Aileen wants every young Scot to grin and bear it

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 of Sunwick Farm near Hutton in Berwickshire with teddy bear named Wojek. Aileen is collecting donated teddies and distributing them to children.

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

Aileen Orr, 63, hopes providing young Scots otherwise lacking cuddly toys with teddy bears will not only provide them with comfort but also spark an interest in history.

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 of Sunwick Farm near Hutton in Berwickshire with teddy bear named Wojek. Aileen is collecting donated teddies and distributing them to children.

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.

The Berwickshire author 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.

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 unveiled 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 the 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 from all over Scotland 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.”

To donate, contact Aileen at Facebook.com/aileen.orr.73 or drop bears off at Sunwick Farm.

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 statues 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, found fame after he reportedly carried ammunition under a storm of enemy fire during the 1944 battle of Monte Cassino.

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, currently lives at Sunwick Farm, near Hutton in Berwickshire with her husband Andrew Orr. She was surprised to later learn that the farm was home to Winfield Airfield where Wojtek and his team were flown to after the war ended.

She wrote the book while working as an adviser to Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell. Inspiration came from stories told to her by her grandfather, Jim Little, who served in the Kings Own Scottish Borderers for most of his life. As his only grandchild, she grew up listening intently to them.