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Major Harry Colebourn

Individual attestation record images are not available for this person.



Date of birth: 1887-04-12
Place of birth: Birmingham Warwickshire England
Next of kin: Father: no name given - 100 Stinard Lane, Thornhill, Dewesbury,York, England
Marital status: single
Occupation (attested): Veterinary Surgeon
Occupation (normalized): Veterinarian, General
Religion: Church of England
Date of death: 1947-09-24
Buried: Brookside Cemetery, 1312


Regimental number: NA
Highest Rank: Major
Rank detail
  1. Captain (Army).
  2. Major (Army).
  3. Private (Army).
Degree of service: Europe
Survived war: yes


Winnipeg Assiniboine Zoo
Obituary - 1947
Brookside Cemetery, Winnipeg, Manitoba
(Harry’s son) Fred & Ella Colebourn - Researching
Winnie the bear with Harry,


Uploader's Notes:

Harry married Christina McLeod in Winnipeg September 8, 1924. They had one son, Fred.

When Harry passed away in 1947 he was survived by his wife Christina, his son Fred and 3 brothers, Bert of Sioux Lookout, Ontario and Arthur and Fred in England. His funeral was held at Gardiner's Funeral Home in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

During Harry's war time service he was mentioned twice in dispatches. He served with both the Canadian and Imperial forces.

The following is an exert by the Fort Garry Horse:

Doctor Harry Colebourn was born in Birmingham in 1887 and came to Canada in 1905 when he was 18 years of age. He settled in Toronto initially and, in order to finance his university education, he worked in menial jobs such as selling fruit from door to door on the streets in Toronto and as a deckhand on commercial vessels plying the Great Lakes. In 1908, he enrolled at the Ontario Veterinary College located in Guelph. On the 25th of April, 1911, he received his degree as a Veterinary Surgeon and following his graduation, he returned to Dewsbury, England to re-unite with his family. Following a short stay, he returned to Canada.

On July 3, 1911, he accepted a veterinary appointment with the Department of Agriculture, Health of Animals Branch, in Winnipeg. In the same year he joined the 18th Mounted Rifles as a Militia Officer and then was seconded to the 34th Regiment of Cavalry, (later named the 34th Fort Garry Horse), on May 15, 1912. He was one of the original officers of the 34th Fort Garry Horse. When World War One broke out in August 1914, he was already a trained officer and immediately offered his services to his country. Subsequently, he was given leave of absence from the Department of Agriculture and left Winnipeg on August 23rd 1914, bound for Valcartier, Quebec. While enroute to Valcartier, he was detached from the 34th Fort Garry Horse and transferred to the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps. (C.A.V.C.)

On the 24th of August, the train stopped at White River, Ontario where Harry purchased a small black female bear cub for the sum of $20 from a hunter who had killed her mother. Shortly after this, Harry named his little cub "Winnie" after the City of Winnipeg, his home-town. On September 12th 1914, he was taken on strength of the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade Headquarters under the command of Lt. Colonel Arthur W. Currie who was later on to become the commander of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Harry's six diaries he kept of the war show that on October 3rd 1914, he and "Winnie" embarked from Gaspe Bay enroute for England aboard the S.S. Manitou along with four other liners heading for England. On October 17th, they disembarked and left Davenport, England, for Salisbury Plain at 7:00 that morning. Winnie was to remain with him and a pet to the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade Headquarters and a Mascot to the C.A.V.C. while he remained in England. Winnie quickly became a pet to many of the soldiers and would follow them around like a tame dog in their off-duty hours at Salisbury Plain. There were numerous photos taken of her with the men and these photos often became a keepsake for them to treasure.

However, this situation was to change when Harry was given the order to remove Winnie from the Brigade Headquarters, as she would not be able to accompany them to the battlefields in France where the brigade was shortly to go. Consequently, on the 9th of December 1914, Harry proceeded to the London Zoo with his 'pet' where he left her in safe keeping until the end of the war. According to his diary writings, it was his full intention to bring Winnie back to Canada with him after the war was over. His diaries indicated that he was very fond of her and would often visit her when on leave from war zones in France.

