one:
Wojtek grew up among the men, who fed him condensed milk from an empty vodka bottle and later honey, marmalade and syrup. The large bear lived in a tent with them, drank two bottles of ale a day and used to swallow a lit cigarette and exhale smoke as his party trick. He was taught how to salute when greeted and was enlisted as a private soldier with an official rank and number. Wojtek became known as a legend when he helped in the battle of Monte Cassino, in Italy, where he used his giant paws to carry heavy boxes of mortar shells from trucks to gun emplacements. The image of him carrying a shell became the regiment’s official emblem.
Having moved into the last third of Pete's new book Shakespeare's Local (now on sale and shipping to North America) I am now more clearly aware that culturally we've been closer to bears in the past but no where near as amicably as this. The pleasures of the bear pit from Renaissance England do nothing for me. I am pro-bear... though I may have punched one through a tent side as I dozed one afternoon in Ontario's near north. Sure was hefty. Sure made that bear sound as it ran back into the bush. In fact, I married into a family that includes some pretty cool bear related history but actually sitting and having a beer with a bear like you could with Wojtek is one of those things that could become an ambition in life. Or something that might define would could come to be called number one on one's kick the bucket list.