“Black Friday” has its origins in the crash of the United States gold market on Twenty fourth September 1869. Two notorious Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk were the ringleaders in a plan to artificially inflate the price of gold.
In early 1869, Gould initiated his audacious scheme. At that time, gold was still the official currency of international trade, but the United States had gone off the gold standard during the Civil War, when Congress authorized $450 million in government-backed ‘greenbacks’ to fund the Union war effort. Competing currencies—gold and ‘greenbacks’—had been in circulation ever since. As there was a limited amount of gold in circulation, Gould calculated that a speculator with sufficient funds could potentially buy up enough of the precious metal to effectively “corner” the market. Such a speculator could then drive up the price and potentially sell for astronomical profits. There was only one hurdle- the President of the United States- Ulysses S. Grant. The government controlled the value of gold: when government sold the price reduced; when it didn’t, the price increased. For the scheme to work, Gould needed President Grant to prevent the treasury from selling gold. Through conspirators close to the President, pressure was brought to bear upon the President to persuade him to introduce a clear policy not to sell gold. Finally, at the beginning of September 1869, the President instructed the treasury not to sell gold during the month.
The Game was on!
Gould recruited Jim Fisk into the scheme because he had considerable funds immediately available to purchase gold. They and the other conspirators continued to purchase as much as they could. As the month passed and the price of gold increased the treasury began to put pressure on the president to authorise sale of gold in order to stabilise the price. On twenty second September Gould discovered the President suspected a conspiracy. Gould did not tell his fellow fraudsters and began secretly to sell his own gold.
By twenty fourth September 1869 mobs of investors who were losing money and reporters were converging on Wall Street. Fisk continued to buy gold furiously delighted as the success of the scheme. The President furious at being deceived instructed the treasury to flood the market. $4 million in gold would be sold the following day, the twenty-fifth September.
The announcement sent Wall Street into free fall. “Possibly no avalanche ever swept with more terrible violence,” the New York Herald later wrote. Within minutes, the inflated gold prices plummeted from $160 to $133. The stock market dropped a full twenty percentage points, thereby bankrupting or severely damaging many of Wall Street’s most respected firms. Thousands of speculators were left financially ruined, and at least one committed suicide. Foreign trade ground to a halt. Farmers saw the value of their wheat and corn harvests halved.
‘Black Friday’ damaged the United States economy for several years afterwards and tainted the remainder of the President’s tenure. Despite multiple allegations of malfeasance and an official investigation by Congress neither Jay Gould or Jim Fisk spent a single night in jail. Fisk avoided massive losses by claiming third party brokers had made the trades without his knowledge. Estimates suggest Gould may have netted around $12 million as a result of his sales before that first ‘Black Friday’.
Author The Cypher Bureau
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”
by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae,
John McCrae was a physician and poet from Guelph, Ontario. McCrae enrolled with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the age of forty-one following the outbreak of the First World War. Although he could have joined the medical corps because of his age and qualifications he insisted in joining a fighting unit as a gunner and medical officer.
McCrae fought in the Second Battle of Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium. Conditions were horrific. The German army launched one of the first chemical attacks ever when they attacked French positions north of the McCrae’s Canadian unit with chlorine gas on twenty-second April 1915. In a letter written to his mother, McCrae described the battle-
“For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots even, except occasionally. In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds ... And behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way.”
On Third May 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, McCrae wrote the poem "In Flanders Fields". Apparently he was inspired by the poppies which quickly grew around the graves. He penned the first draft whilst sitting
in the back of an ambulance at an Advanced Dressing Station outside Ypres. The poem was first published on Eighth December of that year in London magazine Punch. It became popular immediately and today “In Flanders’ Fields” is one of the most quoted First World War poems, especially in Canada where it is one of the nation’s best known literary works.
Because of the poems references to red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers, the remembrance poppy became one of the world's most poignant memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict.
The remembrance poppy is closely associated with Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, and Veteran’s Day. The armistice for the First World War came into effect on the 11thhour of the 11thday of the 11thmonth in 1918. Since then the day has come to be a day of remembrance for those who died in conflict and a time to reflect on the dreadful consequences of war. Often two minutes’ silence is observed at 11a.m.
Today on the centenary of the end of the First World War World Leaders have gathered in Paris to remember those who fought and died.
