A Beer for a Bear
Archibald Brown had already seen a lot during the war — but nothing like this. It was mid-February 1944, and the courier for British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was in the port of Naples to help process a unit of Polish soldiers that had just arrived by ship from Alexandria, Egypt, to advance with British soldiers against German and Italian forces. Among his everyday duties was checking crew manifests and speaking with freshly arrived soldiers. But this would be no typical day.
Brown had already spoken with every single member of the new unit, the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps — except one.
“We looked at the roster, and there was only one person, Private Wojtek, who had not appeared,” Brown recalled in an interview years later. But the documents said that Wojtek belonged to the unit. Brown had his service number and his pay book, but the soldier himself seemed to have vanished without a trace.
Brown then called out the soldier’s name, but there was no response. So he asked the other soldiers why Wojtek wasn’t coming forward. An amused colonel responded: “Well, he only understands Polish and Persian.” Brown was then led to a cage holding a full-grown Syrian brown bear, the unit’s most popular member.