Apr 252017

The KRRC Teddy Bear

In 1910 the 2nd Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps returned from a nineteen year posting abroad, the last nine years being in India. Just before their departure at the end of 1909, Lady Cleveland presented the Regimental band a gift of a three month-old black Himalayan bear cub which they named ‘Teddy’. Adopting him as their regimental pet at their base, the Riflemen soon found that he had a liking for ginger beer. When the soldiers departed Jubbulpore in early January they decided to take their beloved bear back to England with them, and he was stowed about the transport ship Plassey for the voyage. The unit arrived at Southampton on the 1st February 1910 and were posted straight to the barracks at Shorncliffe near Folkestone in Kent. Teddy was housed in a strongly-built cage with iron bars in the ‘Tin Town’ Risborough Lines part of Camp at the Cheriton end of the site.

Having such a bear in England was quite a novelty at the time, and Teddy drew the attention of the newspapers which were keen to report on his antics. On the 26th March The Graphic newspaper printed a photograph of him drinking his favourite tipple being supplied by a Rifleman. The soldiers were proud of Teddy, and, beer aside, looked after him well. By October the growing cub had reached 5’5” and often used to playfully wrestle with the men, reportedly having a placid and pleasant demeanour.

Friendly as he was, Teddy was still a wild animal and not fully tamed. On Christmas Day 1910 the celebrating Riflemen plied Teddy with rather too much beer. Rather riled and somewhat intoxicated, during the night the bear stood up and managed to push over the iron bars of his cage and surrounding fence,  lumbered off and, unseen, escaped from the camp.

Teddy’s absence was quickly discovered in the morning, the Folkestone Police Constabulary was alerted and dozens of Riflemen despatched in parties of twenty to search the surrounding countryside, beating their way across open fields and woodlands on a cold Boxing Day. Teams of men roamed the woods at Lyminge, Beachborough and Caesar’s Camp but all to no avail. Teddy remained at large all day and was not found, although that evening he startled a farm labourer by emerging onto a country lane at Newington near Hythe; the poor man quickly ran off and told the police what he had seen.

The Riflemen went out early on the 27th to try and track him down, but again returned empty handed. It transpired that their efforts were all in vain as Teddy, probably hungry, returned to Shorncliffe by his own accord that afternoon. A six year old boy spotted the bear amongst the ruins of some burnt out Royal Engineers buildings at the edge of the camp. He ran to tell the soldiers who grabbed sticks and other weapons to try and cajole the bear. Teddy couldn’t be tempted with more ginger beer and threw a tantrum when a number of Riflemen launched themselves at him, knocking over half a dozen before calming down and allowing himself to be chained and led back to his cage. One soldier suffered severe scratches on his arm and was whisked off to the military hospital. The bear had been free to roam the Kent countryside for about 46 hours.

As punishment, Teddy was temporarily not allowed to be promenaded by his keeper as was the usual custom. However on December 30th the Colonel of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps agreed to loan Teddy to a special charity fund-raising day in Sheffield known as ‘Pretoria Day’ where he served as the mascot for the Sheffield Telegraph’s Pit Disaster Fund to raise money for the families affected by the Bolton colliery disaster. Teddy was placed in a cage and transported by train where he was put on display for a few weeks at the ‘Jungle’ menagerie to attract donations.

The management of the ‘Jungle’ were perplexed as to what to feed him, but thanks to the advice of a Rifleman on leave in the town, they solved it by feeding him sandwiches made of bread and tea leaves and giving him more ginger beer to drink. Reportedly Teddy used to sit in his cage with his feet outstretched through the bars as he enjoyed his feet being tickled. In early February Teddy was returned to Shorncliffe, but he appeared to have developed more of a temper in the meantime.

On the morning of Friday 31st March 1911 Teddy made a second break for freedom. This time the bear was not intoxicated but attacked Rifleman Williams, his keeper, biting him severely on the hand, knocking over two others and again escaping from his cage. Unable to be stopped, he broke out of the camp again and headed off to the woods at Cheriton and on to Beachborough, as poor Williams was rushed to the hospital for surgery.

Again the regiment formed search parties and beat their way through the woods to find him. Folkestone Constabulary advised the locals in the countryside to lock their doors and be vigilant. Searching continued until dusk and resumed again the following morning. In the evening Rifleman Sharp and a corporal eventually tracked him down on Mr J.E. Quested’s Fir Farm at Newington about a mile from Shorncliffe; he had evidently mutilated and killed two sheep on the farm during his wanderings. Teddy allowed himself to be chained and was unceremoniously escorted back to his cage at the Camp.

On Sunday 2nd April the bear escaped for the third time. He broke down all the barriers of his cage which caused a huge panic about the camp, especially amongst the laundry girls who were too frightened to go out to meet their soldiers for their usual Sunday evening walks. This time Teddy didn’t get far and was recaptured a few hours later. Back at his cage he was given his usual ginger beer and some food.

By this point, Lieutenant Colonel Hare had clearly had enough of the troublesome bear and decided to banish him from the regiment. Under his instruction, on the 3rd April Lieutenant Robinson then wrote to Mr Harry Tudor, manager of the ‘Jungle’ menagerie in Sheffield offering to sell the bear to him for an exhibit as he was simply causing too much trouble for the regiment. Tudor agreed immediately, settled the fee, and three days later Teddy was shipped off to the Jungle. Teddy’s departure was regretted by the men, but in truth he had become too unpredictable, dangerous and too great a responsibility. Teddy spent the rest of his days in the menagerie in a cage marked with the ‘erroneous’ notices:

“Banished From the Ranks: The Late Mascot of the King’s Own Royal Rifles ” and “Teddy, the Famous Shorncliffe Bear. He’s Done Escaping”.

Credited to Phillip Eyden

Author Name Phil Eyden