The prolific author Henry Williamson, probably most famous for his book Tarka the Otter which was later made into a film, served for five months with the 2/1st Battalion, The Cambridgeshire Regiment.
Born in 1895, Williamson’s parents lived in Brockley, SE London. On leaving grammar school in 1913, he became an insurance clerk, soon enlisting in January 1914 as a Private in the 5th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade). Like the Cambridgeshire Regiment this was another unit in the Territorial Force. It was based at Finsbury and was mobilised on August 5, 1914 at the outbreak of the war.
Williamson, along with the rest of his battalion, was sent to France in November 1914. He reached the front line in time to witness the 1914 Christmas Truce. A few weeks later, in January 1915, he was invalided home with dysentery and trench foot. After recovering he was recommended and selected for officer training. He was commissioned, aged 19, as a Temporary 2nd Lieutenant in 10th Battalion, The Bedfordshire Regiment on May 15, 1915. Shortly after this he was posted to the 2/1st Battalion, Cambs Rgt, based in Newmarket.
After five months with the Cambs, he was posted to 25th (Reserve) Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment, but was soon transferred to the newly formed Machine Gun Corps. Williamson spent most of 1916 in training at Grantham. Granted leave due to loss of weight and anaemia, he was passed unfit for for three months.
Promoted Temporary Lieutenant in November 1916, he was sent to France in early 1917 as transport officer of the 208th Company, MGC. After being invalided home in June 1917 with sickness after a gas attack, he returned to the front in 1918 for a short period until invalided again.
On leaving the Army, he took a job as a reporter for The Weekly Dispatch in 1920. He became a prolific author. His first book was published 1921, others included Tarka the Otter (1927), The Wet Flanders Plain (1929), The Patriot’s Progress (1930) and a semi-autobiographical 15 book series A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight (1951-69). The Patriot’s Progress has characters based on some officers he served with in the Cambridgeshire Regiment.
With his health failing, Williamson began writing a script for a film of Tarka the Otter in 1974, and the film was released in 1979. He died at Twyford Abbey Nursing Home, London, on August 13, 1977, and is buried at Georgeham churchyard, Devon. In 1980, the Henry Williamson Society was formed.
For more information on Henry Williamson, his time in the Great War, and his literary works please visit the excellent Henry Williamson Society website by clicking here.
A detailed study of his experiences in the war can be found in Anne Williamson's book Henry Williamson and the First World War which is available from the Henry Williamson Society.
Williamson after being commissioned, 1915.
This site went live on the 14th February 2015 to mark 100 years since the 1/1st Cambs went off to war.
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