Current Events, Special Days and Historic Anniversaries Brought to Life by Teddy Bears, Pandas and Other Cuddly Creatures
Monthly Archives: November 2013


by Elspeth

Today is Saint Andrew’s Day when Scots, at home and overseas, are supposed to celebrate their patron saint’s special day.  Although it normally passes by virtually unnoticed in Ayr, four years ago, the town’s streets were awash with blue and white as the day also marked the end of Homecoming Scotland 2009.  As well as bedecking the High Street with strings of flags, South Ayrshire Council distributed Saltires, balloons and bunting to local shops and businesses and it was good to see so many making the effort to decorate their windows for this special weekend.  Another nice touch was that the St. Andrew’s flag was beamed on to the Town Hall and the Wallace Tower. Saint Andrew, one of the twelve disciples, was a fisherman in Galilee.  After Jesus was crucified, Andrew preached the word of God, travelling huge distances in the process.  For a while, he stayed in Patras in Greece, where he healed many sick people, including Maximillia, the wife of the Roman Governor.  As a result, she converted to Christianity which infuriated her husband so much that he sentenced Andrew to death.  The execution took place on 30th November, the method used, crucifixion on a cross in the shape of the letter ‘x’, thereafter known as the St. Andrew’s cross.  There are various legends about what happened to Andrew’s relics.  One is that a monk called St. Rule was told by an angel to take them to the ‘ends of the earth’.  For some reason, he’s supposed to have taken them to Scotland, coming ashore at a place we now know as St. Andrews.    This possible association with Saint Andrew is well known, but it’s probably a less well known fact that East Lothian is the birthplace of the Saltire, Scotland’s national flag.  Legend has it that in 832 AD, on the eve of a battle against much larger English forces, King Angus of Scotland prayed to Saint Andrew.  The following morning, a white-cross formation appeared in the clear blue sky near the village of Athelstaneford.  Angus, taking this as a sign that he had Saint Andrew’s support, vowed that, if he won the battle, the St. Andrew’s cross would be adopted as the flag of Scotland and, of course, he did. Incidentally, did you know that Andrew is also the patron saint of the Ukraine, Russia, Sicily, Romania, the Philippines, Amalfi, Luqa (Malta), fishermen and fishmongers, golfers, gout, performers, ropemakers, singers, spinsters and sore throats? Scotland’s national flower is the thistle, said to have been adopted in 1263 when we were at war with Denmark.  The Danes, attempting to mount a surprise attack on the Scots under the cover of darkness, were thwarted when a soldier stepped on a thistle, his howl of pain alerting the Scots to the imminent danger!  Thus, the Scots had good reason to be thankful to the prickly plant. Though I’m proud of my Scottish heritage (like most expatriates, I was more patriotic when I lived overseas), I always associate St. Andrew’s Day, not with Saltires, Scottish music and thistles, but with jewel-coloured anemones.  This is because when my aunt and uncle were married on 30th November 1940, my mother, who was my aunt’s bridesmaid, carried a large bouquet of anemones.  The year my mother died and every year thereafter, a close friend gave my aunt some anemones on her wedding anniversary and, when she died, I carried on the tradition until my aunt’s death in 1991. Four years ago, The Bears in the Windows’ St. Andrew’s Day windows were amongst their most eye-catching to date as all four were a sea of blue and white with a sprinkling of tartan.  Although, since then, Ayr’s festivities for Scotland’s national day have been much more low key, the Bears in the Windows have continued to pay a colourful tribute to Scotland’s patron saint. Last year, I don’t know whether Edinburgh Zoo’s pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian, celebrated their first Saint Andrew’s day in this country, but their cuddly lookalikes, dressed in Edinburgh Zoo’s very own tartan, did!  This year, with so many special anniversaries to mark, there was only room for one window which featured both bears and pandas.  The bears keep asking me if there’s a patron saint of teddy bears, but the only name I’ve been able to come up with is St. Edward!  Any ideas?  

