Aileen campaigns for kids to grin and bear it

A Berwickshire author is now seeking to ensure no child need be without a teddy bear.

Sunday, 22nd January 2017, 7:31 am
Aileen Orr of Sunwick Farm near Hutton in Berwickshire with teddy bear named Wojek. Aileen is collecting donated teddies and distributing them to children.

Aileen Orr, 63, hopes providing youngsters with teddy bears will not only provide them with comfort but also spark an interest in history.

Donated bears will be delivered in response to requests by children’s health and social care workers across the country at schools, hospitals and children’s homes.

Aileen is best known for her 2010 book Wojtek the Bear: Polish War Hero, which has sold more than 40,000 copies across the UK and Poland.

Currently set for the big screen, it tells the story of a Syrian brown bear born in Persia but adopted as a cub by the Polish army in 1943.

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He found fame after he reportedly carried ammunition under enemy fire during the 1944 battle of Monte Cassino in Italy.

As director of Wojtek Memorial Trust, Aileen, of Sunwick Farm, near Hutton, previously helped organise the installation of a memorial at Edinburgh Zoo in 2015.

She said: “I had the idea for the teddy drive when I saw people laying teddies at the Wojtek memorial.

“These teddies obviously meant a lot to the people, and I thought rather than placing them on the memorial, why not dedicate the teddies to Wojtek.

“As I only launched this in August, it took some time to gather bears and arrange transportation, but they first travelled out to Poland in November, and another 30 boxes to various locations before Christmas.

“I’ve sent around 5,500 out to Poznan, Kraków, London and many points in between, with the ones photographed destined for Uzbekistan and Scotland.”

Aileen has gathered support for the project together with Scottish entrepreneur Lesley Duncan and musician Katy Carr, known for her Polish history songs.

“Many organisations have been in touch such as the SWI, Probus clubs, Rotary, Inner Wheel, farm women’s clubs and discussion societies, and also individuals like Katrina Hay at Olivers Transport in Eccles, who gathered seven bags.”

A history enthusiast and regular public speaker, Aileen had been invited to speak at a Women’s Rural Institute in Dumfries where she suggested payment be made in the form of teddies rather than cash.

“Many of the teddies handed in have been pre-loved, but many are bought brand new for children or still have tags on them. They are cleaned and then handed on to children who really appreciate them.”

The author has not applied for charitable status, bearing the cost of transporting the toys herself.

She also hopes that the venture will help children who have been displaced from families in war-torn eastern Europe with Wojtek’s connections to Syria and Poland.

Wojtek, who was taught by his Polish comrades to wrestle, salute, smoke and drink, became famous after his ammunition-carrying exploits in 1944.

That same year, after troops warmed to his larger-than-life personality, the bear was made an honorary soldier. He later went to live in Edinburgh Zoo after spending time in the Borders after the end of the Second World War.

Aileen, who visited the bear at Edinburgh Zoo as a child, was surprised to later learn that Sunwick Farm was home to Winfield Airfield where Wojtek and his team were flown to after the war ended.

Her inspiration came from stories told to her by her grandfather, Jim Little.

To donate, contact or drop bears off at Sunwick Farm.