Monte Cassino veteran and friend of Wojtek the bear dies aged 95
A veteran of Anders’ Army who fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino alongside the legendary soldier-bear Wojtek, has died in Edinburgh aged 95.
Ludwik Jaszczur, who was originally from the village of Blizne in Podkarpacie, died on Monday, Polish media in the UK reported.
The Polish Saturday School, which is part of the Polish Veterans Association in Edinburgh, shared the news on social media, writing: “It is with deep regret that we announce that World War II veteran Mr. Ludwik Jaszczur (11.07.1927- 06.02.2023) passed away this morning.”
Jaszczur was born in July 1927 and in 1939, when he was 12 years old, he lost his parents and brother, who were killed by the Germans.
When he was 14 years old, he was deported to Germany for forced labour but managed to escape to Italy, where he joined the 2nd Polish Corps under the command of General Anders.
As a soldier in the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, he fought in the Battle of Monte Cassino as well as other battles.
It was in the 22nd Artillery Supply Company that Wojtek the Bear was the mascot. Wojtek was a Syrian brown bear who accompanied Polish soldiers in Anders’ Army throughout the war.
The bear was not just a mascot but was enlisted and even saw active service in Italy, carrying ammunition for the artillerymen, earning himself a promotion to the rank of corporal in the process.
In an interview with the Scotsman newspaper, Jaszczur recounted: “The bear was very shy, you could hug him, and he hugged you. Sometimes he drank beer and smoked cigarettes. He was as friendly as a kitten.
“Let me tell you the truth. It was Wojtek who helped us win World War II.”
After the war, Jaszczur wanted to return to Poland, but for political reasons, he was not able to and eventually settled in Edinburgh.
Wojtek ended up in Edinburgh zoo, so the two were able to see each other regularly.
“I went to the zoo, threw him cigarettes, threw him chocolate, he liked it," Jaszczur recalled.
In Scotland, Jaszczur initially worked in hospitals making beds and feeding patients, and then went on to study at a nursing school.
Later, he worked for a company that manufactured surgical instruments and was also involved in repairing typewriters and office equipment.
Finally, for 50 years until September 2021, he repaired leather goods in a small shop on Lauriston Street in Edinburgh's Old Town, which he ran with his wife Zofia Urbańska, a widow of another Polish war veteran.
When the couple announced in September 2021 that they were retiring after 50 years and closing the store, Jaszczur’s life story was shared widely in Scottish media.