• Tom Marshall

The Soldier who gave the world Winnie the Pooh


"Good morning, Pooh Bear", said Eeyore gloomily. "If it is a good morning", he said. "Which I doubt", said he.

Harry Colebourn was born in Birmingham in 1887 and moved to Canada when he was 18, eventually moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba. At the outbreak of the First World War, Colebourn returned to England as a veterinarian and soldier with the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps.

As he was heading across Canada by train to embark for England, Colebourn came across a hunter in White River, Ontario who had a female black bear cub for sale, having killed the cub's mother. Colebourn purchased the cub for $20, named her "Winnie" after his adopted home town, and took her across the Atlantic with him to Salisbury Plain where she became the unofficial mascot of the CAVC.

Harry and Winnie 1914

When Colebourn shipped out to France, he kept Winnie the bear at London Zoo. It was at London Zoo that the author A. A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin encountered Winnie. Christopher was so taken with her that he named his teddy bear after her, which became the inspiration for Milne's fictional character in the books Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928).

Captain Harry Colebourn

When the war ended in 1918, Harry remained in England temporarily and in 1919, he reversed his original intentions to bring Winnie home to Winnipeg. Instead, he donated her to the London Zoo as a gesture of his appreciation for the Zoo's efforts in caring for her during the war.

Winnie remained at the zoo until her death in 1934. Harry Colebourn returned to Canada and died in 1945, aged 60.

There are now statues of Colebourn and Winnie in Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo and at London Zoo (as pictured above courtesy of Wikipedia)

Colourised image © Tom Marshall (PhotograFix) 2017.

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