Bears, Fascists and the War

Giraffes outside the Omni Centre. Few people seem to know much about the poet quoted at the bottom
Giraffes outside the Omni Centre. Few people seem to know much about Roy Campbell, the South African/Scottish poet quoted at the bottom

Did you know we have more statues of animals than women in Edinburgh?

Queen Victoria aside, it’s difficult to find statues of specific women. Even the one sandwiched between the Usher Hall and the Sheraton seems to be of a generic Soweto woman. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong.) What about the proposed statue of the bear in Princes Street Gardens? Does central Edinburgh need another war memorial?

Wojtek the Bear, a one time resident of Edinburgh Zoo, seems to have a lot of fans. Mainly for being a bear, and being the mascot of the Free Polish Forces during WWII. Whether military mascots are actually tasteful, is not a question that seems to have been raised much. Especially if they’re large carnivores.

Wojtek was gained by the Free Poles after being traded for a few cans of meat. Bizarrely, he’s been claimed as a war hero, and even a “Nazi-fighting bear”. Did he do paw to hand combat with the Wehrmacht? I don’t know. I do know that he was given beer and cigarettes, and was raised in squalid conditions in the Middle East. Sentimentality has overrun animal rights here, along with the constant British obsession with WWII.

Raymond Ross wrote a play about Wojtek. I’ve never seen it. Ross is part Polish, and this plus the fact said bear lived in Scotland for a while, has been seen as a way to cement Scottish-Polish links.

Down the road, and with no links (that I know of) to this part of Edinburgh, there is a statue of two giraffes outside the Omni Centre. These commemorate the poet Roy Campbell. Campbell was a South African, with some Scottish roots. Until the outbreak of war, Campbell was openly pro-Fascist. While not a Nazi, he was a big fan of Franco and Mussolini. After the war, he contributed articles to Oswald Mosley publications, and moved to Portugal so that he could live under the dictator Salazar.

So in Princes Street, we’re going to have a “Nazi-fighting bear”. and by the Omni Centre, we have a couple of giraffes commemorating a far right poet, which no one seems to have noticed. On George Street, there is a statue telling us the supposed king of Scots “visited here”. Bizarre… when are we getting statues of say, Muriel Spark or even Helen Cruickshank?

External Links

The Wojtek Memorial Trust

Prince Street Gardens statue of Polish army bear

Theatre Objektiv’s page about said bear

Roy Campbell on metapedia (far right clone of Wikipedia)

Roy Campbell on real Wikipedia

Picture Credits

Giraffes sculpture, outside the Omni Centre (David Martin) / CC BY-SA 2.0

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