Animals In War

A version of this article first appeared in Kingston Neighbours magazine, November, 2022.)

In previous articles, I’ve discussed the difficulties teaching youth about Remembrance Day without overwhelming them with the horrors of war. The Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) website is an excellent resource. The department has extensive learning materials for all ages to help with remembrance, including activity booklets, postcards and bookmarks. And all items can either be downloaded or ordered online for FREE!

I’ve used VAC resources for years with students and my own children because the kid-friendly animal mascots make the subjects of war, peace and remembrance accessible for youth. The materials are also informative; one VAC poster shows how animals help in conflict situations, for example. Children learn that horses carry soldiers and supplies and that dogs can serve as messengers, watch-dogs, bomb detectors or search-and-rescue support. Dogs are also therapeutic, helping many soldiers heal from injuries, especially PTSD.

However, perhaps the most beloved Canadian wartime animal was a bear from WWI, Winnie, as in Winnie-The-Pooh. The iconic character created by British author A.A. Milne was based on a real black bear cub from Canada. Purchased in 1914 in White River, Ontario, by a Canadian soldier and veterinarian, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn, Winnie was named after Colebourn’s hometown of Winnipeg. She became a mascot for the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps and accompanied them to England. When Colebourn deployed to the front lines, Winnie moved to the London Zoo where thousands of British children, including A.A. Milne’s son, fell in love with her. 

Harry Colebourn and Winnie, 1914. Public domain photo:

For some Canadian books that tell Winnie’s story, I recommend:

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-The-Pooh, by Sally M. Walker — This beautifully illustrated picture book shares some antics of Winnie, Colebourn and his fellow soldiers in Quebec and England. A heart-warming story appropriate for children of all ages.

Winnie’s Great War, by Lindsay Mattick & Josh Greenhut — Written by Harry Colebourn’s great grand-daughter, Lindsay Mattick, the novel has a dual storyline similar to The Princess Bride. The main story, whimsically told from Winnie’s perspective, is interjected with dialogue between the narrator (Mattick) and her son, Cole, who was named after Colebourn. This touching novel would make a wonderful read-aloud story.

Here are some other beautiful and heartwarming stories to share with your children for Remembrance Day:

Picture Books


Thank you to all Canadian Armed Forces members, past and present, for your service.

Lest we forget.

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