Winnie the Pooh author was a First World War spyPosted: April 25, 2013
Secret documents saved from a skip in a Welsh street have revealed Winnie the Pooh author AA Milne’s secret role as a First World War propagandist.
All evidence of the secret military intelligence unit where AA Milne was based was feared lost – because government officials ordered the destruction of MI7b’s entire archive.
But 150 classified documents were taken home by Capt James Lloyd and remained a secret for nearly 100 years.
Then the secret stash of files were due to be dumped into a skip during a house clear-out – until they were discovered by Capt Lloyd’s great nephew.
He rescued the only surviving evidence of MI7b’s existence in an old trunk due to be dumped – and revealed how the children’s author responsible for Winnie the Pooh
worked for Military Intelligence.
Capt Lloyd’s great nephew Jeremy Arter, 61, came across his secret stash of papers when he was clearing a family home home near Brecon, Mid Wales.
Mr Arter 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 saw the name AA Milne I knew it would be a historic document.”
His great uncle’s documents turned out to be the sole surviving archive of MI7b’s secret role in the First World War.
‘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.
It includes a poem by AA Milne about the moral difficulty facing writers asked to write the propaganda material.
MI7b was established in 1916 to sustain support for the war when the enormous numbers of soldiers killed were rising and increasing 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.
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.”
His great uncle’s documents included previously unseen contributions from writers such as Winnie the Pooh author AA Milne.
Milne was already a successful professional playwright and author when he was recruited by Military Intelligence.
He survived the Somme in 1916 and was invalided out with trench fever before joining MI7b.
He was a pacifist who prided himself on never having fired a shot at the enemy.
Milne wrote propaganda to maintain support for King and country and went on to publish his first Winnie the Pooh book in 1926.
Capt Lloyd worked alongside the Winnie the Pooh author 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 Welch Regiment during the early years of the First World War.
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.
The secret writers of MI7b 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.”
In an incredible twist of fate Mr Arter worked in army propaganda as a Major in the Royal Army Educational Corps.
He has written about the surviving secret documents in his e-book: ‘MI7b – the discovery of a lost propaganda archive from the Great War’.
The biographer of AA Milne, Ann Thwaite, described the new documentary evidence of the author’s role in military intelligence unit MI7b as “very interesting”.
Mrs Thwaite, 80, won the Whitbread Biography of the Year, 1990, for her book “AA Milne: His Life”.
She said she had known Milne was in London during the later years of the war – but did not know it was spent in MI7b.
She said: “It’s a very interesting story and I would love to know more about it.
“I am the only biographer of Milne and a huge amount of reasearch went into the biography.”
Her book reveals a tantalising glimpse into Milne’s secret war work but doesn’t reveal his role in MI7b.
Milne said of his secret propaganda writing: “If it were not ‘patriotic’ enough or neglected to point the moral with sufficient hardihood then the Major supplied the operative words in green pencil.”
Milne had written briefly of “writing (horrible word) propaganda” but never revealed he had worked for the secret MI7b unit.
Mrs Thwaite said she would be fascinated to see if the newly discovered papers could reveal the last enduring secret of his war career.
She said: “In September 1918, after the tide of the war had a last turned, Milne paid a mysterious visit to France for two weeks.
“He never revealed what he did in those two weeks.
“It would be interesting to see if the papers shine a light on what he was up to.”