Sadly, today’s celebrations have been marred by the tragic news that a police helicopter had crashed into The Clutha pub in Glasgow late yesterday evening killing the three people on board and another 6 on the ground.  Our thoughts are with the families of those who died or who were badly injured.


by Elspeth

Today is Thanksgiving Day, when America’s Christmas season officially begins.  It was first celebrated by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1621 when, after a long and treacherous voyage to the New World, followed by an extremely severe first winter, the settlers gave thanks for the following year’s bountiful harvest by feasting for three days!  It wasn’t, however, until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the last Thursday in November should be a national day of thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is now a time of family gatherings and traditional meals of turkey, cranberry sauce, Indian corn and pumpkin pie.  A staggering 45 million turkeys are eaten and, each year, the President takes time out from more serious duties to ‘pardon’ a live turkey!  Instead of being the centrepiece of a holiday dinner table, the lucky bird is sent to a sanctuary to live out the rest of its days.  Did you know that the day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday, traditionally the day when the shops go into the black for the first time in the year?  This marks the official start of the Christmas shopping season, with many shops opening as early as 4 in the morning.

An integral part of the Thanksgiving celebrations are the parades and, of course, the arrival of Santa Claus, a tradition dating back to 1920 when the Gimbel Brothers organised a parade of toys in Philadelphia.  The most famous parade of all is Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade which first took place in 1924 when the store’s employees, many of whom were first generation European immigrants, wanted to celebrate the start of the holiday season with some of the traditions of their homelands. 

Newspaper adverts promised the people of New York a surprise they would never forget and the 250,000 who turned out to watch this first Macy’s Christmas Parade were certainly not disappointed.  400 employees, dressed as clowns, cowboys, knights and sheiks, accompanied by floats, bands and 25 live animals from the Central Park Zoo, marched to Herald Square for the unveiling of Macy’s Christmas windows.  There has been a parade every year since, apart from during the Second World War, even in 1963, less than a week after President Kennedy’s assassination, when the whole nation was in mourning.  It was decided ‘that the show must go on’ so that ‘the millions of children’ wouldn’t be disappointed.

As you may know, I really enjoy quirky facts.  One of my favourites is the that Bernard Matthews, the man behind the infamous turkey twizzler, who will be forever remembered for his ‘it’s bootiful’ catchphrase, died on Thanksgiving Day three years ago.  As someone who made his fortune from killing turkeys, it seemed most appropriate to me that he should pass away on the day associated with roast turkey!  In fact, in some parts of the country, Thanksgiving is also referred to as Turkey Day.

In my Thanksgiving window each year there are Pilgrim Father bears, patriotic bears, pumpkins and, of course, several turkeys!  For several years, some of the larger bears have taken it in turn to be the pumpkin as I think you’d agree that it would be too humiliating for the same bear to play the part every year!  This year, I decided that the pumpkin bear should have a less prominent role and that the fortunate turkey chosen to be pardoned by the President should be the star of the window!  



by Elspeth

Armed with only his intelligence, charm and trusty sonic screwdriver, he has pitted himself against the deadliest creatures in the universe.  An alien, the last of the powerful Time Lords, he is an intrepid traveller, a wanderer through space and time, chooses travelling companions from people he befriends, briefly sharing his life with them and showing them the astonishing wonders of the universe.  He travels in his extraordinary ship – the Tardis – a time machine that is bigger inside than it is looks from the outside and describes himself as ‘a madman in a box.’ He is, of course, Doctor Who!

First broadcast at 5.15 fifty years ago today, when the world was still reeling at the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Doctor Who was created as an educational family show to fill the gap between the football results and BBC One’s Saturday evening entertainment programmes, the brainchild of Canadian TV producer and BBC head of Drama, Sydney Newman.

When the First Doctor, William Hartnell decided he wanted to leave the series, the idea of renewing the leading man was born.  After 26 years, the series was axed, a somewhat controversial decision at the time and one which many fans have never forgiven, returning in 1996 for a one-off TV movie featuring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor.  The programme made a welcome return in 2005 and has gone from strength to strength ever since.

In its 50th anniversary year, Doctor Who has been watched by an estimated 80 million viewers in 206 countries and, according to the Guiness World Records, it is the longest running and the most successful science fiction series ever.  Everyone has a favourite Doctor.  Mine is David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor, while my favourite character is, naturally, K9 and my favourite baddies are the Daleks.  Who are your favourites?

