What would Pooh say? Files rescued from skip reveal how children’s author AA Milne wrote propaganda for British military intelligence during World War One
- -The children’s author was a propaganda writer for the mysterious ‘MI7b’
- -The stash also contains a satirical poem about his work
- -The unit’s archives were destroyed after war by jittery government officials
- -But 150 documents survived, including work by Winnie the Pooh’s creator
By SAM WEBB
Secret documents saved from a skip have shed new light on Winnie the Pooh author AA Milne’s clandestine role as a propagandist in the First World War.
All evidence of MI7b, the secret military intelligence unit where AA Milne was based, was feared lost - because government officials ordered the destruction of its entire archive.
But 150 classified documents were taken home by Captain James Lloyd and remained a secret for nearly 100 years, including a never-before seen satirical poem by Milne.
It imagines what famous great writers like Tennyson and Shakespeare would have written had they been propaganda writers in MI7b.
Milne became a pacifist after the war and the verse shows his struggle with the work he undertook.
The secret stash of files were due to be dumped into a skip during a house clear-out, but fortunately was rescued by Captain Lloyd’s great nephew Jeremy Arter, 61.
The document-filled trunk is the only surviving evidence of MI7b’s existence and provides a crucial insight into how the children’s author responsible for Winnie the Pooh worked for Military Intelligence.
Mr Arter, who coincidentally also worked in army propaganda as a Major in the Royal Army Educational Corps, said: ‘Much of the household belongings were due to go in a skip.
‘I was about to throw everything away but, leafing through, I saw a book with MI7b written on it and decided to take a closer look.
‘When I turned the front cover and when I saw the name AA Milne I knew it would be a historic document.’
‘The Green Book’ was a tongue-in-cheek comic created by the MI7b writers when their unit was disbanded at the end of the war.
Before his propaganda work, Milne served with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
MI7b was established in 1916 to sustain support for the war when the enormous numbers of soldiers were being killed and anti-war movements were sweeping war-torn Europe.
The secret propaganda unit wrote thousands of positive newspaper articles about Victoria Cross winners, heroism and sanitised accounts of life in the trenches.
The work sat poorly with Milne, who famously once wrote a denunciation of war titled Peace With Honour.
Mr Arter said: ‘There are about 150 separate articles made up of pencil drafts, manuscripts, and typescripts, along with notebooks and photographs.
‘I was astonished when my research showed that they were meant to have been destroyed soon after the war because they were deemed “too incriminating”.
‘He broke every rule in the book and took his work home with him - that’s the only reason any evidence survived.’
He was wounded leading an attack at Mametz during the first Battle of the Somme on 7 July 1916 and returned to Britain to recuperate.
A year after he was wounded in battle Capt Lloyd was recruited by MI7b and began writing stirring stories from the front lines.
MI7b recruited around 20 writers plucked from the cream of British writing talent at time and produced 7,500 articles between 1916 and 1918.
Intelligence historian Andrew Cook said the unit worked closely with newspaper publishers and kept an eye on the foreign press, countered negative stories, and wrote material intended for leaflets dropped by hot air balloons.
Mr Cook said: ‘It was set up in 1916 when casualties were mounting and there were large numbers of dead. This was having a major impact.
‘As the war soldiered on into 1916 and 1917 there was unofficial industrial action that concerned the government.
‘Prime Minister Lloyd George and his government also knew that the Russian revolution started in a small way after food shortages and there were fears that could happen here.’
He has written about the surviving secret documents in his e-book: ‘MI7b - the discovery of a lost propaganda archive from the Great War’.
It is the first time the work by Milne has been seen. He was already a successful professional playwright and author when he was recruited by Military Intelligence. He went on to publish his first Winnie the Pooh book in 1926 and had a long and successful career before he died in 1956.
Capt Lloyd worked alongside Milne in the secret propaganda unit after being recruited while recovering in London from his battle wounds.
The vicar’s son from Aberedw, Mid Wales, served in the Welsh Regiment during the early years of the First World War.