Woijtek story captured on camera

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THERE was a great deal of excitement last Sunday morning around the Winfield\Sunwick area where a line of motorists stopped to watch a full sized bear roaming in the Fingerpost field near Fishwick.

But there was nothing for them to be alarmed about as it was just BBC director/actor Adam Irving dressed up as Woijtek for the purposes of a new film being made on the famous soldier bear who made a home for himself in Berwickshire after coming across with Polish soldiers during the Second World War.

Aileen Orr, who lives at Sunwick Farm, was told about the famous bear by her grandfather and recently released ‘Wojtek The Bear: Polish War Hero’ to great acclaim, making the Scottish best sellers list and garnering a glowing review in The Times.

It was this that really got the ball rolling with the film and after BBC Scotland injected more funding, filming cranked up a notch and the crew have travelled to Poland and London as well as the banks of the Tweed.

The production company Animal Monday had already spent a great deal of time in Scotland filming in Hutton with Augustyn Karolewski and Aileen whose book helped them decide where to map out their filming.

And Aileen wasn’t the only Orr who got in on the act.

The crew used three extras from Reston Young Farmers Club, including Aileen’s son, Alexander and her nephew, Duncan, who along with their friend Richard Darling from Duns, donned replica Polish army uniforms to play the part of the troops who took Woijtek under their wing.

Though there had been complaints about the makeup and hairspray, they overcame their initial doubts and director Will Hood was full of praise for them, commenting: “they performed like professionals, and it was especially useful they didn’t mind mud being farmers!”

The three lads weren’t the only locals captured on camera. History has it that Woijtek would often swim in the River Tweed close to Union Bridge and catch the attention of children playing on the riverbank.

So the crew, including 6’5 Adam in his bearsuit, descended on Union Bridge and Duns Primary School pupil Max Matheson and Charley Crooks from Denholm took the parts of a pair of 1940s children.

Both were inexperienced actors but producer Kat Mansoor said they were “amazing and a joy to work with.”

Returning the compliment, Aileen said it was fantastic that the production company had shown such an interest in not only the story of Woijtek but also in Berwickshire itself.

She commented: “It was quite strange seeing my book come to life and see the production’s interpretation of it, I was thrilled with what they did.

“My book is based on fact and features real places and the crew visted a number of these. As well as going to the Tweed at Union Bridge they went up to Winfield Aerodrome to do some filming and then onto the camp itself.

“A lot of locals came down to watch the action despite the fact that the weather was awful. Some of them weren’t entirely sure what was going on so it was a good way for them to learn more about the story of Woijtek.

“With Adam being 6’5 and his bear costume very lifelike he made quite an imposing figure and I think a few people had to look twice to convince themselves that it wasn’t a real bear!”

Aileen said that it had always been a wish for her and others connected with the Woijtek story to have it captured on film and she hoped that the BBCproduction, which will be shown across the world, would help raise the profile of the campaign to get a permanent memorial for the famous soldier bear and the area itself.

“The good thing about the film is that everyone featured has a strong connection to Woijtek.

“Some of the troops who were actually with Woijtek have since passed away but their memories have been recorded.

“The film will help widen the story while at the same time bringing it all together.

“It’s a big thing for Berwickshire as it will be shown in numerous countries.”