Earlier in the year, The Bears in the Windows paid tribute to the creator of the the Daleks, Ray Cusick, who, poignantly, died before the golden anniversary celebrations, and so they unanimously decided to mark 50 years of the Doctor.  Although the ursine Doctor still looks rather nervous about coming face to face with one of his arch-enemies, everyone knows that the Doctor always triumphs and that there isn’t the remotest chance that the mean-looking Dalek is going to ‘EX-TER-MIN-ATE’ him!

Today, there are two treats in store for Doctor Who fans – an amazing animation and a traditional show.  The animation, featuring every Doctor from William Hartnell to Matt Smith, will begin with the words: “There’s something you’d better understand about me ’cause it’s important, and one day your life may depend on it…

“I am definitely a mad man with a box!”

A haunting version of the Doctor Who theme tune will follow as all the show’s previous logos flash before our eyes, before the incredible animation of some of the most famous scenes from the sci-fi adventure’s long history begins.

On BBC One, where it all began exactly 50 years ago tonight, as part of a global simulcast covering more than 80 countries, from Australia to Zimbabwe, fans will also be able to enjoy The Day of the Doctor, featuring some of the programme’s best-known faces from the last fifty years.  In 2013, something terrible is awakening in London’s National Gallery, while, in 1562, a murderous plot is afoot in Elizabethan England and somewhere in space an ancient battle reaches its devastating conclusion. All of reality is at stake as the Doctor’s own dangerous past comes back to haunt him.

In this eagerly anticipated 50th anniversary special the Doctor will face his darkest day and his greatest threat – himself.



by Elspeth


‘Where were you?’ when you heard the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated fifty years ago today is the question that unites a generation.  

Kennedy’s death affected people like no other in modern history, dividing the world into before and after.  Time seemed to stand still that day in Dallas half a century ago as millions of people around the world tried to come to terms with the unthinkable news that the charismatic president was dead.  Amazingly, this feeling of world-changing loss has actually grown rather than diminished with the passing of time. 

Despite his many policy failures, his womanising and the foreign policy blunders committed by the CIA under his authority, the public’s enduring image of Kennedy has defied the exposés of historians.  JFK represented the hopes and potential of people’s lives and of an America that they believed, as Kennedy famously said, ‘could truly light the world.’

22nd November 1963 had started out so differently as, to the cheers from the crowds, the President and his wife, Jackie, travelled through the streets of Dallas in the now infamous black Lincoln Continental.  The specially adapted vehicle had had the steel and transparent panels removed and carried no weapons, its purpose not to protect the President but to make him more visible.  That philosophy changed after that fateful day when Kennedy was mortally wounded by a sniper, said to be Lee Oswald, located in the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository.

Jackie Kennedy was a style icon and the enduring picture of that dreadful day was of the usually immaculate woman dressed in a chic raspberry pink designer suit spattered with her husband’s blood, which she refused to take off until she returned to the White House with his body about five o’clock the next morning.  She was, of course, no longer America’s First Lady as Kennedy’s Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson, had already been sworn in as the 36th President of the United States, having taken the oath of office on board Air Force One with Jackie at his side, 99 minutes after President Kennedy was pronounced dead.


Three days later, his coffin, draped with the Stars and Stripes, was carried from the Capitol, where it had lain in state, and placed on a gun carriage drawn by six grey horses which took the President’s body through the streets of Washington to St. Mary’s Cathedral for a requiem mass, a symbolic black riderless horse following behind.  No politician, either before or since, has captured the public’s imagination to quite the same extent as Kennedy and his inspirational inaugural speech, ‘Ask not what my country can do for me – ask what I can do for my country.’ was read in full during the service.

Arguably the most poignant moment of that unbearably sad day was when Kennedy’s son John, whose third birthday was that very day, stepped forward to salute his father’s coffin as it set off for Arlington National Cemetery where the 35th President of the United States was buried to a 21-gun salute and three musket volleys.  At 20.34 GMT, the short but momentous era of America’s youngest elected president and his court of Camelot, with all its potential and promise for the future, came to an end.

This romantic comparison of the achievements of Kennedy’s administration with Camelot, the mythical court of King Arthur, was actually made by his widow, Jackie.  In an interview for Life magazine, given a week after her husband’s death, she used the lyrics of a song from the Broadway hit Camelot, her husband’s favourite musical, ‘Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.’ to describe his all too brief presidency.


