The nose of the Edinburgh statue of Wojtek, the famous wartime ‘soldier bear’ who lived in the Borders is a lot shinier these days.
The £300,000 bronze effigy of Wojtek, who lived part of his life in the Berwickshire countryisde at the end of the war, was officially unveiled in the capital’s Prince’s Street Gardens by Polish veterans back in November.
And since it’s unveiling, thousands of hands rubbing the statue’s nose for good luck have caused it to become much more shiny.
The story of how a brown bear cub, rescued by Polish troops in the Middle East during the war, grew up to face the hardships of battle alongside his comrades, has been made famous around the world by Berwickshire author Aileen Orr.
It was Aileen who helped found the trust which raised the near £300,000 for the memorial statue featuring Wojtek and a Polish soldier and which also pays tribute to the Polish soldiers who fought for freedom against the Nazis.
The statue was created by sculptor Alan Herriot and depicts Wojtek and a Polish soldier ‘walking in peace and unity’ to represent the bear’s journey from his Middle East home to Scotland.
The design is based on memories of those who lived around Sunwick camp in Berwickshire where Wojtek lived with his Polish comrades after the war, especially Augustyn Karolewski, who died in 2012.
The huge bear is said to have drank beer with the soldiers and helped carry ammunition during the fighting. Aileen told us: “When Alan Herriot and I used to do talks on Wojtek, we always took a maquette around with us. We noticed people always rubbed his nose when they looked at it.
“It was only when I took a maquette out to Poland did I notice the Poles were doing it too, children especially. I spoke to Kay Karolewski who lived with the bear in Winfield Camp - he said people did that to him when he was alive!
“But it is quite noticeable about how shiny his nose is getting.”
At the statue’s official unveiling in November, Polish ambassador Witold Sobkow read a message from Polish president Andrzej Duda, who said the statue was a reminder of Poland and the Polish soldiers who fought in all theatres of the Second World War.
The sculpture of Wojtek and his human companion, soldier Peter Prendys, stands on Polish granite so that the feet of the Polish soldier that trod the deep snows of Russia, the desert sands of Persia and the slopes of Monte Cassino, will at last stand on a piece of Poland. The site is also being planted with hawthorn and beech hedging, like that found in the Berwickshire lanes where Wojtek was once such a familiar sight.