How Winnie-the-Pooh creator was haunted by war

Tony Mallion

Tony Mallion - Credit: Archant

Opinion: The shadow of war touched even the creation of one of the best-loved children's characters of all time, says Tony Mallion.

Winnie-the-Pooh is known and loved around the world. What's not to like about the stories of this famous bear stomping round the Hundred Acre Wood with his friends Piglet and Tigger? Author and playwright A A Milne created the character inspired by the stuffed toy of his son Christopher Robin and the countryside around their Sussex home. From the first publication as a short story in the London Evening Standard in 1926 the tales were an instant hit and have remained so to this day. Next month even sees a major exhibition opening at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

It all appears like an idyllic capturing of innocent childhood but the recent and excellent film Goodbye Christopher Robin from director Simon Curtis reminds us that all was not – hush, hush, whisper who dares - as it seemed. Milne had a strained and strange relationship with his only son. The boy grew to resent the fact that stories he thought were written purely and personally for him became a huge commercial and international business.

But a major reason for Alan Milne's difficulties in understanding Christopher resulted from what we would now recognise as post-traumatic stress disorder. Milne had fought valiantly in the First World War in major campaigns and like so many others suffered mentally. As a well known and popular writer who later served as a pacifist in the Home Guard in the Second World War, Milne was determined to speak out against what he regarded as the futility and failure of warfare. He also wrote a book denouncing war as the work of the devil and calling for peace.

As we once more approach Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday with Christmas soon after we can put our hope and prayer in Jesus, the Prince of Peace. The New Testament letter of James in chapter four reminds us conflicts begin with individuals. The often-quoted words of St Francis begin: 'Make me a channel of your peace.' Many church services end with: 'Go out into the world in peace.' It's not just Christopher Robin saying his prayers. We can too.