On our first visit to Washington in 2000, my husband and I went to Arlington Cemetery where, instead of an ornate headstone or grand mausoleum, JFK’s burial place is marked by a simple stone, inscribed with a cross and the words ‘John Fitzgerald Kennedy 1917 – 1963’, and an eternal flame.  Buried beside him are the Kennedy’s two stillborn babies, his brother Bobby, assassinated in 1968, and Jackie, who died in 1994. 


This week everyone, who lived through the Kennedy era, has been remembering where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news that Kennedy was dead.  However, did you know that the first study of what has become known as flashbulb memory was actually prompted by the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln nearly 100 years earlier.

Creating a window to mark the assassination of JFK, as he will be forever known, was quite a challenge as I didn’t want anything too macabre.  And so, I decided to have Kennedy giving his inaugural address in front of the Capitol as the centrepiece.  On one side, is an exact replica of the Lincoln Continental and a representation of the Book Depository while, on the other, are three bears representing Jackie and her children, Caroline and John, as they were on the day of the funeral, in front of them the eternal flame that burns at Arlington Cemetery.  

The world loved Kennedy in life and mourned him in death, for his youthful vigour, charm, optimism, intelligence and goodwill.  His death truly marked the end of an era.









by Elspeth


150 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln gave the famous Gettysburg Address, now regarded as one of world’s greatest speeches though, at the time, it met with criticism and apathy. 

The occasion was the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, created as a proper burial place for the 8,000 men killed at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.  The Patriot and Union newspaper called Lincoln’s words ‘silly remarks’ that deserved ‘a veil of oblivion’ dropping over them.  However, last week, the Patriot News, as it’s now called, apologised for and withdrew its criticism of the President.  Better late than never, I suppose!

Before the President spoke, the crowd had suffered a two-hour oration from Edward Everett.  In contrast, Lincoln spoke for a mere two minutes.  It’s suggested that he may actually have cut his speech as he had felt weak that morning and may, in fact, have been suffering from a mild dose of smallpox.  

No one knows the exact words of Lincoln’s speech (several versions exist in his handwriting), but there seems little doubt that it ended with the stirring and inspirational words, ‘ …. government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’



by Elspeth

For 28 years, Pudsey has been the mascot for the BBC’s annual Children in Need appeal which raises money to help disadvantaged children and young people across the UK.  The cuddly yellow bear works hard all year round encouraging both ordinary members of the public and his celebrity pals to do something different for the tremendously popular appeal night show.

Children in Need actually began on the radio in 1927 when a five minute broadcast appeal on Christmas Day raised £1,143 18s 3d which was shared with four prominent children’s charities. The first televised appeal was the ‘Children’s Hour Christmas Appeal’ in 1955, presented by Sooty and Harry Corbett.  The show continued as an hour-long Christmas broadcast until 1979, the presenters including Terry Hall, Eamonn Andrews, Leslie Crowther, Michael Aspel and Terry Wogan, the rising star of the Radio 2 Breakfast Show, who made his debut appearance in 1978.  In 1980, the appeal was broadcast on BBC One in a new telethon format, hosted by Terry Wogan, Sue Lawley and Esther Rantzen. The idea captured the public’s imagination to such an extent that donations increased dramatically, breaking the million pounds mark for the very first time.

It was, however, another five years before Pudsey made his television debut when Terry introduced viewers to a brown bear, created by Joanna Ball, a BBC graphics designer, who named him after the West Yorkshire town of Pudsey where she was born and her grandfather was Lord Mayor.  Pudsey was a huge success and, the following year, returned as the Children in Need’s official fundraiser, having metamorphed into a yellow bear with a red spotted bandage over one eye.  (I’ve tried in vain to find out the reason for the bandage so, if you know, I’d love to hear from you!)