However, when the war ended in 1918, Harry remained in England temporarily and in 1919, he reversed his original intentions to bring Winnie home to Winnipeg. Instead, he donated her to the London Zoo as a gesture of his appreciation for the Zoo's efforts in caring for her during those four war years. It was to be noted that Winnie had also become a feature attraction for the many thousands of visitors and especially young children. She was considered to be completely trustworthy by her bear keepers who said that of all the bears they had in the Zoo, Winnie was the only one they could say this about. She was also the tamest and best behaved bear that the Zoo ever had.

The London Zoo in 1919 held a dedication ceremony by erecting a plaque reading to the effect that Captain Harry Colebourn of the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps had donated her to the Zoo. Numerous newspaper stories were written telling about this extraordinary bear and her friendly nature and antics. Two of her admirers of that early period after the war were A.A. Milne, a writer, and his young son Christopher Robin. From 1924, they frequently visited the Zoo where the young Milne boy would always want to go and see "Winnie". Christopher was even allowed inside the cage to feed her condensed milk.

In 1926 as a result of his son's keen enjoyment in visiting with Winnie, Mr. Milne published the first and probably the best known of the series of Pooh's Classics called "Winnie-The-Pooh." The other books were called, The House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six.

Later on in the war, Harry was to be honored for his services by being recommended for the O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) by the Director of Canadian Veterinary Services, C.E. Edgett, D.S.O. "For his untiring devotion to his duties as Veterinary Officer first with the Units in the Field, with whom he served for over three years, then as Senior Veterinary Officer of Bramshott Area. This officer has always been most attentive to his professional charge and unsparing in his endeavors to produce efficiency, both when employed as an executive officer and as an administrative officer. He has been twice Mentioned in the Despatches of the Field Marshal, Commander in Chief, British Forces in France, and was previously recommended by this department for an Honour.". The medal was not awarded.

Following the end of the war, Captain Colebourn remained in England for a short while to further his veterinary education and training by taking a post-graduate course at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in London. He was subsequently accorded the title of Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (M.R.C.V.S.) following his successful graduation from that institution.

On returning to Canada in early 1920, he went directly to Winnipeg, his former place of residence. He then opened his own veterinary practice located at 377 McMillan Avenue and practiced there until 1926. Because of declining health, he gave up his practice to accept a position with his former employer the Department of Agriculture, Health of Animals Branch, as a veterinarian specializing in postmortem work.

Although his health was not good, he did manage to maintain his military relationship with The Fort Garry Horse as their Veterinary Officer with the rank of Major from January 15th 1921, until his retirement from the military on April 15th 1929.

Throughout his 21½ years of service with the Department of Agriculture, Dominion Government of Canada, until his retirement on May 19th 1945, he continued to maintain his small animal private practice on a reduced scale. He built a small animal hospital at the rear of the family home located at 600 Corydon Avenue where he dedicated many hours of paid and unpaid service to numerous animals and their owners of that time. His dedicated love of animals prevailed throughout his life span until his death on September 24th 1947.

Major Harry Colebourn is buried Brookside Cemetery, Plot 1312, in the Field of Honour. Harry also served on the Executive of the Army and Navy Veterans in Canada, Fort Garry Unit #60,during World War Two. Over the years, there have been several monuments to the association between the Colebourn, Winnie and his home city.

In 1981 a statue of a bear cub by sculptor Lorne McKean was unveiled at the London Zoo with a plaque commemorating Winnie. In 1992 and 1993 statues of Harry and Winnie by sculptor William Epp were placed in the Winnipeg and London Zoos. In 1997, the town of White River, Ontario, Winnie’s birthplace, put a plaque in the London Zoo commemorating their connection with the famous bear. There is also a statue of Pooh in his tree in White River. On 30 May 1999, a special plaque commemorating the service of Harry Colebourn to The Fort Garry Horse and Canadian Army Veterinary Corps was placed in the London Zoo near the site of Winnie’s home for 20 years. A special musical tribute, "The Fort Garry Suite" was composed for the occasion and played for the first time in public at the ceremony.