Author The Cypher Bureau (How the Poles solved Enigma)
Poland, having ceased to exist for 123 years as a result of occupation by German, Austrian and Russian Empires, emerged from the First World War as a country reborn, fresh with ideals. Woman were granted the vote in 1918 and the future looked bright. However, Poland’s newly found freedom was soon overshadowed by German and Soviet interest in regaining what they regarded as their ‘lost territories.’ Sandwiched between Germany and Russia, Poland was only too aware of her vulnerable position. The Polish Cypher Bureau intensified efforts to break the Enigma code, the code Germany began using in 1926 to send confidential messages. The Poles needed to know what their German neighbours were up to, this desperation was a factor in the Poles being first to crack the Enigma code in 1932. As Germany became increasingly clear about her expansionist plans the 11thof November was chosen as National Independence Day in 1937 and was declared a national day of holiday and celebration. This date was chosen as it was the day in 1918 that Marshal Josef Pilsudski assumed control of Poland thereby restoring Polish independence and sovereignty. The holiday was celebrated only twice before World War II. By the 6thOctober 1939 Poland was under brutal Nazi and Soviet control. After the war, the communist authorities of the People's Republic removed Independence Day from the calendar. Poland, disappeared behind the Iron Curtain and was not invited to attend the Allied Victory Parade in London on 6thOctober 1946 despite the decisive roles in the victory which had been played by the Poles. The Cypher Bureau and broken Enigma and experienced Polish pilots played a pivotal role in the Battle of Britain. Poland endured many years of oppression. Finally, the eyes of the world turned to Poland’s plight on 16thOctober 1978, when the Archbishop of Krackow was appointed Pope and took the name of John Paul II. On 14thAugust 1980 Lech Walesa was appointed leader of the Solidarity party. During the 1980s, in many cities, including Warsaw, informal marches and celebrations were held, with the outlawed Solidarity Movementsupporters participating in the celebrations of National Independence Day. Typically, these marches were brutally dispersed with many participants arrested and tortured by the secret police. When Poland emerged from Soviet control in 1989, the original holiday finally was restored.
National Independence Day corresponds to Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, and Veterans Day. These holidays and Polish Independence Day are related because they all arose following World War I. In other countries, the holidays were established as a result of grief and horror at the enormous human cost of the war, and they mark the sacrifices of those who fought. The Polish holiday is simultaneously a celebration of the independence of a Polish state and a commemoration of those who fought for it.
2018 sees the centenary year and it is being celebrated worldwide. The holiday has a lesser uptake than expected in Poland, perhaps because many Polish residents do not feel that Poland has been truly independent for one hundred years. For many Poles a true sense of freedom may only have arrived with Poland’s entry into the European Union on First May 2004.
Author The Cypher Bureau (How the Poles cracked Enigma)
President of France, Emmanuel Macron’s decision that it was appropriate to honour Marshal Phillipe Petain for his service in World War One has opened deep wounds over one of the darkest periods of French history.
Following Hitler’s Blitzkreig on 1st September 1939 coupled with Soviet invasion on 17th September Poland, who never formally surrendered was under Nazi and Soviet control by 6th October 1939. Holland and Belgium, although both had declared themselves neutral, subsequent to invasion on 10th May 1940 were under Nazi control. (On 28th May Belgian forces surrendered and on 14th May Dutch forces laid down their weapons.)
When France was attacked on 10th May she was completely unprepared. In the aftermath of Dunkirk (26thMay to 4th June) the forty thousand French soldiers left on the beaches were captured and transported to prisoner of war camps in Germany. Defeat to many seemed inevitable. Urgent pleas for assistance were made to the USA and Britain but no help was forthcoming. The French Government was faced either with surrendering, seeking an armistice with Germany or fleeing to London to operate a Government in Exile there as did the Governments of Poland, Holland and Belgium. In a France still scared by the effects of World War I, a war fought primarily on her own soil in which she had sustained the largest losses per head of population, the French government voted by a narrow majority to seek an armistice. The French president Reynaud, who wanted to continue fighting resigned. Respected war hero, Phillipe Petain, the Lion of Verdun was appointed on 16th June as a result. Pétain was at that time eighty-four years of age. He had been presented with the baton of Marshal on France on 8th December 1918 as a result of his leadership during the notorious nine-month long Battle of Verdun during which around 162 000 French soldiers had lost their lives. Petain had been credited by historians, as "without a doubt, the most accomplished defensive tactician of any army" and "one of France's greatest military heroes".