Since then, countless cuddly Pudsey Bears and other Pudsey associated merchandise, from Pudsey ears and t-shirts to Spotty cupcakes and dustpans and brushes, have been sold at outlets throughout the country, including Asda, Boots, B&Q, Build-A-Bear, Greggs and Lakeland.  Pudsey himself receives letters, drawings and e-mails from children all over the UK and has been photographed with more celebrities than he can remember.  Apart from a party hat worn in 2004 to celebrate the telethon’s silver jubilee, Pudsey remained very much the same until 2007 when he was given a makeover – one of the most obvious changes being that the spots on his distinctive bandage changed from all red to multi-coloured.

The annual telethon in November continues to be the highlight of the charity’s year long campaign, when the whole BBC joins together to support the appeal on TV, radio and online.  During the live show we find out about some of the fundraising activities taking place around the UK and are treated to some unexpected performances from familiar faces.  The 30th BBC Children in Need Appeal raised a record £39 million which was shared amongst 2,300 charities, helping 276,000 disadvantaged children across Britain.

Everyone needs a helping paw – even Pudsey – and so, in 2009, he asked his best friend Blush, who’s caring, helpful and kind, to help him out.  As the little brown bear is quite shy, she was happy to help out behind the scenes until three years ago when the BBC decided it was time for Blush to take on a more visible role.  To celebrate the occasion, I was delighted to see that cuddly lookalikes in a variety of sizes were available to buy.

Each year, my Children in Need windows provide a welcome burst of sunshine yellow to brighten the dreary November days.  In 2009, the slogan for the fundraising campaign was ‘Do something different’ and a panda artist did just that by trying to capture a good likeness of Pudsey!  As Children in Need 2010 coincided with the launch of the first part of the final Harry Potter film, The Deathly Hallows, Beary Potter and his friends joined in the fun by adding some colourful spots to their normally rather sombre clothes!  In 2011, Tintin and Snowy, in a scene from The Secret of the Unicorn, one of the year’s must-see movies, showed their spots in support of Pudsey, the lovable yellow bear and, for the last two years, The Bears in the Windows have taken to the dance-floor with a Strictly Come Dancing theme. 

This year, because Remembrance Day and Prince Charles’s birthday fell in the same week, I could only devote one window to Children in Need and, for once, being a little short of inspiration, I was delighted when three pandas wearing Pudsey ears volunteered to be Gary Barlow, Robbie Williams and Barry Manilow lookalikes (well, they think they are!) in their version of the Children in Need Rocks fundraising concert which took place this week in the Hammersmith Apollo. 

 Let’s hope that, once again, the people of the United Kingdom raise lots for this most worthwhile of causes. 







by Elspeth

Princes Charles is 65 today, which makes him the oldest monarch-in-waiting in British history.  His mother was a mere 25 when she succeeded to the throne but, as he reaches the age when most people retire, the Prince of Wales has yet to begin the job for which he has trained all his life, having become heir apparent in 1952 on the death of his grandfather, George VI.  Prince Charles once said, ‘I’ve had to fight every inch of my life to escape royal protocol.  I’ve had to fight to go to university.  I’ve had to fight to have any sort of role as Prince of Wales.’  It’s certainly true that there is no defined role for him, which means he’s had to create one for himself and, as a result, he has achieved a number of firsts. 

Prince Charles was the first heir to the throne to go to school when, after initially having been taught by a governess at home, he was enrolled at Hill House primary school in Knightsbridge at the age of eight.  He was also the first apparent to graduate from university as, although Edward VIII had been to Oxford and George VI to Cambridge, neither actually gained a degree. 

The Prince of Wales was the first to learn Welsh when, in a bid to counter the hostility of Welsh nationalists against the tradition of the monarch’s eldest son being created Prince of Wales, he spent the summer term of 1969 studying the language at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth, before his investiture at Caernarfon.  Prince Philip was playing squash when his son was born in 1948 but, thirty-three years later, Charles became the first royal father to be present at the birth of his son, William.

The Prince of Wales was the first member of the royal family to create a commercial brand when he established Duchy Originals in 1990 to raise money for deserving causes by selling organic produce grown at Highgrove and luxury biscuits.   He was also the first to have a civil wedding when he married Camilla Parker Bowles on 9th April 2005, the original date having been changed because it clashed with the funeral of Pope John Paul II. 

Here are some more fascinating facts about the Prince of Wales:

His full title is His Royal Highness Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrewshire, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland. When he visited the Maasai tribe in 2012, he added another title to this impressive collection – ‘Keeper of the Cows’!

