Many may recall Teddy Caban as being a hairdresser in Brandon’s High Street, until the mid-eighties. Few will know that Teddy had an illustrious career in the R.A.F., one that saw him receive a medal at Buckingham Palace and get captured by the Germans.
WHAT I KNOW…
Teddy Caban was born on 18th June 1920 and named Edmund. His father, John, was a hairdresser in Brandon’s High Street, while his mother, Emily (nee Talbot) was a housewife. Teddy joined the R.A.F. in 1938, just before his 18th birthday, as part of 23 squadron, based at R.A.F. Wittering. He was given the service number of 611679. Teddy soon transferred to 18 Squadron, which was the unit that took Teddy into the war. Both squadrons flew the Bristol Blenheims, and 18 Squadron went to France when war was declared. Initially their role was to bomb the advancing German army and carry out reconnaissance, but such was the rapid advance of the enemy that 18 Squadron had to retreat to two other airfields, until they were ultimately over-run in May 1940. According to Teddy’s late-widow, he fled back to Britain aboard a ship named ‘Princess ?, before arriving at R.A.F. Watton, Norfolk. His late-widow, also suggests that Teddy served with 139 Squadron and was billeted at Blickling Hall, while flying out of Horsham St. Faiths airfield. It was here that he was met by some local nuns. In April 1941, Flight-Sergeant Teddy Caban (Royal Air Force) was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal at Buckingham Palace. His parents attended the Investiture.
CABAN, Edmund George. 611679 Sergeant, No.18 Squadron
L.G. 7/3/1941. Wireless Operator / Air Gunner Air2/8839.
Since May, 1940, Sergeant Caban has carried out 32 operational sorties as Wireless Operator / Air Gunner. He has always displayed coolness and judgement under the most harassing conditions, never failing to maintain contact with base. He has shown great ???? to take part in operations against the enemy.
In August 1941, it was reported that Teddy had been shot down and taken prisoner by the Germans. By this time he has flown over 40 missions.
In February 1943, while still a prisoner in Germany, his parents received a letter from him. The contents were reported in the Bury Free Press …
“It will comfort you to know that I have spent a most enjoyable Christmas regarding food, which was due to the splendid parcels sent by the British Red Cross. We appreciate these parcels very much and wish to thank all concerned.”
He added that the German’s were allowing for each prisoner to receive 2/3rds of a gallon of beer.
While Teddy was a POW, he wrote letters to a Dutch woman, Miss Ans Schipper. In 2010, her granddaughter, Jacqueline Makbouli, from the Netherlands, contacted me after finding one of the letters. A scan of the letter is included in this page, and a transcript follows …
“Sept 3rd 1944
I was agreeably surprised to receive 4 of your letters dated May 20th, June 12th & 26th, & July 10th ’44. As you must realise I was very surprised, but nevertheless very pleased, as during last 7 weeks have been travelling! So my mail has been absolutely nil, in fact when I received your 4 letters they were the first I had had for 4 1/2 months.
And now for something regarding myself. I am 24 years of age, 5ft 7ins tall, brown eyes and hair. I have athletic tendencies, being able to play football, rugby, hockey, basket-ball, softball, cricket, tennis (which is my favourite), besides being able to swim, cycle, drive a car, shoot and many other things. Do you play bridge?
It is quite true I have been in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. When I was there they were very beautiful cities. Before the war I was a hair-dresser. My father has a business in the small town in which I live, it is called BRANDON, in the province of Suffolk.
My full name is Edmund George Caban, and that I’m afraid is just about all. I should very much appreciate some photos. I’m sorry but in my circumstances I’m unable to send you one of myself. Before I forget, June 18th is my birthday. When next you meet Miss Teer would you welcome her for me, Ken has no mail at all today I must say. Goodbye for now.
Toward the end of the war, the Germans forcibly marched thousands of their prisoners, held in camps to the east of Germany, to locations further west within Germany. The Germans’ plan was to delay, perhaps even prevent, the prisoners being liberated by the advancing Russian Red Army. Teddy, at the time a PoW in Stalag 357, Kopernikus, Poland, and allocated the prisoner number of 9621, was one of those forced to embark on the gruelling long march. He was eventually liberated and ended the war as a Warrant Officer.
After the war Teddy, along with Peter Holmes and two other ex-servicemen, drove the Brandon ambulance to a hospital in Bury St Edmunds. According to his late-widow, Teddy’s main worry was that a pregnant woman would go into labour while he drove the ambulance to Bury. He did on one occasion, attend to a very young Bill Bishop and took him to hospital. Teddy married Dorothy Ayres in the spring of 1950, ran a successful gents hairdresser in Brandon High Street until the late 1980s, and passed away in 2006.