Library Moments: Books, Bears, And Bletchley Park

Harry_Colebourne_and_Winnie (1)

Lt. Harry Colebourn and Winnie. Image from the Manitoba Archives.

Bessie Sullivan, County Librarian: Hello, I’m Bessie Sullivan from the Haliburton County Public Library and this is Library Moments. Once a week some of us from the library will come and talk about books, upcoming events, or the services we offer at the library.

Remembrance Day is this week and at the library we think it is important to reflect on all those who made sacrifices during wartime including losing their lives.  Because the World Wars have had such an impact on all of us, books keep being published about them as well a other conflicts throughout history.

This week on Library Moments Sherrill Sherwood, Erin Kernohan-Berning and I will each talk about a recently published book that doesn’t talk about what we would expect from a book about the World Wars, but rather some lesser known detail that had significance in its own way.

when books went to warSherrill Sherwood, Collections Development: When America entered World War II in 1941, it faced an enemy that had banned and burned over 100 million books and caused fearful citizens to hide or destroy many more. Librarians understood that books would be vital to the war effort, not only improving morale but easing adjustment and averting the onset of psychoneurotic breakdowns. They launched a campaign to send free books to American troops and gathered 20 million hardcover donations. In 1943, the War Department and the publishing industry stepped in with an extraordinary program: 120 million small, lightweight paperbacks, for troops to carry in their pockets and their backpacks, in every theater of war. Comprising 1,200 different titles of every imaginable type, these paperbacks were cherished by the troops and are still fondly remembered today. Soldiers read them while waiting to land at Normandy; in trenches in the midst of battles in the Pacific; in field hospitals; and on long bombing flights. They wrote to the authors, many of whom responded to every letter. When Books Went to War: the stories that helped us win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning is an inspiring account  of the tremendous effort the military, librarians and publishers put together in a time of paper rationing to print and distribute millions of books for the men who fought. When Books Went to War will appeal to history buffs and book lovers alike.

finding winnieErin Kernohan-Berning, Branch Services Librarian: If you grew up with Winnie the Pooh, the endearingly rotund animated bear from the Disney cartoons, it is easy to forget Winnie’s wartime origins. When Veterinary Surgeon and army lieutenant Harry Colebourn stepped off a train in White River, Ontario, on route from Winnipeg to Valcartier, he wasn’t expecting to buy a bear for $20. In 1914, at the dawn of the First World War, $20 was a lot of money, but the orphaned black bear cub captured Colebourn’s heart and, travelling to Valcartier and over the ocean to England, soon became the mascot for the Fort Garry Horse unit of the 38 Canadian Brigade. Colebourn named the bear Winnipeg, or Winnie for short. When the brigade was sent to France, she was put under the care of the London zoo where the charismatic bear won the hearts of visitors and zookeepers. After the war, one visitor by the name of Christopher Robin would become enamoured with Winnie, renaming his stuffed toy in her honour and inspiring his father, A.A. Milne to write his classic tales of Winnie the Pooh. In Finding Winnie, the great granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, Lindsay Mattick, tells the story that has been passed down through her family to her own son, Cole, reminding us of Winnie’s Canadian heritage and the soldier who cared for her.

the bletchley girlsBessie: The Bletchley girls : war, secrecy, love and loss : the women of Bletchley Park by Tessa Dunlop tells the story of The Bletchley Girls from interviews with fifteen of the women who were selected to work in Britain’s most secret World War Two organisation – Bletchley Park. Many were just school girls at the outbreak of war; the next six years would change their lives forever. This vivid portrayal of their experiences, sacrifices and memories is a poignant reminder that without the work of thousands of young women, Bletchley Park’s extraordinary achievements would not have been possible. By meeting and talking to these fascinating female secret-keepers who are still alive today, Tessa Dunlop captures their extraordinary journeys into an adult world of war, secrecy, love and loss. Through the voices of the women themselves, this is the story of life at Bletchley Park beyond the celebrated code-breakers; it’s the story of the girls behind Britain’s ability to consistently outsmart the enemy.

I don’t think there has been a life untouched by war, even in our country.  Remembrance Day is a time to reflect, but also to learn.  The three books discussed today as well as countless more about conflict and resilience are available at the Haliburton County Public Library.  This has been Library Moments here on 100.9 CanoeFM.

*Originally aired on 100.9 CANOE FM November 8th – 14th, 2015.

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