Since 1954, the Prince of Wales has carried out official engagements in 105 countries, but never eats on a plane, no matter how long the journey.  Since 1970, has performed more than 20,000 engagements and always travels with a small red and gold cushion which helps to relieve the pain in his back. Prince Charles is Patron or President of more than 400 organisations, including the Badger Face Sheep Society!  As well as his own two sons plus a stepson and stepdaughter, Prince Charles has 32 godchildren. 

He can play the trumpet and the cello and can conduct an orchestra.  He has written 11 books, is a brilliant mimic, a skill inherited from his mother, and is a member of the Magic Circle.  Although, while an undergraduate at Cambridge, Charles was granted certain privileges, including a telephone in his rooms at Trinity College, he doesn’t own a mobile phone.

Prince Charles likes runny honey, Earl Grey tea and Welsh fruit cake and is exactly the same weight as he was 30 years ago.  He had his first alcoholic drink (a cherry brandy) in public at the age of 14, and now enjoys gin martinis.  At Christmas, he sends whisky to all the troops in his regiments.

When I decided that The Bears in the Windows should mark the Prince of Wales’s milestone 65th birthday, I was faced with the problem of which bear should represent him as none of them were suitably attired.   However, as five of his titles are Scottish, it seemed appropriate that my ‘Prince Charles’ bear should wear a kilt for his official birthday window.  As you can see, he’s holding a bottle of celbratory champagne and a mini Black Forest gateau bearing the number 65, representing the birthday cake slum students in Delhi presented to him earlier in the week.  The prince, in fact, was presented with no fewer than six cakes, including a large carrot cake decorated with the Prince of Wales feathers from the High Commission in Colombo and one from his staff representing a bus pass for the City of Westminster for which he now qualifies!  At his side is an ursine Camilla, also dressed in tartan, who’s thoroughly enjoying reading the Country Life magazine of which Prince Charles is this week’s guest editor.  Also in the window is a small garden, representing Charles’s love of horticulture.

The sometimes misunderstood prince is now regarded by many as a passionate philanthropist, devoting increasing amounts of time to public service, in addition to his existing charitable works, of which The Prince’s Trust, established in 1976 using his pension from the Royal navy, is undoubtedly the best known.

And now, as he reaches the age when people are expected to start to slow down, like both his parents, the Prince of Wales has no intention of doing so and, in fact, is likely to be busier than ever as he begins to stand in more and more for his mother, especially on the more gruelling overseas visits.  Charles is celebrating his landmark birthday in Sri Lanka where he is representing his mother at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference – the first time Her Majesty will have missed the occasion which is so dear to her heart as keeping the Commonwealth together through monumentally difficult times in the post-colonial era is one of her proudest achievements.

Some would argue that the best present the Queen could give her eldest son would be her abdication which would mean that Charles would inherit the throne when he is still hale and hearty and his accession wouldn’t be tinged with sadness at the loss of his mother.  However, even though she has already set so many precedents, from her historic state visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011 and her cameo appearance at last year’s Olympics, given the Queen’s dedication to duty, it’s extremely unlikely that she will ever step down.

The Bears in the Windows and I wish Prince Charles the best of health and happiness as he has still a great deal to offer, whether as heir apparent or as our monarch.  Today is a day when, rather than focusing on what he has yet to achieve, the Prince of Wales should take pride in the huge contribution he has already made to this country and the Commonwealth. 

 A very happy birthday, Your Royal Highness.






by Elspeth

Today is Remembrance Day when we remember all those who have given their lives for the freedom we enjoy today. The date was chosen because, in 1918, it was at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month that Germany signed an armistice agreement ending the First World War.

Two years ago, my husband and I were in Londonon 11th November and joined the crowds in Trafalgar Square for the Silence in the Square at 11 o’clock.  I’d taken along a little teddy dressed in a First World War uniform and was delighted when four young army cadets agreed to be photographed with him.  After leaving Trafalgar Square, we made our way along Whitehall to the Cenotaph to see the hundreds of poppy wreaths we had watched being laid on television on Remembrance Sunday.  The one that really intrigued us was from The Amalgamation of Racing Pigeons laid in memory of all the pigeons which were used to carry messages of vital importance during the war. 

