The Real Winnie The Black Bear

Posted by The Bearkeeper on
Category: Winnie The Pooh45 Comments

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We have often wondered here at Jammy Toast just where did AA Milne come up with the idea for Winnie the Pooh. It turns out that although AA Milne wrote the stories, it was actually his son Christopher Robin who named the bear. Winnie the black bear was brought to England in 1914 by a Canadian veterinarian who had rescued the bear and named her after his hometown of Winnipeg. He originally named the bear Winnipeg but wanted something shorter, so chose Winnie. She was later sent to London Zoo where Christopher Robin saw her and named his teddy bear after her. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now a plague has been unveiled to mark a village’s connection with the real life bear that inspired the Pooh stories. The plaque has been unveiled in the village of Tilshead, near the WW1 camp on Salisbury Plain where she lived. The bear’s owner, Lt Harry Colebourn, was a vet from Canada who had enlisted at the outset of World War One and travelled to Europe to help care for horses during the war.

Lt Colebourn bought the orphaned bear cub for $20 after he spotted her on a railway platform in Ontario as he was about to leave for duty. Winnie became the regimental mascot of the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, which trained at West Down South Camp, close to Tilshead, before being sent to France in 1914.

When Lt Colebourn was shipped over to France he sent Winnie to stay at London Zoo.

He planned to take the bear back to Canada but when he saw how much children loved visiting Winnie at the zoo, he donated her permanently.

Christopher Robin regularly visited her at the zoo and the teddy bear he renamed after her became the inspiration for the much loved character in AA Milne’s books, written in the 1920s, and subsequently made into the Disney films.

The stories of Winnie the Pooh – based on the bedtime stories by AA Milne – first appeared in the London Evening News on Christmas Eve 1925 in a story called “The Wrong Sort of Bees”. The honey-loving bear’s many adventures – along with his friends Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore – have since been translated into more than 40 languages.

The young boy in the stories, Christopher Robin, was named after AA Milne’s own son.

The real Christopher Robin had a favourite teddy bear, which he called Winnie the Pooh in honour of Winnie, the Canadian bear he had seen in London Zoo. He had other stuffed animals, including a kangaroo, a piglet and a donkey, which became the basis for other characters in the stories, which were written for Milne’s family.

The great-granddaughter of Lt Colebourn, Lindsay Mattick, said, “There’s a magic to it where one of the world’s most famous and beloved fictional stories had a real and true story behind it and it was actually my great-grandfather’s story.”

During a visit to the United Kingdom in 2014, Ms Mattick was introduced to Derek de Selincourt, the cousin of the late Christopher Robin Milne. There she showed Mr de Selincourt extracts from Lt Colebourn’s wartime diary including one that showed when he bought Winnie.

“I can’t imagine that in his wildest dreams that his great-granddaughter would be sitting here with AA Milne’s nephew having a conversation about how a real bear and a fictional bear affected the narratives of our lives,” Ms Mattick added.

The Plague

The Plague.

The plaque was unveiled at Tilshead Village Hall.

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About the Author

The Bearkeeper

A sad and lonely old man who used to have a life but it has now been taken over by his dedication to the cause of saving Renault Bears, running Jammy Toast and searching eBay, car boot sales, charity shops, lofts and even under beds for his beloved bears. He has even now taken in Flat Eric to save him from homelessness – his life is no longer his own!


45 Comments on “The Real Winnie The Black Bear”

  1. I understand the Polish army also had a bear who fought with them and after the way they gave it to Edinburgh Zoo. The trouble for the zoo was that the pesky bear could only understand polish commands and so wouldn’t do a thing for his keepers.

  2. Hard to believe that today, The Royal Navy has banned cats and other pet animals from all ships on the ocean on hygiene grounds and yet soldiers could have bears in those days.

  3. I love this post. And you can always go visit Christopher Robin Milne’s original Teddy bear and his friends — they all live at the New York Public Library!

  4. Owl nodded solemnly. “Correct me if I am wrong,” he said, “but am I right in supposing that it is a very Blusterous day outside?”
    “Very,” said Piglet, who was quietly thawing his ears, and wishing he was safely back in his own house.

  5. My friend little Glo, the Schipperke dog used to come and see me every day. My human told me that some cats and dogs do not get on with each other but Glo and I loved each other. I was very sad when her family moved away last year. I think about her often.

  6. Rolf report 14 Jan

    I do love to have 5am snuggles with my humans. I am very vocal & persistent at this time. There is no possibility of them getting any more sleep once they get the Rolf early morning snuggles treatment. It’s a lovely start to their day.

    Rolf x

  7. Recording yesterday surpassed all hopes. Hopefully more of the same today and indeed for the next few weeks of recording.

    No biscuits or snacking was allowed in the studio during recording… it’s too tempting, so simple solution is we just drink gallons of tea and coffee and make regular dashes to the loo.

  8. If anyone on the tills in TK Maxx is reading this, if I’m in your shop I’m certainly not doing anything exciting this afternoon. Asking me just emphasizes the bleakness of my existence, is probably not part of your corporate mission statement.

    James Brown, Edinburgh.

  9. Why is it that on the day of your Drs appointment all your symptoms disappear? Do I cancel or is my body just playing me and everything will be back full force tomorrow?

  10. The only thing that can pull my bitter disappointment of not sitting in a monsoon watching Tranmere get beat . Is if Dr Love is reading palms in the Carnarvon tonight ?

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