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 plaque was unveiled at Tilshead Village Hall.