April 24th, 2013
Join Date: Jan 2012
Agony of AA Milne, the reluctant wartime propagandist, and the 'lies' about German atrocities
A collection of AA Milne poems saved from a skip show he served in an MI7 propaganda unit during the First World War and had grown frustrated at having to “lie about German atrocities”.
He was already a successful professional playwright and author when he was recruited to Mi7b to maintain support for King and country.
Government officials had ordered the destruction of MI7b's entire archive. However, 150 classified documents were taken home by Capt James Lloyd, who worked alongside Milne in the secret unit, after being recruited while recovering in London from his battle wounds. 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, Jeremy Arter.
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.
Milne's poems were found in a pamphlet published when the organisation was disbanded at the end of 1918, called The Green Book.
In it is a tongue-in-cheek collection of writing and articles about the work the authors, Lord Dunsany, and Patrick MacGill, an Irish journalist known as "The Navvy Poet", did for MI7b, including a poem by AA Milne about the moral difficulty facing an author when asked to pen propaganda material.
Writing in around 1918 in what he described as Shakespearean style, he says:
“In MI7b/ who loves to lie with me/ About atrocities.
“And Hun Corpse Factories/ Come hither, come hither, come hither/ Here shall we see/ No enemy/ But sit all day and blather.”
In another revealing poem, under the title “Some Early Propagandists”, he writes about Paul von Hindenburg, the Germany Field Marshal, who as German President would go to appoint Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany.
“Tell me not, Sir, I am unkind. That from the Hunnery, Of Hindenburg’s disgusting mind, To pen and ink I fly, For this defection so to speak, Is one you must adore, My “British Front from “week to week”, Has helped to win the war?”
Mr Arter said he was glad to have discovered what turned out to be the sole surviving archive of MI7b's secret role in the First World War.
"Much of the household belongings were due to go in a skip,” he said. “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.
"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 said.
"He broke every rule in the book and took his work home with him – that's the only reason any evidence survived."
Ann Thwaite, AA Milne’s biographer, described the new documentary evidence of the author's role in military intelligence unit MI7b as "very interesting".
Mrs Thwaite 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: “Milne had written briefly of "writing (horrible word) propaganda" but never revealed he had worked for the secret MI7b unit.”