Petain’s request for an armistice with Nazi Germany angered many French citizens. Hitler offered generous terms- France was to retain control of her foreign territories and administrative control over most of France although German military would operate in the Occupied Zone which included Paris. The armistice was signed on 22nd June 1940. The agreement was in fact a humiliating defeat. France was obliged to pay for the Nazi occupation and two million French soldiers were sent to prisoner of war and work camps in Germany. As head of Vichy France, Petain replaced the aspirational motto of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" with "Work, Family and Country".
The Vichy Government voluntarily introduced its own Jewish legislation on 3rd October 1940. The legislation had the effect of depriving Jews of certain civil rights and Petain is alleged to have personally intervened to ensure the legislation applied not only to foreign Jews but French Jewish citizens as well. On 30thOctober 1940, following a meeting with Hitler a few days earlier Petian made a broadcast on French radio stating “I enter today on the path of collaboration.” and invited his countrymen to join him on the journey.
The Vichy government cooperated with Nazi Germany, hunting down both foreign and French Jews and turning them over to the Gestapo for transport to extermination camps.
The Vichy regime denaturalized 1500 French citizens primarily Jews but including gypsies, freemasons, communists and homosexuals leaving them liable to deportation
After World War II, Pétain was tried and convicted for treason. He was originally sentenced to death, but following intervention by Charles de Gaulle (who himself had been tried in absence and condemned to death by the Vichy regime) as a result of his age and service during World War I the sentence was commuted to life in prison. Petain died in 1951 aged ninety-five.
Author The Cypher Bureau (How the Poles solved Enigma)
KRISTALLNACHT, NIGHT OF THE BROKEN GLASS, CRYSTAL NIGHT
Kristallnacht, so named because of the shards of broken glass which littered the streets in towns, cities and villages around Germany in its aftermath, occurred during the night of the 9thNovember and through the 10thof November in Nazi occupied territories which at that time comprised Germany and Austria.
Just before midnight on the 9thNovember, Gestapo chief Heinrich Muller instructed all police chiefs in Nazi Germany not to interfere with reprisals against Jews and their property and to arrest victims. Fire prevention companies were instructed to let Jewish property burn and only to interfere if Aryan property was at risk.
During Kristallnacht one thousand synagogues were burned or damaged, seven thousand five hundred Jewish business were looted or damaged. Jewish hospitals cemeteries and schools were vandalised. At least ninety-one Jews were killed and thirty thousand Jewish men were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps at Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen.
Whilst Kristallnacht was fuelled by agent provocateurs under Hitler’s instruction, in many cases persons known to the victims participated in the violence. This would appear to demonstrate the success of the Nazi propaganda measures which had begun in 1933 to dehumanise the Jewish population and desensitise and immobilise the civilian population.
In January 1933 Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. He did not lose any time in wielding the power of his appointment. There was a public burning of books by Jewish and anti-Nazi authors. On the First of April there was a one-day boycott of Jewish businesses. The Department of Racial Hygiene (Ethnic Cleansing) was established.
In 1934 Jews were excluded from military service and Jewish students were excluded from sitting exams in dentistry, medicine, pharmacy and law. Thirtieth June 1934 and the days following saw the Night of the Long Knives when Hitler authorised the death without trial of members of his own National Socialist party who not actively supporting him. A chilling message to anyone seeking to oppose Hitler or his government.
In 1935 the Nuremburg laws restricted civil rights for Jews and mixed race/blood marriages were outlawed. In 1936 Jewish teachers were no longer permitted to work in government schools.In 1937Jewish children were excluded from state schools in Berlin. 1938 saw
an acceleration in the anti-Jewish measures with Jews forbidden to change their surname or use an alias in January.Jews were banned from working as auctioneers in February. Prohibited from owning a gun shop or trading weapons in July. Ordered to add either “Israel” or “Sara” to their given names in August. In September Jewish doctors were prohibited from treating non-Jewish patients. In October Jews were obliged to have a large red ‘J’ stamped on their passports.
With Kristallnacht on the night of the 9thNovember Hitler effectively declared war on the Jewish population. It was no longer safe for Jews to stay in Nazi Germany. The Holocaust has begun.
#neverforget #neveragain #onthisday #kristallnacht
Author The Cypher Bureau
Halloween is not widely celebrated in Poland, but that is not to say that the ancient Celtic festival passes unnoticed. Whilst the ancient celebration, remembered in Eastern Poland as 'Dziady' (Forefathers) has been replaced by the festival of All Saints, which is now firmly intertwined with the Catholic Church.
