The Real Story of Winnie the Pooh
Paddington Bear. Teddy Bear. Pooh Bear.
When a young Canadian soldier on his way to the Front rescued a bear and made her the mascot for his regiment, who could have dreamed that this little bear would inspire another man to create a beloved children's character.
This is the story of Winnie The Pooh.
Harry and Winnie on the Salisbury Plain 1914
Harry Colebourn was a 27 year old veterinarian, and like so many young men of his era, he had signed up to go overseas to fight for Britain, his mother country. The Canadian Army’s Veterinary Corps had been founded in 1910, and when Canada answered Britain’s call to war on August 5th, 1914, there were only two sections of the Veterinary Service ready to mobilize. One of these was in the city of Winnipeg in Manitoba, one of Canada’s western provinces.
Harry had been born in Britain, and moved to Canada when he was 18, attending Canada’s oldest veterinary school in Guelph Ontario, where he earned his degree as a veterinary surgeon. The west beckoned, and Harry moved to Winnipeg.
Veterinarians in WWI
Veterinarians like Harry were desperately needed in WW1. The army relied heavily on horses in those days to pull guns and munitions, and to transport men. Someone needed to take care of these beautiful beasts that served so well.
And so it was that Harry boarded a train carrying troops and horses, destined for Valcartier Camp in Québec.
August 24, 1914: Winnipeg's Finest Heading for the Front
Harry Colebourn's Attestation Paper from WWI
On August 24th, 1914 at one point in the journey, the train stopped at a wide spot in the road called White River in the province of Ontario. White River was a place the Canadian Pacific Railway trains stopped to take on water and coal. It also offered an opportunity to take the horses off for some much needed exercise and water.
Harry detrained along with the other troops and came across a hunter who had something interesting for sale; an orphaned black bear. The hunter had shot the cub’s mother and was now trying to sell the little she bear. Harry bought her for $20. His diary entry for that day reads:
“Left Port Arthur 7 a.m. In train all day. Bought bear $20.”
Harry named the little bear Winnie after his hometown of Winnipeg.
Harry and Winnie's Journey
Winnie Arrives at Valcartier
Like all of the brave men who signed up to go to war, Harry had to undergo basic training before heading overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). He and Winnie arrived at Valcartier Camp in Québec and settled in, where Winnie became the mascot for Harry's regiment. Harry so loved the little black bear that she actually slept under his cot.
Winnie at Valcartier Camp
Valcartier Camp 1914
Winnie Crosses the Atlantic
Harry and Winnie sailed with the CEF for England, where Harry continued his training and Winnie won the hearts of the soldiers. They were well known on the Salisbury Plain where the CEF was encamped.
When Harry's regiment was due to cross the channel to France, he was concerned for Winnie's safety on the Western Front. Harry asked the London Zoo to take care of his beloved little bear.
And it was there that the story of Winnie the Pooh began.
Winnie the Pooh
Writer and playwrite Alan Milne (A.A. Milne) happened to be visiting the London Zoo one day with his young son Christopher Robin, when they came upon Winnie. So taken was the young boy with the little bear that Milne promised to write some stories about Winnie. Christopher changed the name of his own stuffed bear from Edward Bear to Winnie.
The character Winnie the Pooh was first introduced to the world in a poem called 'Teddy Bear' that was published in Punch magazine in February 1924. A.A. Milne went on to publish 'Winnie the Pooh' in 1926, 'Now We Are Six' in 1927 and 'The House at Pooh Corner' in 1928.
Harry visited Winnie at the Zoo whenever he was on leave, and he recognized how happy she made people. He decided to donate her to the Zoo permanently instead of taking her home to Canada as he had originally planned. Harry made it safely back to Winnipeg after the war, where he resumed his veterinary practice.
Winnie lived out her days at the London Zoo, where she died in 1934.
© 2014 Kaili Bisson