In 2016, an undiscovered A.A. Milne poem honouring the Tank Corps was found in The Tank Musuem Archive.
Lost and found
An undiscovered A.A. Milne poem honouring the Tank Corps was found in The Tank Museum Archive, bringing the Museum into the headlines once again in 2016, writes Lucy McCalister, Marketing Administrator.
Merely entitled POEM, this piece by the author of Winnie the Pooh was found by Sheldon Rogers in a box of papers belonging to Hugh Elles, the first commander of the Tank Corps. While the document had been catalogued before, its significance was only realised when Rogers began studying Elles as part of the Tank Men exhibition.
Putting the pieces together
While investigating the document, no evidence was found of its publication elsewhere, so it is likely it was created especially for this concert. As it was written before Milne became famous, it simply hadn’t been remembered. Only one other copy of the programme is known to have survived the test of time and it resides in the University of Bristol Archive Theatre Collection.
Neither their archivists nor Milne’s agents were able to shed any light on the poem’s origins – Milne’s agents were, in fact, not aware of its existence at all. Needless to say, we were very excited to reveal it to the public as an example of a contemporary tribute to the brave men who crewed the first tanks.
Written six years before Winnie’s debut in Punch, the poem was part of the programme for a fundraising matinee on the 7th of November 1918, organised by Harry Tate, the popular music hall comedian. This performance was to aid the Tanks Corps Prisoners of War Fund and was funded by the King and Queen. The poem itself was read by actor Fredrick Ross. Other famous artists of the time, as well as the bands of the Welsh Guards and the Scots Guards, also took part.
Milne’s war work
During WWI, Milne served as an officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment but was invalided in 1916 with trench fever. Following this he was recruited by MI7b, a secret propaganda unit made up of authors from the time who wrote positive articles about the war for newspapers in Britain and overseas, as well as pamphlets and weekly updates to the soldiers themselves. This was revealed in 2013 and caused controversy due to Milne’s work criticising the lies told by propagandists about German atrocities.
Rogers claims that, while it was a piece of propaganda designed to celebrate the tank, it more importantly celebrates the men who served. Milne had been in the trenches himself and knew what the conditions were like.
This example of Milne’s work shows his characteristic combination of humour and emotion, finishing with a thank you to the soldiers themselves:
So remember, whenever you talk of the Tanks,
The newest invention, the wonderful Tanks –
The older invention – the men in the ranks;
The wonderful men of all ranks.
For they’re just the same men, only more so, in Tanks.
You’ll remember them?
Finding this poem further emphasises the vital work done by the archivists at The Tank Museum. Without their care preserving and cataloguing these unique documents, priceless pieces of history would remain lost, or worse be destroyed.
Find out more about other items from The Tank Museum Archive & Supporting Collection here.