A boy’s best friend for life
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