We then headed for Westminster Abbey where a service was being held to remember all those who had served in the First World War.  Shortly after taking our position in front of the Field of Remembrance, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah passed within a few feet of us as they inspected the thousands of crosses placed in memory of all those who had fought and died in countless conflicts.    

Once the dignitaries had left, members of the public were allowed into the Field of Remembrance which was an extremely moving experience.  The most poignant moment of the day for me was when I placed a cross in the section assigned to the Indian Army in memory of my father, Major Alan P. Young, who served in India with the 6th Rajputana Rifles during the Second World War and, in 1946, was awarded the M.B.E. for his distinguished war service. 

Using teddy bears in my Remembrance Day window in no way trivialises the occasion as, during the First World War, they played a vital dual role – inspiring and keeping safe those involved in action on foreign fields and comforting loved ones left at home.  Particularly popular were little fully jointed teddies, made in golden mohair and patriotic red, white and blue, often given to soldiers as good luck mascots, their upturned faces allowing them to peek out of a uniform pocket.  Larger military bears, dressed in contemporary uniforms of the various allied forces, were also all the rage, some going to the Front inside rucksacks, but most providing comfort to families left behind.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, production of teddy bears almost ceased as raw materials were in short supply and factories concentrated on the war effort.  However, some manufacturers started to use cheaper materials, including Chiltern who produced a charismatic Home Guard Sergeant, made entirely from velveteen except for his head and paws which were mohair.  Once again, teddies accompanied servicemen into battle, like Sneezy, a miniature teddy given to Ted Able by his mother in 1941, who proved to be the perfect good luck charm as both returned home safely, staying together until Ted’s death in 1991, aged 81.   

Teddy bears also helped to reassure British children living in a climate of bereavement, chaos and fear.  When Operation Pied Piper, (the codename for the evacuation of city children to the safety of the countryside and overseas), began on 1st September 1939, crowds of children, labels tied to their coats and often clutching a cherished teddy, were soon a common sight at railway stations across Britain.  Even when the evacuation of teddies bears was frowned upon by the authorities, many children still managed to smuggle their best friends to safety inside their gas mask cases which were often decorated with mohair teddy heads and appliquéd bodies.  The ursine design ensured that this vital equipment was never forgotten as no child would ever leave a teddy in danger!

Two years ago was doubly special as not only did it mark The Royal British Legion’s 90th anniversary, but there was also a once-in-a-lifetime Remembrance Day when, at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month of 2011 –, the country fell silent as we remembered those who had laid down their lives that we might be free.   

The Royal British Legion was founded to help the servicemen of the First World War and their families who had fallen on hard times.  Many, having left the mud of the trenches behind, returned home only to discover that, despite their heroism, the ‘land fit for heroes’ that Prime Minister Lloyd George had promised them did not exist.  Over six million men fought in the Great War – 725,000 never returned and, of those who did come back, 1.75 million suffered some kind of disability with half of these permanently disabled.  Without the British Legion many families would have been destitute.

The tradition of an annual Two Minute Silence in memory of the fallen had already been established by the time the Legion was formed on 15th May 1921.  The first ever Poppy Appeal was launched that same year, the emblem inspired by John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders’ Fields, written in 1915 about the fragile flowers that blossomed on the bloody battlefields of Belgium and northern France.  Not knowing if the appeal would be successful, the British Legion ordered only nine million poppies.  However, the public’s response exceeded all expectations and, although the poppies were on sale for an official price of threepence, soon single petals were selling for an astonishing £5, while a basket of poppies auctioned at Christies raised nearly £500.

Queen Mary asked that poppy sellers come to Buckingham Palace but, on hearing that poppies were in short supply, she bought only two.  In fact, supplies had completely sold out by the end of the first day.  The first appeal raised £106,000 (roughly equivalent to £30 million today).  That first year, the poppies were made in France but, by the following year, a Poppy Factory had been established in the UK.  This had two benefits as, not only did it keep costs down (the second Poppy Appeal raised £204,000), but it also employed disabled ex-servicemen to make the poppies. 

