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News / City Life

Wojtek and friends: the stories behind Edinburgh's statues

Wojtek's statue in Princes Street Gardens

This weekend Edinburgh gained a new memorial: a statue of the bear Wojtek, who was honoured as a war hero after being rescued by a troop of Polish infantry during WWII, and later came to live a post-war life at Edinburgh Zoo. The new statue takes pride of place in Princes Street Gardens, and makes Wojtek the city's second major animal memorial - after the city's best-known canine Greyfriars Bobby.

Wojtek was adopted by a troop of Polish soldiers in 1942 after they took shelter in an Iranian town, en route to Tehran. Later in their manoeuvres the soldiers were requied to travel by ship with the British military, and the men were told that Wojtek couldn't travel with them as the ship was for military personnel only. 

In a stroke of tactical military genius, Wojtek was swiftly inducted into the Polish military at the level of Private - he would rise through the ranks as far as Corporal, serving not just as a mascot but as a bearer (ha!) of ammunition shells for his troops.

Following the war Wojtek arrived in Scotland with the Polish troops he had supported, and following his demobilisation in 1947 was gifted to Edinburgh Zoo, where he lived out the remainder of his life, until his death in 1963. The memorial to his service erected in Edinburgh joins existing monuments to Wojtek in London, Ottawa, Kraków and Grimsby.

Plenty of other historical figures are celebrated with statues of their likeness in the city, so here are four other famous faces you might encounter around Edinburgh.

The Grand Old Duke of York 

Prince Frederick, the 'Grand Old' Duke of York

Yes, he who had 10,000 men (militarily speaking), and marched them up and down hills willy-nilly, if you believe the children's nursery rhyme. In fact, Prince Frederick, duke of York and Albany, was one of the sons of George III and became a renowned military commander whose career was more successful than the nursery rhyme might suggest. He was one of the princes for whom Princes Street was named, and the statue of him on the esplanade in front of Edinburgh Castle was produced in 1837, just ten years after the duke's death.

King George IV

King George IV, on the street named for his father

Not one of Britain's most popular kings, George IV was the oldest son of George III and brother to the Grand Old Duke of York. In 1822 he visited Edinburgh, being the first royal visit to the Scottish capital for nearly 200 years.

The statue of him on George Street in the New Town is at best a flattering likeness - in reality he was rather shorter and fatter than the statue suggests. The king wore a kilt for his visit, but alas wore it too high above his knee - coupled with his size and weight, and the fact that he wore pink silk stockings beneath it, it's all the more remarkable that this event is credited with helping to re-popularise the wearing of Highland dress. 

His rather extreme behaviour on his visit to Edinburgh also saw him memorialised in another popular children's rhyme - you may know him as George Porgie, pudding and pie, who kissed the girls and made them cry.

Mahatma Ghandi  

Gandhi in the Saughton Winter Gardens

 

 

Nestled in the Winter Gardens greenhouse in Saughton Park, you'll find a surprisingly large bronze bust of the head of Indian leader Mahatma Ghandi. It may seem a little out of place beside the fish pond in this suburban park area, but nevertheless it commemorates the life and work of one of the 20th century's greatest figures. 

Unveiled in 1997 in the presence of the then Indian Prime Minister, the memorial invites quiet reflection and contemplation, whether you have specifically gone looking for it or have stumbled across it accidentally.

David Livingstone

Amelia Hill's statue of Livingstone

Standing in the shadow (literally and metaphorically) of the Scott Monument is a statue to the Victorian-age explorer Livingstone, the Scots missionary who led expeditions into the heart of Africa in the 1850s. He was the first European to see the waterfalls which he named Victoria Falls after the monarch whose interests he represented; he remains a significant historical figure for his pioneering spirit and achievements.

Edinburgh's statue of him is notable for being carved and cast by a woman, Amelia Robertson Hill, who also contributed three carved figures for the monument to Walter Scott. Unlike Scott's marble effigy, which is significantly greater than life size (not to mention the memorial around it, which at just over 200ft high is the world's tallest monument to a writer), Livingstone is more modestly represented at actual size.

Wojtek's memorial, courtesy of the Wojtek Memorial Trust, was unveiled in a public ceremony in Princes Street Gardens on Saturday November 7. 

See more things to do in Edinburgh from Time Out.

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