A teddy bear that ‘joined’ the British Army and travelled in an M10 tank destroyer as the Allies liberated occupied Europe during the Second World War has been unearthed.
The toy with an ‘amazing story’ has been languishing in a loft for around 40 years. But now the large toy which was at the Battle of the Bulge, took part in the Allies’ victory parade in Berlin in 1945 and doubled up as a soldier’s pillow is set to be auctioned.
Its owner Tom Matthews, 76, a retired aircraft technician from Stafford who is married to Mo, 75, said: “We have no children, no one to leave the bear to. I’d hate him to end up in a skip during house clearance because someone thinks he’s just a scruffy old bear. He’s seen and done a lot of things – more than most people. I want someone to buy him who will look after him and share his story.”
Thanks to its provenance, auction experts think the early 20th century bear in the style of Steiff could smash its £400-£600 guide price when it goes under the hammer at Hanson London on Monday, December 9.
Tom jnr aged three in 1946 with mum Marjorie just before he was given the bear. Tom and the bear today. Credit: Birmingham Live
Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, said: “I’ve never heard such an amazing story connected to a humble teddy bear. He’s crossed Europe in a tank with the Allies and come under enemy fire but, though he’s a little battle-weary, he’s survived. I’m honoured to be selling him.”
The bear was given to Tom’s father, Thomas Matthews snr, by a Dutch woman whose home town of Raamsdonksveer was liberated by the Allies in 1944. Thomas snr arrived there with the Royal Artillery’s 62nd anti-tank regiment – and risked his life to source coal to heat homes and hot water.
Tom jnr, a wartime baby born in 1943, said: “My father was given the bear by a teacher he was billeted with. He was humbled by the gift as she had so little. She wanted him to take the bear home for me as she was so appreciative of what he’d done.
“One of my first memories of dad is seeing him – and the bear - after he was demobbed in 1946. I would only have been about three, but I remember him walking through the door at 2.15am and saying ‘what the bl**y hell is he doing up at this time?’. We were all there to welcome him home. He had a large German ammunition box and inside was the bear and a yellow corduroy elephant.
The WW2 bear and a pair of clogs were both given to Thomas snr by grateful Dutch people.
“He told me he’d used the bear as a pillow when he slept in his tank at Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during the Second World War. The bear also crossed the Rhine, came under shell fire and took part in the Allies’ victory parade in Berlin, sitting on dad’s lap.
“It was bigger than me back then. I was a bit frightened of it at first. It sat on a chair by the side of the bed. It ended up in the loft for decades until this year. Our local paper requested stories to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Dad took part in the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944 at Juno Beach. The bear was part of his war story.”
Thomas snr, who died in 1990 at the age of 74, told his son that Raamsdonksveer had been stripped bare by the Germans when the British army arrived.
Thomas snr, back second from left, in Germany in 1945.
Tom jnr said: “The teacher he was staying with and her two children – her husband had been taken away by the Germans - had a stove but no coal to light it. One of dad’s colleagues knew there was some coal on an old barge grounded on the river. They decided to get it.
“They drove there in a Bren carrier and started shovelling the coal into it but were spotted by Germans who opened fire. They carried on taking the coal but suddenly the barge sank lower and they were up to their waists in water. The carrier wouldn’t start and they realised the only thing that would shift it was an M10 tank. But they were locked up in a compound two miles away.“Dad jumped off the barge, sank to his chin in water and started to get away. The Germans opened fire but he escaped and began the two-mile walk to the tank park. He tiptoed in, found his M10 and it roared into life.”
“Dad came under mortar fire when he returned with the tank but they managed to get coal back to the town. Stoves and fires were lit and water was heated for the first time in years. All the lads had a decent shave and everyone went to sleep in warm houses.
“The teacher said to dad, ‘you have been ever so good to us. You’ve fed us and kept us warm. You’ve made us feel like human beings again. I want to give you a present for your son.
Thomas snr with fellow members of the British army during WW2. Bottom left, with members of the Dutch Resistance in Holland.
“She went to the cupboard and came back with the well-worn teddy. Dad didn’t want to take it but she insisted. It had no eyes so she got two buttons and stitched them on. She also darned his nose and paw. She said, ‘it’s not much but I hope your son will enjoy him’.
“My father was also given a pair of wooden clogs in Raamsdonksveer. Dad was a shoemaker and got talking to a clog maker in the town. He made the clogs for me, mum painted them blue and they used to hang on my bedroom wall.”
The bear and clogs will be sold on December 9 at Hansons London, Normansfield Theatre, 2A Langdon Park, Teddington, TW11 9PS.To find out more, email [email protected]
Hansons is currently inviting entries for its 2020 auctions at its London, Derbyshire and Staffordshire salerooms.
To arrange a free valuation in London, email: [email protected]
For a militaria valuation, email: [email protected]