British National archives reveal Winnie-the-Pooh creator AA Milne, who lived in Hartfield, worked as a government spy during the First World War.The children’s author, whose stories were set in Ashdown Forest, was employed as a propagandist for the secretive MI7b division. The unit was set up to work in propaganda and censorship.
Milne was part of a small group of writers who censored the horrors of the front line to boost morale back home.
The classified papers containing information about Milne’s hidden writing role, were only saved by a colleague in M17b when it was disbanded after the war.
The documents were taken home by Captain James Lloyd before they could be seized by the Government and remained a secret for almost a century until the papers were found in a skip by Captain Lloyd’s great nephew.
Milne’s involvement with MI7b took place between 1916 and 1918, and in that time 7,500 documents were produced.
Less than ten years later, in 1926, he would go on to create Winnie-the-Pooh.
Lauren-Nicole Little is head of sales at Pooh Corner in Hartfield, a shop dedicated to the history of Winnie-the-Pooh and the author. – “I never suspected that AA Milne was working as a spy.”
The illustrations contained in his Pooh books, drawn by E H Shepard, were based on the forest, and AA Milne’s son, Christopher Robin, said in later life that Pooh’s forest and Ashdown Forest were identical. The bridge where the game Poohsticks was invented remains a tourist attraction.