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A. A. MILNE TANK POEM FOUND

September 9, 2016
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This little-known poem by Winnie the Pooh writer A. A. Milne displays the cultural impact of tanks during and following the First World War.

Discovered by The Tank Museum’s archive department, it was part of the program 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. Other famous artists of the time, as well as the bands of the Welsh Guards and the Scots Guards, took part.

Poem by A A Milne

Poem by A A Milne

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.

Written six years before Winnie’s debut in Punch, 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?
THANKS!

The Museum’s has not found any evidence of the poem’s publication anywhere else, so it is likely it was created especially for this concert. We are very excited to be able to release it to the public as an example of a contemporary tribute to the brave men who crewed the first tanks.

The poem reads as follows:

You have heard of the wonderful Tanks,
There are legends about them in plenty:
They will flatten a wood
If the cover’s too good,
Or recline on Hill 60 until it’s Hill 20.
There’s a story that one for a wager –
A matter of twenty-five francs –
Flew off on its own,
And just pushed down Cologne,
A proceeding which rather annoyed the Town Major.

Oh, they’re devils when once they get going,
They are up to the oddest of pranks;
There’s a patter – Mark III –
Which can swim in the sea,
And submerge until only its periscope’s showing.
Oh they’re wonderful, wonderful things are the Tanks!
You have heard of them?
THANKS!

You have read of the actual Tanks.
“At dawn we attacked on the So-and-So line,
Observation was good and the weather was fine.
On the right of the sector the Umptieth Blanks
Secured their objectives – assisted by Tanks”
With the co-operation of Tanks.

And perhaps you have pictured a Tank,
As it poised and pitches
Itself at the ditches,
And noses its way up the bank.
You can hear its machinery clank,
And its guns rat-tat-tat,
As it opens on Fritz,
And he runs like a rat;
But there’s no use in that.
He’s cornered “tat-tat” –
And shot as he sits…

So, perhaps you have pictured the Tanks,
The latest invention, the Tanks,
Is there wire in the way?
Then send for the Tanks!
Are machine-guns at play?
Then forward the Tanks!
The Tanks that go anywhere – Forward the Tanks!
The grim mechanical Tanks.
And you’re proud as you read of the wonderful Tanks.
You are proud of them?
THANKS!

But they’re not quite mechanical Tanks;
There are men at the wheel and the gun.
And the grim reputation of Tanks,
And the wonderful things that they’ve done,
And the battles they’ve won,
Are the work of the MEN in the Tanks.
And it isn’t all fun
For the men who sit tight in the Tanks.
No, it isn’t all fun in the Tanks:
You may read with a cheer
How they crashed down the wire,
But perhaps you don’t hear
That a couple caught fire –
Well, it’s one of the risks of the Tanks.

For the humans who sit in the Tanks:
The brain and the soul of the Tanks,
The Tanks that go anywhere. Anywhere, true,
If the men in the Tanks will go anywhere too –
As they do.

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?
THANKS!

By A.A. Milne

 

Find out more about A.A. Milne and First World War and modern poetry, check out the books below.

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