Blitzy, a bear which survived the Manchester Blitz during the Second World War and provided endless cuddles for a frightened little girl, has been found in an attic.
War survivor Blitzy, complete with injured arm and wonky eye, was bought to comfort Mary Gaskell, who was only five when the conflict broke out in 1939.
When the sirens shrieked, air-raid wardens roared out their orders and a total blackout hit Lonsdale Avenue in Davyhulme, Manchester, where Mary lived, Blitzy came into his own, according to her sister-in-law Jackie Carey, 84, who lived in the same road at the time.
Now the long-forgotten 82-year-old teddy, recently found by Mary’s son Jon McCue in his Manchester loft ahead of a house move, is expected to set bear collectors’ hearts alight when it goes under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers on July 23. Its guide price is £600-£800 but the auction experts say Blitzy’s story could take the price higher.
Steve Fulford, toy valuer at Hansons, said: “He’s got a face packed with a character, a couple of war wounds maybe, and his tummy squeak has given up the ghost, but he’s super special with a wonderful back story. Back in the 1930s he would have cost the equivalent of a week’s wages.
“Mary was very lucky to own a bear of that quality and size at that time. Children hardly had any toys in the 30s. No wonder she treasured him all her life. Teddies have that effect on people. I still have mine. Blitzy was found with a note which read, ‘My mother is Mary Gaskell’ and ‘We cuddled through the Blitz’.
That note was written by Jackie when she found Blitzy tucked away in a cupboard in her brother Ian and Mary’s former house in Newquay, Cornwall, in 2009. Jackie helped clear the property following Ian’s death. Mary, his wife of 17 years, had passed away 18 months earlier at the age of 74 in 2007 following their ‘Mills and Boon’ romance.
“Blitzy very nearly ended up in a skip or at the charity shop,” said Jackie, a retired teacher from Flixton, Manchester. “There was so much stuff to clear, we had to have a skip. But when I found him, knowing how special he was to Mary, I wrote the notes explaining who he was.
“I also added the green bow to his neck. Mary was a beautiful young woman with a mass of auburn hair and perfect figure. She used to wear a green dress that was just that colour. She looked so lovely in it I chose the ribbon as a personal reminder of her.”
Jon, 54, owner of company Sustainable Seas, said: “During the Newquay house clearance, it was so difficult getting everything sorted out, Blitzy’s discovery went over my head. But luckily, he survived again – and didn’t end up in the skip. I’d completely forgotten about him until I cleared my loft a few weeks ago. I found him in a plastic bag.
“After decades spent in cupboards and attics, I thought it was about time he came back out into the world. It would be lovely to see him cuddled again by a new owner, or taking pride of place in a museum alongside my mother’s story. Blitzy is a reminder of what children had to endure during the Second World War in Manchester.”
“It was a very frightening time for us,” said Jackie. “The Manchester Blitz started in 1941 and there was some very heavy bombing. The noise of the air-raid sirens was horrible. Mary and I lived near the Manchester Ship Canal, which was a strategic infrastructure during the war so a prime target.
“I remember standing on top of an air raid bunker one day and seeing Manchester in flames. We used to joke that the Germans only managed to kill the local farmer’s bull but people died in the blackouts. Some fell into the water as they crossed the canal locks.
“Mary was four years older than me and witnessed it all. She was from an ordinary working-class family, one of two children, and lived in a 1930s semi, a new build at the time. Her mother bought her the teddy, perhaps just before the war because times got really tough in the 1940s. Everything was rationed. People used to unpick jerseys to knit something else.
“Mary met my brother Ian when she was 16 and he was 17. They fell in love but, for one reason or another, split up. They met again by chance when they were both single and in their 50s. Mary sent her condolences after my father died and Ian replied. Their love was rekindled. It was like a Mills and Boon romance.
“Blitzy is a wonderful reminder of our childhoods and family connections. Jon calls me ma two. Mary was a very special friend with a claim to fame, too. She used to work as a vacuum demonstrator with Les Dawson. Before he found fame as a comedian, he sold vacuum cleaners.
Jon added: “Another claim to fame, though we’re not absolutely certain of this, is that my mother was the great-great grand-daughter of Elizabeth Gaskell, the famous author of Cranford, a book published in 1853. Mum’s home in Newquay was called Cranford.”
Steve Fulford said: “Blitzy certainly has a fascinating mum with some famous connections. After surviving the Blitz, the skip, the charity shop and numerous house moves, he deserves a new chance of happiness. I hope we can find him the perfect new owner.”
Blitzy, lots 468, is due to be sold at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire, on Friday July 23 in the July 22-23 Toy Auction. Catalogue: www.hansonslive.co.uk. To find out more, email [email protected]