Bears of WWI and Winnie-the-Pooh

Margaret and Bear

For over a year now Alexa and I have been sorting and ‘cataloguing’ the photographs, slides, glass negatives and lantern slides in this collection (we have 100’s) and one of the pictures that intrigued us was this one. The caption is ‘Margaret and Baloo, the bear.’  Margaret was a friend of Marion and Alexine’s  who went to France with them and served as a first aid worker with the Red Cross. I thought perhaps bear cubs during WWI were plentiful as there were many forests in France and perhaps the cub’s mothers were being killed. My research, however, did not support my theory.

However, I did come across something very interesting (at least to me; I have a great affection for children’s literature). In August, 1914, a train carrying Canadian troops was making it’s way from Manitoba to Ontario. Stopping at one of the stations, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn photo-2paid $20 to a hunter for a female bear cub that the Lieutenant named Winnie (for his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba). When Colebourn was being sent over to France to fight in December 1914, he left the bear at the London Zoo for safe-keeping. A.A. Milne took his young son, Christopher Robin, to the zoo and the bear and Christopher became good friends. There is a picture of the young boy actually in the enclosure feeding the bear. In 1924, A.A. Milne decided to put his son’s childhood ‘friends’ and stuffed animals into print with his first book and the Bear of Very Little Brain was introduced. His son had named the bear Winnie-the-Pooh after his friend at the zoo and a swan that he knew named Pooh. The real bear, Winnie, stayed at the London Zoo until she died in 1934. Lieutenant Colebourn did come back for her, but when he saw how popular she was with everyone, he decided to leave her there. We only have this one picture of Baloo, the bear, and the bear is not mentioned in Marion’s journal, so who knows the story behind this. What we do know is that Marion admired Rudyard Kipling so she was probably the one to name the bear and take the picture.  Posted by Vicki Rondeau