Local author’s tale of soldier bear looks set for big screen

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HOLLYWOOD movie producers are looking at turning a book by a Borders author on how a bear came to fight as a Polish soldier in some of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War, into a big-screen blockbuster, writes Mark Entwistle.

Belfast writer-director Brendan Foley has bought the film rights to Berwickshire author Aileen Orr’s book, Wojtek The Bear: Polish War Hero, which recounts the true story of how an orphaned Syrian brown bear cub became a mascot for 
Polish soldiers fighting in North Africa and Italy.

Mr Foley’s production company partners include Hollywood veteran Ned Dowd, who worked on Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto and Last of the Mohicans.

Wojtek became famous for his exploits during the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy, where he voluntarily carried heavy boxes of mortar shells in his massive paws, never dropping a single one.

When war ended, the 22nd Transport Company of the Polish Second Army Corps – including Wojtek – was stationed at Winfield Camp, which was sited on Berwickshire farmland belonging to the family of Mrs Orr’s husband.

Mr Foley commented: “It is an amazing story – a bit like War Horse but with humour and pathos alongside the action – and the bear is a real character.

“Making a major film is always a long process, but we very much hope that some of the work and the locations will be in Scotland.”

Mrs Orr is also a trustee of The Wojtek Memorial Trust, which has been raising £250,000 to fund a larger-than-life statue of Wojtek and a Polish soldier.

A planning application has now been lodged seeking consent 
for the statue to be erected opposite St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh.