A. A. Milne … A Boy named Christopher … and a Bear

The discovery of 150 classified British Government documents
that had been kept by a certain Captain James Lloyd,
revealed valuable background into the character of
author A. A. Milne.

Milne’s work had never been of interest to me as a boy
being associated, as they were, with the captive
mascot bear of an Army unit in WW1.

That bear had been named after the Canadian city
of Winnipeg, in Manitoba;
and it was here that Milne derived the name
for his character.

Photographs I had seen of “Winnie” the Bear
clearly revealed its disgusting captivity in
a concrete box, from where the poor animal
looked out through iron bars.

Although I shall never stop associating that character
with the bear in the concrete cage;

nor with the fame that came to the writer who –
(I always thought) – could have spoken out in protest
at the conditions of animals in captivity
I was determined to, at least, give Milne’s book
a fair chance.

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest
waiting for others to come to you.
You have to go to them sometimes.”

It was the advice that I followed when opening
this Internet site as my attempt to “go to” people.

Sadly, even the advice of a well-meaning bear
does not always ring true:  People who arrive here,
cannot find the kindness even to say ‘Hello’.

As a boy whose childhood friends WERE his bears,
I felt a warm affection towards Milne’s son
whom I had seen featured in a series of portraits taken
of the boy with “ Edward“ – the real ‘Pooh’ bear.

Christopher Robin Milne, London, National Portrait Gallery

Born in London on the 18th of January, 1882,
Alan Alexander Milne, a contemporary of
Arthur Conan Doyle, was the creator of the
much-loved Winnie the Pooh,

and it is for that (much to his own consternation)
character that he is so widely known.

The discovery of lost papers however,
revealed a part of Milne that I had not known;
and allowed me to find, in him,
a seeming character trait with which I Could relate.

After the War, Milne spoke out as a Pacifist.

Not too many of us in this My-Country-as-god world.

The man who found those classified documents
that had been kept by Captain Lloyd, was his
great-nephew, 61 year old Jeremy Arter,
himself an officer in the British Army’s
Education Corps.

Arter had been de-Cluttering and was in the process
of throwing away accumulated papers,
when he noticed the acronym “MI7”, and decided to
look before discarding.

The documents revealed that after an injury
received in the battlefront, on the 7th of July, 1916,
upon arriving in England, Milne was sent to work
in the Department of Military Intelligence:
an office known as “MI7”.

Milne’s specific work was in the “b” section
– Propaganda, which was formed in 1916
to counter any anti-war sentiment then thriving
in Britain.

It was “b” ‘s commission to write media articles
about how great it is to sacrifice limb and life
in the furtherance of political war;
and to lie effusively about daily life in a trench.

Not a proficient liar, Milne found the work
troubling to his conscience. He was glorifying war
as “patriotic” heroism, rather than as pawns and
cannon fodder to bring about the political will
of the “conqueror”.

Whilst multitudes of nationalist fanatics view war
as a necessary “medicine”, Milne was emphatic
in declaring it to be “poison”.

If an invading army attacks your country, you repel
him from your borders with whatever force required.

But tyranny, invasion, and occupation –

occupying another nation’s geographic position,
forcibly subjugating people,
stealing their natural resources;
or commandeering their economy

– find no support in Milne’s wonderful work
“Peace With Honour” (1934, Methuen )

Milne believed himself obliged to change his position
during the Second World War when he admitted that,
in Hitler,

“ … we are truly fighting the Devil, the Anti-Christ…”

“Winnie the Pooh” was published in 1926.

The illustrations for the book
were drawn by artist Ernest Shepard,
who based the appearance of Winnie the Pooh –
not from Christopher Robin’s bear,

but from a ready-to-hand model:
his son’s bear, ‘Growler’.

Winnie’s title was conferred upon him thanks to
inspiration found in a swan named “Pooh”.

All was well for Christopher, who quite enjoyed
the celebrity – until, that is he entered Boarding School
where he found himself bullied for his
quite feminine looks (a result of his mother’s tastes)
by the type of sadistic thug children that grow up
to be vulgar, obnoxious adults.

Finding himself a perpetual object of curiosity,
by his later twenties, Christopher had become
so exceedingly resentful of his father’s work
that he estranged himself from their company.

Christopher Milne at 27, with his soon-to-be wife

Between the time of his father’s death in 1956,
and his mother’s fifteen years later, Christopher
visited with her only once.

It was only much later – having married a cousin
and opened a successful bookshop in Dartmouth, Devon
that Christopher was able to talk freely about the books
of which he now felt able to mention being “quite fond”.

A. A. Milne died in Sussex on the 31st of January, 1956.
He was 74.

Christopher Robin Milne, bookseller and writer;
born in London on the 21st of August 1920,
died in Totnes, Devon on the 20th of April, 1996.

P Livingstone

Further Reading:

Milne, A.A. It’s Too Late Now

Milne, A. A. Peace With Honour

“People say nothing is impossible,
but I do nothing every day.”

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