The first of November or Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints’ Day) is a national holiday and the official name for the holiday in the Roman Catholic Church. However, it is very common in Poland to call the day, Dzień Zmarłych or Święto Zmarłych ( ‘Day of the Dead’). These names were first used by The Soviet Union during the period of occupation in Poland and their usage remains. On this day, according to Roman Catholic tradition, people celebrate the saints, their lives and their martyrdom. It is supposed to be a joyful event, a chance to worship saints and the belief in life after death. It is traditional to visit cemeteries, light candles and lay flowers in remembrance of the departed.
Krakow is one of the most evocative places in Poland to spend All Souls. The former Royal Capital has many old cemeteries, one of which is Rakowicki. To step through the Gothic gateway of Rakowicki Cemetery as night falls is to take a step into the otherworld where the spirits of the departed wander freely. Thousands of candles in vases of every shape and color gather as if placed magically by wandering spirits on graves and at the foot of memorials. The melodic chant of priests signing psalms, echo through the silence as the messengers of god wander amongst the paths bringing peace to the departed, whilst clouds of sweet smelling incense waft over their shoulders like mists through time. The scent of fresh chrysanthemums laid by the gravestones hangs in the still night air, a sensory reminder that death is close. Families wander through the illuminated paths throughout the night and if a raven or owl passes, this visit from a departed soul is celebrated. The memorials to the departed, from the desperate periods of Poland’s history, (the Warsaw Uprising of which a picture is annotated) are flooded with light from candles of remembrance. Although the graveyard is filled with mourners there is, everywhere a hushed, respectful silence as those present join together to form an incredibly dignified tribute to the departed.
The second of November is Dzień Zaduszny (All Souls’ Day) or Zaduszki . Typically the day is spent in prayer and reflection. It is when people remember their departed loved ones. Whilst it is not a public holiday, people come after work in the evening to graveyards with fresh candles.
For more Polish history check out
The Cypher Bureau -(how the Poles solved Enigma)
Following the Nazi invasion of Poland on first September 1939, many Polish airmen, determined to continue fighting for their country’s freedom made their way to Britain. By the end of July 1940 there were over eight thousand Polish airmen in Britain. Initially they were incorporated into British Squadrons but in July and August 1940 numbers 302 and 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadrons were formed.
As a result of Nazi propaganda there was some doubt about the abilities of the Polish air force which lead Canadian Flight Lieutenant John A. Kent, who was posted to No. 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadron, so that it had an English speaking commander, during the Battle of Britain, to comment 'All I knew about the Polish Air Force was that it had only lasted about three days against the Luftwaffe, and I had no reason to suppose that they would shine any more brightly operating from England'.
However, as Hitler’s Luftwaffe attacks on Britain increased in the lead up to a planned invasion and RAF planes where being shot down at an alarming rate with the consequent loss of pilots, there was little alternative but to allow the eager Polish pilots into the air. They had undergone intensive English lessons as most of the Polish pilots could not speak any English, and undergone training on tricycles equipped with radio, speed indicators and compasses to learn formation style flying, much to the irritation of the experienced battle-hardened Polish airmen. In total 145 Polish airmen fought in the Battle of Britain - 79 in various RAF squadrons, 32 in No. 302 (Polish) Fighter Squadron and 34 in No. 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadron. Their bravery and skill became legendary. Just a few of the feats of the Polish airmen are as follows-
On 24thAugust Sergeant Antoni Glowacki of No. 501 Squadron RAF, claimed five enemy bombers, which were shot down over three separate sorties. He was one of only three pilots who achieved 'Ace-in-a-Day' status during the battle. (Ace being attributed where 5 or more enemy plane’s had been shot down)
On 303 Squadron’s second day in action on the 2ndSeptember 1940, 6 Polish pilots took on 150 Messerschmitts, in the dogfight which ensued, all the Polish pilots survived and 2 of them broke formation to pursue the enemy planes back to France, before returning to their base. (Exceptionally one of the rebel pilots, Josef Frantisek, who was actually Czech, was then given a dispensation to break formation and pursue enemy planes at his discretion)
303 Squadron is accredited as best scoring unit of the Battle of Britain.
On the first day of the Blitz on 7thSeptember 303 Squadron are attributed with shooting down 16 enemy planes without a single loss on their side in a record breaking fifteen minutes.
