AN HISTORIC Polish regiment based in Grimsby at the end of the Second World War has been commemorated by the town – along with the bear that used to carry its ammunition.
Veterans, civic leaders and friends of the Carpathian Lancers gathered for a ceremony in Weelsby Wood yesterday, where a plaque was unveiled alongside a life-size wooden sculpture of Wojtek the bear. The tributes followed a year of fundraising by the Anglo-Polish Society of North East Lincolnshire.
Society chairman and former lancer George Palejowski said: “We are delighted that we have been able to finally commemorate these Polish men who played a very important role in the war. They made Weelsby Wood their home after finding they could no longer return to their homeland, so we are delighted to have a plaque in the regiment’s honour within a special garden in the park.
“We have had great support from the council’s parks department and have received many generous donations from within the UK and as far afield as Europe, Scandinavia and America.”
After being formed in French Syria in 1940, the regiment, consisting of Poles who escaped both the Nazi and Soviet invasions of their country, moved to Palestine and fought with distinction as part of the Polish Forces in North Africa and Italy alongside the Desert Rats of the British 8th Army.
Wojtek was picked up in Iran by Polish members of an artillery support regiment and quickly became the lancers’ mascot.
Christine Bojen, whose father Tadeusz Piotrowski won the Polish Cross of Valour while serving with the lancers, said: “Wojtek was widely known and even helped his comrades by unloading trucks and carrying heavy artillery shells.
“He was a typical soldier, enjoying a bottle of beer and a cigarette.”
The lancers moved to Grimsby in 1945 and stayed there until being disbanded in 1947.