The Incredible Forces Story Behind Winnie the Pooh

The British Army has a long and lively connection with animals.

From the goat William Windsor - who served as a Lance Corporal in the 1st Battalion, the Royal Welsh to Corporal Cruachan - to the Royal Regiment of Scotland's pony who tried to eat Queen Elizabeth II's flowers, animals have been the furry face of the forces for centuries.

Few have had the cultural impact, though, of a young bear called Winnipeg.

On August 24, 1914, Canadian veterinarian and soldier with the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn, bought a female black bear cub for $20 (about £260 in today's money).

Harry wrote in his diary at the time:

"Left Port Arthur, 7am, On train, bought bear, $20."

The bear was a twin whose mother had been killed by a hunter, as reported by Val Shushkewich in The Real Winnie: A One-Of-A-Kind Bear.

Harry called the bear Winnipeg after his hometown in Canada, however that would later be shorted to Winnie.

Lt. Colebourn took the unusually friendly bear with him to England, where his regiment was training in Salisbury Plain.

Winnie, who had likely become domesticated after the death of his mother, became the mascot of the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade.

The trenches were, however, no place for a sensitive bear, so she was left at London Zoo for safekeeping on December 9, 1914, when her owner's regiment went to fight in France.

Winnie was a very popular resident of the zoo and was so tame that children could ride on her back.

After the Great War was over Harry donated Winnie to the zoo to thank the staff who had looked after her during the conflict.

The author Alan Alexander Milne, who was injured while fighting in the Battle of the Somme, visited Winnie often.

His son Christopher Robin Milne took an intense liking to Winnie.

Milne decided to name an anthropomorphic bear he was writing about after Winnie and a Swan named Pooh and thus Winnie the Pooh was born.

Winnie the Pooh became A.A. Milne's best-known character and has outlived him.

Milne wrote several stories and poems about him and the public fell in love with the quiet, methodical bear.

After the author's death, Disney bought the motion picture rights to Pooh and the series has become one of the company's most successful franchises.

Winnie also lives beyond fiction in the game Poohsticks - where players throw sticks into water on one side of a bridge, hoping theirs is the first to make it to the other side.

However, it wasn't all smiles for Winnie. She suffered tooth decay, partly because Christopher Robin fed her so much honey.

Sam Alberti, director of the Royal College of Surgeon's Hunterian Museum, told CNN: 

"She did suffer from quite severe gum disease that led to a lot of her teeth coming out."

Many of the themes of Winnie the Pooh also hint at A.A. Milne's struggles after fighting in two World Wars.

Milne struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and modern-day academics have theorised that Pooh shows classic signs of recovering from PTSD.

Christopher feeding Winnie

Although the real-life Winnie has long since passed away, if you go down to the zoo today you can still get a glimpse of the beloved bear.

A statue of Winnie and Harry Colebourn was presented to London Zoo by the people of Manitoba, Canada, through their government on July 19, 1995.

The monument serves as a humble reminder of the little bear who warmed the hearts of generations of children out of a spot of bother.

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