Nine of 303 Squadron's pilots qualified as 'aces.'
Sergeant Josef Frantisek, of 303 Squadron shot down 17 enemy planes, the highest scorer of the Battle of Britain.
Four Polish officers were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses after the Battle of Britain.
During the Battle of Britain, Polish pilots serving in all RAF squadrons achieved a remarkable score of 203.5 destroyed, 35 probably destroyed and 36 damaged.
Twenty-nine Polish pilots, including Josef Frantisek, lost their lives in combat against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain.
Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding said after the battle: 'Had it not been for the magnificent work of the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of battle would have been the same'.
Another major contribution by the Poles to Allied victory was first breaking the Enigma code an achievement credited with saving thousands of lives.
Author The Cypher Bureau-(How the Poles solved Enigma)
The famous white eagle of Poland, Orzeł Biały, one of the best known symbols of Poland, stares outwards to the right in search of truth, whilst its wings are spread out as widely as possible to protect all Poles and people of Polish descent, wherever they may live.
The legend of the Polish eagle is entwined with that of Lech, Poland’s mythical founder. One day, many centuries ago when Lech was travelling across the area now known as Greater Poland, he stumbled upon a nest containing a white eagle and her two eaglets. Lech decided to steal one of the eaglets and raise it for his own. The mother eagle rose in defense, spreading out her great white wings across the red light of the setting sun. She was wounded by Lech’s sword and her red blood began to stain her white feathers. She was clearly prepared to fight to the death to protect her young. Lech was so moved by the eagle’s courage and dedication to her young that he abandoned his attempts to capture an eaglet. In recognition of the eagle’s bravery Lech established the first Polish city of Gniezno, meaning nest at the site and adopted the white eagle as the symbol of the new land. The eagle was assimilated onto the Polish flag where the red background of represents both the red of the sun setting over the Polish plains and the blood and sacrifice suffered by Poles over the years.
The Polish eagle made its historical debut on Polish coins during the reign of King Bolesław I (992-1025). Its use extended in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when it began to appear on emblems, shields and flags. It would have represented the Poles charging into battle against the German Teutonic Knights in 1410 and at Vienna against the Turks in 1683.
When Poland was torn apart in the eighteenth century, the eagle became a call to arms to unite Poles in the battle for their independence. Ironically, the empires that conquered Poland—Russia, Prussia and Austria—all had black eagles as their symbols. The Polish white eagle, represented hope that their nation’s light would not be extinguished by the darkness of the invaders.
Poland again adopted the white eagle as its official coat-of-arms, on regaining independence in 1918. German invasion and occupation during World War II meant the eagle came once more a call to arms and a sign of hope to represent courage and sacrifice both to the Polish resistance and the government-in-exile, both of which retained the flag.
When Poland fell under Soviet control after World War II, the white eagle suffered one of its worst humiliations—it lost the golden crown that it had worn for centuries. The bare-headed white eagle represented a Poland subservient to the ruling Soviet regime.
After communism fell, the Polish eagle regained its crown in 1990 and was adopted as Poland’s official symbol.
Author The Cypher Bureau-how the Poles solved Enigma
I was particularly thrilled to visit Bletchley Park earlier this year. It was my interest in the Polish Codebreakers and Marian Rejewski in particular which took me to Bletchley.
The memorial to the Polish Codebreakers in the grounds reads:-
“This plaque commemorates the work of Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zygalski mathematicians of the Polish Intelligence Service in first breaking the Enigma code. Their work greatly assisted the Bletchley Park Codebreakers and contributed to the Allied victory in World War II.”
This year The Bombe Breakthrough exhibition opened in Hut 11A. The exhibition will run until 2028 and features the first electro-mechanical deciphering device-the bombe machine invented my Marian Rejewski in 1936, a device combining 6 Enigma rotors which was capable of working through possible settings for an Enigma machine and reaching a solution within two hours.
