This poem, which was used to raise awareness of Tank Corps soldiers who were prisoners of war, was found in the museum archive by research assistant Sheldon Rogers in a box of papers that once belonged Hugh Elles – the first commander of the Tank Corps.
Fundraising and propaganda
Rogers said: ‘We believe this poem was written specifically for a fundraising matinee which took place on 7 November 1918. The show was organised by Harry Tate, the popular music hall comedian.
‘It was in support of the Tank Corps Prisoner of War fund and the event was backed by the King and Queen, while the bands of the Welsh Guards and Scots Guards also took part.
‘Although the programme had been catalogued, the significance of its contents had been overlooked – and no one seemed to have any knowledge of this poem, which was written before Milne had achieved fame with Winnie the Pooh.
‘It is clearly a piece of propaganda and designed to celebrate the tank, which was a British invention and was of massive interest at the time.
‘But more importantly he celebrates the men who served in the tanks. He had been wounded himself and knew what conditions were like.’
During the First World War, 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.
Written six years before Winnie’s debut in Punch, this example of Milne’s work shows his characteristic combination of humour and emotion:
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?