Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Winnie: the true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker

Winnie tells the true story of the bear who became the basis for the famous children's books, Winnie the Pooh written by A. A. Milne.

After studying at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ontario, in 1911 Harry Colebourn was  appointed a veterinary surgeon for Canada's Department of Agriculture in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In joined the 18th Mounted Rifles and eventually became one of the original officers of the 34th Fort Garry Horse. When World War I broke Harry volunteered and was granted a leave of absence.

Harry was sent from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Valcartier, Quebec by train. He was transferred from the 34th Fort Garry Horse to the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps where he held the rank of lieutenant. When the train stopped in White River, Ontario, Harry met a hunter who had a bear cub on a leash at the train station. The hunter did not realize that the bear he had shot had a cub and he was now trying to sell the cub. Harry purchased the cub for about $20. He decided to name the cub, Winnipeg, after the city he lived in. Eventually that name was shortened to Winnie.
The real Winnie with Harry Colebourn in 1914

Harry  was attached to the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade under the command of Lt. Colonel Arthur W. Currie. The Second left Gaspe Bay for England on October 3, 1914 with Harry and Winnie. During his time in England, Winnie became a pet and mascot to the soldiers. However, when the time came for Harry and his fellow soldiers to travel to the battlefields in France, Winnie was placed in the London Zoo.

Harry Colebourn wrote six diaries during the war and he revealed that he fully intended to return to the Zoo to take Winnie back to Canada. However, by the end of the war, Winnie was an important attraction at the zoo and she delighted thousands of children who came to the zoo. As a result, Colebourn decided that she should stay there and he returned to Canada leaving her behind in London.

One of the children who delighted in Winnie at the London Zoo, was the son of A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin. Milne who also served in World War I with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, was a novelist and poet. His books Winnie the Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner were based on Winnie, Harry's black bear at the London Zoo. The other characters in the books were based on his son's stuffed toys.

In Winnie, Sally Walker tells the story of Winnie, how she met and was purchased by Colebourn and her life with the soldiers and then at the London Zoo.

Walker's story is illustrated by the delightful artwork of Jonathan D. Voss who used watercolour with pen and ink on Arches Hot Press Watercolor Board. Voss's illustrations have a whimsical character to them that seem to capture Winnie's easy going nature for which she was famous.

The author has included many photographs on the inside covers of Harry Colebourn as well as several photographs of A.A. Milne and Christopher Robin. There is a detailed Author's Note, a list of Sources and also information for further research.

Winnie lived to the age of twenty, dying in 1934. Her death was reported in many newspapers throughout Canada, England and the United States.

You can read more about Major Harry Colebourn at the Canadian Great War Project.

Book Details:
Winnie: the true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker
New York: Henry Holt and Company 2015

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