There is of course something for everyone at Bletchley. The mansion house itself is worthy of a visit, with intricate carved staircase, sweeping entrance hallway with marbled pillars and oak panelled rooms. The mansion was constructed by Sir Herbret Samuel Leon. The British Government moved their on 15thAugust 1939 when the site was established as an ultra secret code breaking base- Station X. All staff were required to sign The Official Secrets Act 1939 and were constantly reminded the importance of secrecy and not to discuss their work with anyone. Not their colleagues, not their spouses, not their friends. At its height, during WW2, there were around 10 000 personal operating from Bletchley and despite some security breaches, the secrecy of the operation was maintained following the war up until 1973 when books began to be published on the subject. Notwithstanding that many of the Bletchley staff took the secret of their codebreaking work with them to the grave. The extraordinary success in maintaining the secrecy of the operation at Bletchley led Churchill to refer to the Bletchley staff as “the geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled.”
In 1992 Milton Keynes Borough Council declared the majority of the park as a conservation area. The Bletchley Park Trust was formed and the site was opened to visitors in 1993. In June 2014 a substantial renovation project was completed.
Present days guests pass through a guarded barrier with first port of call a war time train station- the method of arrival for many of the staff at Bletchley. As visitors wander the grounds, it is all too easy to drift back in time as the sounds of ancient conversations can be heard, a spitfire drones in the sky above, tennis balls whizz across the tennis courts and voices call from the boating pond.
In the huts, some of which are set up as they were during the war years, wooden desks with sephia figures tell their stories, in another, colossus clanks through her work.
Current exhibitions include Bond at Bletchley which reveals new research into author Ian Fleming’s connection to Bletchley Park and suggest how his work with Navel Intelligence helped inspire the creation of the James Bond books!
The National Museum of Computing is also housed on the Bletchley site. All in all there is a lot to see, however if you begin to suffer information overload-there is always afternoon tea !
author The Cypher Bureau (How the Poles solved Enigma)
In the spring of 1942 following the Nazi invasion of the USSR, Stalin released thousands of Polish civilians, initially deported to gulags or work camps in the Soviet Union following the Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939. The released prisoners formed into the Anders Army, which was a Polish unit, and refugees journeying from USSR to Tehran. During a rest stop, one of the refugees, eighteen year old Irena Bokiewicz persuaded one of the Polish solidier’s to trade a tin of meat for an orphaned bear cub. The adopted cub spent the next three months in a Polish refugee camp near Tehran and was then given to a Polish unit, the Second Transport Company which later became the Twenty Second Artillery Supply Company. The unit christened the bear Wojtek, a popular Polish name meaning “joyful warrior.” He soon became of the lads and enjoyed the occasional beer, wrestling with the soldiers and swimming. Wojtek learned to salute, weighing around 35 stone and standing at over six feet tall, this was an impressive sight. The bear soon enjoyed celebrity status and became the unofficial mascot of the unit. He accompanied the unit when it left Iraq to go to Syria, and then on to Palestine and Egypt.
When the unit sailed with the rest of the Polish II Corps from Egypt to fight alongside the British 8th Army in the Italian Campaign, Wojtek was officially drafted into the Polish Army as a private and was listed among the soldiers of the twenty second Artillery Supply Company in order to ensure his place on a British transport ship.
As an enlisted soldier of the company, with his own paybook, rank and serial number, he lived with the other men in tents or in a special wooden crate, which was transported by truck. During the Battle of Monte Cassino, Italy (also known as the battle for Rome in which the Allies sustained heavy casualties) Wojtek helped by carrying 100-pound crates of 25-pound artillery shells, all without dropping a single one. In recognition of the bear’s dedication and bravery, the Polish army approved a depiction of a bear carrying an artillery shell as the official emblem of the Twenty-second Company.
Following the end of The Second World War in 1945, Wojtek was transported to Berwickshire in Scotland with the rest of the Twenty-second Company. They were stationed at Winfield Airfield near the village of Hutton in the Scottish borders..
Following demobilisation on Fifteenth November 1947, Wojtek was given to Edinburgh Zoo,
where he died in December 1963, at the age of twenty one. He received many visits from his former comrades in arms and was a frequent guest on the children’s television program Blue Peter.
Having experienced Soviet repression first-hand, many of the Polish soldiers who had fought for their freedom during the Second World War refused to return to Poland which fell under Soviet control and chose instead to remain in Scotland in exile.
Unveiled on Seventeenth November 2015, a bronze statue commissioned by the Wojtek Memorial Trust was erected in Edinburgh’s West Princes Street Gardens, it presents Wojtek and a fellow Polish Army soldier walking together. The statue commemorates not only the much-beloved bear, but also the Polish soldiers who shared the same harrowing journey and ultimately sought refuge in Scotland.
Author The Cypher Bureau-how the Poles solved Enigma