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Archibald Brown, the British official at the port of Naples, looked at the roster in his hand and called out the name—“Corporal Wojtek”, but nobody came forward.

It was mid-February 1944, and Brown was at Naples to help process a unit of Polish soldiers that had just arrived by ship from Alexandria, Egypt, to join forces with the Allies in their fight against the Germans and the Italians. One of his duties was to check crew manifests and speak with freshly arrived soldiers.

Brown consulted the document in his hand once again. Sure, there was a soldier named Wojtek. He could see the soldier’s service number and his pay book, but the man himself was nowhere to be found, until an amused colonel came forward and led Brown to a cage. Inside was a full-grown Syrian brown bear. This, the colonel explained, was Corporal Wojtek.

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A monument to Wojtek in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh. Photo credit: Greg Bandur/Flickr

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