The book is
Wojtek (pronounced Voy-check) by Aileen Orr
How this book came to my attention is a strange story in itself which I will recount in greater detail later.
To elucidate it was as a result of an invitation from Rita Cosby, who wrote “Quiet Heroes” to a meeting with her in Edinburgh.
This was an unforgettable experience. It was whilst with Rita Imet Aileen and she mentioned her book about Wojtek.
This piqued my interest. Shortly afterwards I purchased a copy of the book. However, it took me a long time, not only to start reading it, but to actually finish it. I knew I would find it an emotional read because of my father and what I learnt about some of his life and so it proved to be. It was also a cathartic experience on so many different levels. I would urge all of you to read it.
At the basic level it is the intriguing story of an animal, much like my book “My Friend Ruby”. However, it is more than that as the circumstances were so much more dire and the animal brought solace to so many people. As Aileen concludes in her account of the bear, Wojtek was so
“much more – a symbol of hope, friendship, trust and freedom.”
But as you read the story of the bear it also highlights the plight of all refugees fleeing from wars. Even when they find themselves “safe” the uncertainty they face is unimaginable. It made me realize how lucky I am.
I knew a little of the situation regarding the Poles who stayed in the UK after the war because my father was one of them. I did not know the huge number involved until I read Aileen’s book. Also as a young child I had direct experience of how much the Poles were disliked though I have to say it did not upset me at the time, I just thought those people were stupid.
What I do find so sad is we seem to have learnt so little over the past 50 or 60 years. The arguments against the immigrants today are exactly the same as they were against the Poles all those years ago with rampant xenophobia commonplace then as now. Perhaps reading this book will aid understanding and encourage tolerance. It will certainly enlighten the reader as to the enormous contribution the Poles made in enabling the UK to defeat Hitler. It is something that should not be forgotten.