Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the man who wrote “people say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day” worked for the government.
A.A. Milne — the (real) father of Christopher Robin and whimsical progenitor to Winnie-the-Pooh — was a spy … or more precisely a propaganda writer for a secret military unit during World War I, the Daily Telegraph reported this week.
MI5 (Brtiain’s domestic security service) and MI6 (its overseas intelligence agency) have been made famous by fictitious spooks (George Smiley and James Bond), with some help from true traitors (Philby, Burgess and McLean). MI, of course, stands for military intelligence. But haven’t you wondered whether there was an MI4 or an MI7?
Think it over, think it under.
There was an MI7. Established in 1916, the year of the battle of the Somme, on whose first day the British lost more than 19,000 men. Its mission? To write newspaper articles on derring-do while downplaying the horrific losses on the frontlines.
We might never have known of Milne’s clandestine wartime activities if one of his co-workers hadn’t “broken every rule in the book,” as his great nephew put it. The government ordered all of MI7’s records destroyed. But a captain in the unit — like a Heffalump making straight for a pot of honey — squirreled away about 150 “manuscripts, notebooks and photographs.”
I’m not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.
Nearly a century later, Jeremy Arter, the great nephew of Capt. James Lloyd, was clearing out his house in Wales and about to throw a bunch of stuff in the Dumpster when a slim, green booklet caught his eye.
“When I turned the front cover and saw the name A.A. Milne, I knew it would be an historic document,” Arter said.
The Green Book, a humorous collection that the propagandists evidently published for their own enjoyment after the war was over, contains a ditty by Milne, imagining what Shakespeare would have written if he had been a propagandist:
Who loves to lie with me
And Hun Corpse Factories.
Come hither, come hither, come hither,
Here shall he see
But sit all day and blether