Summary – Maj Harry Colebourn - V.S., B.V.Sc., M.R.C.V.S., F.Z.S., C.A.V.C.
1. Served with Canadian Army (Militia), 34th Fort Garry Horse, Winnipeg, Manitoba - May 22nd 1913 to September 24th 1914. Rank held - Lieutenant - Veterinary Officer. Attached from No 10 Section, C.A.V.C.

2. Served with Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, Canadian Expeditionary Force, (attached to 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade, and Canadian Forestry Corps). Enrolled, August 23rd 1914, Demobilized February 29th 1920. Field Service in France, September 25th 1914 to July 12th 1919. Rank held Captain - Veterinary Officer.

3. Canadian Army (Militia), The Fort Garry Horse, Winnipeg, Manitoba - January 15th 1921 to April 15th 1929. Enrolled as Lieutenant (Brevet Captain) Rank on retirement - Major - Veterinary Officer.

Medals and Decorations –

1914-1915 Star, British War Medal, 1914-1918, Victory Medal with Mentioned in Despatches emblem (M.I.D. London Gazette # 30107 June 1st 1917), Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officer's Decoration. (Nov 26th 1928)
Recommended for O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) award.

Parts of this Biographic Sketch was prepared, edited and corrected by CWO Gordon Crossley, FGH Museum and Archives, May 1999/August 2000. Original document on file with the FGH Museum. Harry Colebourn’s son- the late Fred Colebourn, in May 1988.

The Fort Garry Horse Museum and Archives


A Poem written by Harry:

The Soldier’s Ten Commandments.

(1) When on guard thou shalt challenge
all parties approaching thee.

(2) Thou shalt not send any engraving nor
any likeness of any airship in heaven above,
nor any postcard of the earth beneath,
nor of any submarine in the sea, for I, the
Censor am a jealous Censor, visiting inequities
of the offenders with three months C.B.
but showing mercy unto thousands by
letters; the letters go first of those who
obey my commandments.

(3) Thou shalt not use profuse [profane] language
unless, under extraordinary circumstances,
such as seeing thy mate , or getting
petrol in thy tea.

(4) Remember the Soldier’s week consists of
seven days. Six days shalt thou labour
and on the seventh day thou shalt do
all odd jobs.

(5) Honour thy King & country, keep thy
rifle clean, and shoot straight that
thy days may be long in the land
the army giveth thee.

(6) Thou shalt not steel [steal] thy comrade’s

(7) Thou shalt not kill time

(8) Thy shall not adultrate thy mess tin by using it as a shaving mug.

(9) Thy shall not bear false witness against thy comrade, but reserve silence on his out-goings and in-goings.

(10) Thy shall not covet thy Corporal's post neither Sergeant Major's , but by thy duty & perseverance thou shalt rise to the position of Field Marshall. 1916


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Uploader's Research notes:

family research: Forbes - Aberdeen to Keewatin, Harry married Christina McLeod at Winnipeg 1924 * Christina's last name is incorrect in the Manitoba Vital Stats record.

*Source: The Real Winnie: A One-of-a-Kind Bear By Val Shushkewich; Digitized file: 1844-22.pdf

Manitoba Archives - "The Soldier's Ten Commandments" 1916
Author: Colebourn, Harry D., 1887-1947

Winnipeg Free Press Archives - obituary; Sept 26, 1947

Manitoba Historical Society - Memorable Manitobans:

[Not Specified Army Canadian Cavalry 34th Fort Garry Horse Captain Army Canadian Army Veterinary Corps Canadian Army Veterinary Corps Major Army Canadian Army Veterinary Corps Canadian Army Veterinary Corps ]


Date added: 2005-08-22
Last modified: 2014-01-30