A school's teddy bear mascot has returned safely from war-torn Iraq, Karen Thornton reports
SHELTERING from air raids in Umm Qasr and meeting famous war correspondents is not the usual lot of school teddy bears.
But Diddy has earned his stripes and his trip to Iraq has helped put another country on the map for the 205 pupils of Dodmire infants in Darlington, County Durham.
He returned from the former war zone last week with Dougie Icke, a staff sergeant with 2 Signal Regiment, and father of Dodmire pupil Lucy, aged seven. Diddy hitched a ride in his army rucksack, packed alongside a chemical warfare suit.
"I was picking my daughter up from school and was looking at the board where they have pictures of all the different places the bears have been. I thought 'I'm going away, I can get a few photographs'," he said.
"I wanted my kids (Lucy's older brother Joseph is now in the juniors) to see me being involved with the school. But that leads to the bigger picture (for all the children) of what's going on in the world."
Diddy is the less well-travelled of two school bears who visit overseas and report back to pupils. Parents, teachers, and local people take them on trips and bring back photographs of the duo in exotic locations and with local children.
He and his larger friend, Doddy, have between them covered most of the globe, from Philadelphia to Venice, China to India, Singapore to Costa Rica, and Japan to South Africa. Doddy was in Johannesburg when Staff Sergeant Icke offered to take him to Iraq, so Diddy went instead.
Headteacher Maureen Dixon said: "We got a letter from Diddy on April 21, saying he was in the desert in the north of Kuwait and going into Umm Qasr with the British troops. He met lots of schoolchildren, mainly boys. He slept with the troops, went on manoeuvres, helped dig a dug-out, and when the sirens went off there was a special place for Diddy. I think the troops took him to heart."
The bear was also photographed with BBC correspondent Kate Adie, when she covered the arrival of HMS Galahad, loaded with humanitarian aid supplies.
Diddy has a long way to go to match the air miles clocked up by Doddy, however, who has been travelling the world with his own passport for four years.
Doddy's hairiest - or furriest - moment was when border guards in the Himalayas threatened to disembowel him, fearing he was carrying drugs or weapons. And he also travelled on an Indian version of the school bus - an elephant.
When he returned from the millennium celebrations in Australia, he brought back the similar but much smaller Diddy to act as a stand-in. Mrs Dixon is now hoping one of the bears can take a trip to Russia.
Diddy's next destination is less glamorous, though ... Blackpool.