Diana remembered for love of children

5th September 1997 at 01:00
Ten-year-old Osama from the wartorn Sudan doesn't know the correct English term for the things that blow children's legs off, but he knows who led the campaign to ban them.

"She was trying to stop the mine bombs," was his answer when pupils at his London school were asked this week what they would remember most about Princess Diana.

Westminster's Gateway primary in the heart of the capital has closer links than most to the car crash which so publicly ended the lives of the Princess and her companion, Dodi Fayed. It is just a few hundred yards from the mosque to which Mr Fayed's body was brought, and which is attended by most of the school's predominantly Muslim pupils. Many were at his funeral service at the mosque on Sunday - while most of the nation was still digesting news of the deaths - and some say they and their families will be among the crowd at Diana's funeral.

Surprisingly, Osama was the only one of more than 200 children at a school assembly on Wednesday who referred to the Princess's battle for a worldwide ban on land mines. Many of them come from countries where mines are a constant threat to life and limb. Even when headteacher Philip Allen asked children who had lived in mined zones to put their hands up, most were reluctant to do so.

"Most have managed to put their experiences - often horrifyingly traumatic - behind them and do not want to be reminded of what they have been through. We respect their determination to get on with their lives as normal and well-adjusted children," says Mr Allen.

Nevertheless, the school, which is one of the biggest multicultural primaries in the country, does find it necessary to employ a psycho-therapist to help more seriously traumatised refugees, but, says Mr Allen, she does not intervene unless it is vital.

Schools up and down the country have had special assemblies to explore the pupils' feelings about the death which is preoccupying much of the nation. Mines apart, Gateway's pupils at Wednesday's assembly were agreed on what they would best remember the Princess for - not for her looks or glamour, but for her kindness to people, and most of all, to the world's children.

"Children tend to identify with other children regardless of race or religion, and they see the Princess as an adult who loved them all," says Mr Allen.

The young and the needy were a particular concern of the Princess, and it is likely that the procession, guests and mourners at her funeral tomorrow will reflect that. The Leprosy Mission has said that 17-year-old Carrie Lloyd will be its representative in Westminster Abbey, while 12-year-old Sally Bassingham, who co-ordinates her charity's links with her local church in Maidenhead, will join the procession.

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