Cambridgeshire

Restored 100-year-old RAF bear keeps 'lovely, wonky smile'

Bobby Bear Image copyright BBC/RICOCHET
Image caption Bobby Bear was the beloved childhood pet of airman Joe Mack but never flew with his master

A 100-year-old teddy bear that helped a World War Two airman convalesce has undergone a delicate restoration.

Bobby Bear was the childhood toy of RAF wireless operator Joe Mack, who flew with one of the elite Pathfinder crews based in Bourn, Cambridgeshire.

The "treasured keepsake" was faithfully mended by a team of specialists for the BBC Repair Shop series.

Mr Mack's daughter, Kris Johnston, said the family wanted Bobby "conserved rather than changed".

The "fragile" bear was loaned to the Pathfinder collection at RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire and formed the centrepiece for its 75th anniversary in 2018.

Senior curator at the RAF Wyton heritage Centre, John Clifford, said he hoped the cuddly mascot would one day return to the base.

Image copyright MACK FAMILY
Image caption Airman Joe Mack as a baby with his much-loved Bobby Bear
Image copyright MACK FAMILY
Image caption Joe Mack was seriously injured when his bomber aircraft crashed in December 1943

Mr Mack was a wireless operator with the RAF's 97 Squadron, based in Bourn, Cambridgeshire, and flew with the force's Pathfinder crew during World War Two.

Their job was to precede bombing missions and identify targets with coloured flares.

In 1943, at the age of 21, Mr Mack survived an aircraft crash near Bourn airfield, on what become known as Black Thursday. The day saw heavy loss of life because of bad weather on home soil - rather than enemy fire.

His family said his beloved bear aided his recovery from serious injuries, although he never took to the skies again.

A gold-stitched line on the bear's left arm replicated the wound stripe displayed on the uniform of an injured airman.

Image copyright BBC/RICOCHET
Image caption The tatty toy was presented to the BBC Repair Shop team for a facelift
Image copyright BBC/RICOCHET
Image caption Gold stitching on Bobby Bear's arm symbolises that his owner was injured in the war

Bobby Bear was presented to the team on the BBC programme, who set to work reinforcing his body with conservation mesh and felt.

The aim was to "keep his character and history" as well as his "lovely, wonky smile".

Mrs Johnston said her father's bear became his mascot and her grandmother had "patched and darned" it over the years, even knitting the bear an identical RAF uniform.

Image copyright BBC/RICOCHET
Image caption 'Conserved rather than changed': Bobby Bear before - and after - his careful repair

"We did not want a brand new bear," she said, "but he needs to look as battered as he did before.

"Getting Bobby Bear fixed is a tribute to dad and his crew - that way his story will live on in a much more vibrant way.

"He's not just a family treasure but an icon."

Joe Mack died at the age of 72 in 1994 but his family said he would have been "overjoyed that Bobby Bear is still going - and will go on for generations".

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