A boy’s best friend for life

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator - Leslie Ged­des-brown

SQUADRON LEADER TED has just been sold at auc­tion for £5,000. He was much trav­elled, some­what the worse for wear and 109 years old. He was, of course, not an RAF man, but a Royal Fly­ing Corps (RFC) bear. He be­longed, if teddy bears can be­long to any­one, to Capt S. H. Moy—ted was given to him when he was a lit­tle boy and later kept as a mas­cot when Moy joined the 6th Squadron of the RFC (the pre­cur­sor of the RAF) in March 1918, aged 18.

Ted and Bert (as Capt Moy was known) flew early bi­planes over the Western Front, Bert at the con­trols and Ted strapped in with him. Ted’s Sec­ond World War was rather less event­ful as Bert served on the Home Front (how would Capt Main­war­ing have coped with a furry friend?).

Be­cause of all this mil­i­tary ac­tion, Ted was awarded three ser­vice medals and these, pinned bravely to his furry chest, were auc­tioned with him by Bert’s grand­son. ‘They trav­elled to­gether through his­tory and time,’ he said. I hope the squadron leader can look for­ward to an equally glo­ri­ous, heroic fu­ture.

When I was about three, I was given a stuffed duck by my fa­ther’s com­mand­ing of­fi­cer. He—the of­fi­cer—was called Col Ker. I named the large, floppy bird af­ter him, so Col Ker was also a duck. The CO must have been a nice man be­cause he made no protest at his ridicu­lous al­ter ego. I don’t know what hap­pened to Col Ker the duck.

There is def­i­nitely an affin­ity be­tween adults and their child­hood toys. Hew had two: a hand­knit­ted rab­bit, which must have taken skill by the knit­ter, and a choco­late-coloured Scotty dog made by Hew as a lit­tle boy in his hand­i­craft lessons. The dog was known as Themis­to­cles, called for a long-for­got­ten rea­son af­ter the Athe­nian gen­eral and politi­cian, a sort of Eisen­hower of his time, but Hew’s dog was pro­nounced Tem­my­s­tock­les and is known as such to this day.

The two toys caused a spat in Hew’s fam­ily as both were given to his younger brother, John, by his mother. Both broth­ers, in their six­ties, claimed own­er­ship, but, clearly, Hew had prior claim as he’d made one and been given the rab­bit by its knit­ter. We have them still.

I won­der why there’s such an af­fec­tion­ate link be­tween men and the play­things of their youth? In the case of Sqdn Leader Ted, the toy was clearly a so­lace to a fright­ened teenager who was sent to war in an ex­per­i­men­tal air­plane and fated to see the death and de­struc­tion of the Western Front all too plainly. The ethos of the RFC didn’t al­low for ter­ror to take over its pi­lots and I think that Ted acted as a mother and a friend for Bert. Ted wouldn’t let on if Bert shiv­ered with ter­ror or cried for his mother.

When boy and bear have shared so much emo­tion, the bond goes very deep. It’s easy to see why Ted has stayed in the fam­ily for more than 100 years.

A cou­ple of decades ago, I bought a pair of bears, clearly hand­made, from a junk shop. Both were sewn from vel­vet, one brown and one black. The black one has lost his arm—a wire joint through his chest is all that’s left.

Both have the same cheeky ex­pres­sions and rather un-bear­like pointed noses. Un­like fac­tory-made bears, they’re def­i­nite char­ac­ters and I do won­der where they came from and what child was their friend. Clearly, they were never parted from each other and they still sit to­gether in my bed­room.

Apart from the miss­ing arm, they’re in good con­di­tion with the vel­vet still not very worn. Sqdn Leader Ted is also still in good con­di­tion, as Bert’s grand­son ex­plained: ‘Ted used to get cov­ered in oil and soot on mis­sions. Bert’s flight sergeant used to dunk him in a bucket of avi­a­tion fuel on his re­turn and that’s prob­a­bly why he still has quite a lot of fur.’

They trav­elled to­gether through his­tory and time

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