Plans for Yoytek the soldier bear statues at Paxton and Hutton

BOOKS, TV, films and now a proposed memorial - the legacy of Voytek the Bear really has turned into one of the stories of 2008. Plans have now been made to build a statue at Paxton House and by the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh for Voytek the soldier bear to be permanently remembered.

And currently a two foot replica statue of the 125kg bear, discovered in Iran by Polish soldiers in 1943 - designed by sculptor Alan Heriot - is touring Scotland.

Aileen Orr, who has campaigned for a permanent memorial since the story broke to worldwide interest in January, is behind the plans for memorials.

She said: "The replica is currently at Biggar Museum (Lanarkshire) where Polish soldiers were billeted. The importance of the bear to Poland is amazing - the Polish Counsel to Scotland officially opened the sculpture. One former Polish soldier saw it for the first time and began crying.

"We plan to take it around Scotland to other places where Poles were based, such as Moffat and Dumfries, before coming to Duns and Berwick.

"We are also planning to ask to have a life size statue in Holyrood Park which would be bronze and on a stone plinth.

"Paxton House would be the dream place (to keep a memorial). The bear and the men were based very close to Paxton House and it has many visitors who could enjoy it in its beautiful grounds - so that would be the logical place."

Mrs Orr is in the process of gaining charitable status for raising funds for the memorials, with Alan Heriot's designs impressing her.

"I was overwhelmed by the sculpture when I first saw it," said Mrs Orr, who lives at Sunwick Farm, Hutton, the former site of Winfield Camp where Voytek stayed before moving to Edinburgh Zoo at the end of World War II.

"I had all these ideas in my head and couldn't get them onto paper but Alan had it perfectly. He asked if I wanted anything changed and I said: 'No way! keep it as it is'."

There is no date as yet set aside for when Voytek's sculpture will visit Duns, but the venue could well be Romaines Pharmacy for poignant reasons.

Aileen said: "The late Sheila Romaines was behind the twinning of Duns with Zagan (Poland).

"She and Lady McEwen were real experts on the Polish soldiers who stayed in the area and they wrote a book about them.

"I talked to Sheila a couple of years ago but didn't realise she would be gone now - it is a real loss as she knew so much."

The last remaining Polish soldier from those billeted near Hutton is Augustyn Karolewsky. The 84-year-old, better known as 'Kay', is looking forward to seeing his former mate remembered in statue form.

"Kay has told me to hurry up with getting a statue in Hutton so he can see it," added Aileen.

"But the interest worldwide has been incredible and the hardest part is not going to be the fundraising but where to put the memorials.

"I am going to speak to a man from the Netherlands in November who wants to make a film on the life of the bear and the soldiers.

"I wouldn't want it to be a Disney film but a war story and could look at the Battle of Monte Casino before focusing on the bear afterwards.

"The story of the soldiers is just as interesting as the bear. Two brothers linked up this year - they were seperated after the war and both fought with the Voytek.

"They remembered getting off a ship at Glasgow but didn't know where they were - they only knew they were in the UK.

"One lives in Australia now and the other Canada but thanks to the bear and some research they were reunited."

Plans from Aileen and her family to lay a Remembrance Sunday wreath for Voytek at the Polish Memorial in Duns will add further weight to Poland and Berwickshire's most famous bear being given a permanent memorial.

MINIATURE: Hutton's Aileen Orr, right, with Biggar Museum's Suzanne Rigg at the launch of Voytek the Bear bronze statues.