In the 1960s, the familiar single poppy was introduced and, instead of paying a set amount, people could donate what they wanted.  The British Legion were granted ‘Royal’ status in 1971 and, ten years later, they extended their membership to serving members of Her Majesty’s Forces, as well as to ex-service personnel.  This year alone, disabled ex-service personnel made 12 million poppies at The Poppy Factory which also makes the wreathes and crosses which are laid at services all over the UK on Remembrance Day and the petals which are released from the ceiling of the Albert Hall during the two-minutes silence, each petal representing a life lost in conflict. 

Every year, The Bears in the Windows remember the enormous courage and sacrifice of those men and women who have died in two World Wars and in conflicts since, as well as their ursine ancestors who protected and brought comfort to countless people during the dark days of war.  Two years ago, the numbers 90 and 11 featured prominently in the windows and, for the first time, I recreated the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey. This year, as well as the Field of Remembrance, in a second window, there’s a little bear paying tribute to his fallen comrades and in a third are representatives of the armed forces, both of today and yesterday, with my Merrythought Poppy bear leading The Bears in the Windows tribute to those who laid down their lives that we might be free.

It’s important that we never forget and, by wearing a poppy, we are showing our thanks and respect for all those who have died for their country in some faraway battlefield.    





by Elspeth

Today is 5th November when communities and organisations all over the country burn effigies of Guy Fawkes accompanied by spectacular fireworks displays to remember the Gunpowder Plot – the failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. 

Bonfires date back to long before the days of the plot’s ringleader, Guy Fawkes, and traditionally were lit on the full moon nearest to 1st November to appease the god Samhain – the lord of death and evil spirits.  Over the years, they’ve been used for a variety of reasons.  For example, bonfires were used for executing witches right up to the 18th century as it was thought that burning them was the only way to cleanse their souls.  They were also used as beacons for signalling in times of danger – in fact, it was probably bonfires that helped to defeat the Spanish Armada.  It was from these archaic uses that the skill and art of building bonfires came about and it is, therefore, not surprising that bonfires became associated with celebrating the failure of the Gunpowder Plot as burning effigies of Guy Fawkes, (and sometimes the Pope) showed how evil the populace thought the ‘Popish Plot’ was against their King.

Nowhere in the country is Bonfire Night celebrated in more spectacular fashion than in Lewes in East Sussex which stages a dramatic night of parades, bands, bonfires and pyrotechnics.  In the years immediately following the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot on 5th November 1605, the people of Lewes marked the date with a service of thanksgiving.  However, it wasn’t long before more elaborate celebrations evolved with people known as the Bonfire Boys throwing fireballs and squibs and dragging blazing tar barrels through the streets, often with disastrous results.  Realising that, if the celebrations were to continue, they would have to be less riotous and so the Bonfire Boys organised themselves into two Bonfire Societies, which instigated regimented, torch-lit costumed processions to which were gradually introduced bands, banners, barrels, burning effigies, fireworks and tableaux.  Over the years, the stunning street fire festival has remained largely unchanged and is the highlight of the year for Lewesians. 

The festivities in Lewes are, however, not just about celebrating the failure of the Gunpowder Plot – there is also an underlying strand of remembrance.  In particular, are remembered the 17 Protestant Martyrs who met horrific, fiery, deaths during the Marian Persecutions of the 16th century, and the Bonfire Boys who didn’t return from the conflicts of two World Wars.  Thus, the fifth of November gives a voice to all those who believe that only by remembering religious upheaval, persecution and war will we stand a chance of ensuring that such atrocities never happen again.  

Two years ago, the Bonfire Night window was a very last minute decision for The Bears in the Windows but they had such a good time that 5th November has now been added to their extremely busy diary.  As you can see, one bear is asking passers-by for a ‘Penny for the Guy’, another is on hand to light the ‘bonfire’ built from twigs from a local park, while a third is an ursine Roman candle!  Understandably, the poor unfortunate bear who has drawn the short straw to play the Guy looks full of trepidation as he sits on top of the ‘bonfire’, but you’ll be relieved to know that no bears were harmed in the making of this window.  In fact, it’s more than likely that the figure of hate will soon be making another appearance in a completely different guise when the bears celebrate American Thanksgiving later in the month! 



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