Otter man’s post-war vision

British writer, Henry Williamson (1895-1977) is known as the Otter Man, being the author of the best-seller Tarka the Otter: Tarka (meaning little water wanderer), had been rescued by Williamson after a farmer had shot its mother. The otter would walk like a dog alongside Williamson but one day it walked into a rabbit trap, panicked and fled. Williamson spent years looking for Tarka following the rivers Taw and Torridge in Devon.

Williamson never found Tarka again, but his intimate contact with nature inspired him to write his most famous nature book which also contained the sub-text of a rallying-cry which stemmed from the anger that Henry Williamson felt after the carnage of World War One.

Williamson had enlisted in the Army on the outbreak of the war, and fought on the Somme and at Passchendale where he was seriously wounded. He was invalided home in 1915, but was back as an officer in France in 1916 and came out of the war as a Captain with a Military Cross.

It was Williamson’s war experiences, together with his love of Nature that prompted him to seek out and experience the “life flow” that pervades all existence. This was to turn him into something of a prophet for a new generation of British radicals who looked to Nature as a redemptive force not only against Mankind’s propensity to wage war but also as the antidote to the industrialisation that had advanced on the back of a great arms race and war.

The hope was of a ‘new start’ for the West in Spenglerian terms, the rural against the urban, the rootedness of the soil and of working the land, against the nebulous city masses: it was what Spengler had called the final battle of “Civilisation-Blood Against Money”.

For this ‘new start’ much of the inspiration came from Germany where this back- to- Nature tradition had deep historical roots and was built on the belief that the German identity and power was closely linked with its natural landscape and sense of place. This fused into a mystical identification with the homeland, its ‘Heimat’ in German, whose protection was a fundamental national duty. It was this sense of patriotism, order and purity that appealed to Williamson and of course was heavily promoted by the Nazi party who hailed Nature as a key element of their cultural programme. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre

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