WOODCOCK, Ingeborg

Author Tags: Photography

The daughter of a Polish mother and a minor German aristocrat, Ingeborg Hedwig Elisabeth Linzer was born in 1917 in Weimar, Germany, not Austria as was sometimes claimed. Adept at English, she left Germany in 1938, hoping to gain experiences that might enable her to work as a foreign correspondent, but her experiences as an au pair girl for two elderly women in Ipswich, as arranged by a relative, proved very unsatisfactory. Against her parents' wishes, she married a British journalist, Frederick Roskelly, just prior to the outbreak of World War II, and they moved to Cornwall to live among artists at St. Ives. This marriage was short-lived but nonetheless it made her a British subject, enabling her to remain freely in England, despite her origins, without being interned. In 1943, as Ingeborg Linzer Roskelly, she met George Woodcock, a member of the Berneri anarchist circle, at a party in London. Because George Woodcock was active as a pacifist anarchist who was complicit in producing anti-war literature, the couple lived underground, frequently moving from one address to another in order to avoid the police. Louise Berneri was brought before the court for the dissemination of literature that was produced on George Woodcock's typewriter. After World War II, when opportunities proved scarce, they left the London literary scene in 1940 to homestead in Sooke on Vancouver Island, partially attracted by the notion of emulating Doukhobor pacifists. George Woodcock had been born in Winnipeg so Canada was also suitable for immigration purposes. The nearest Doukhobour settlement was at Hilliers, near Parksville. Not suited for subsistence farming, George and Ingeborg Woodcock lived temporarily with Doris and Jack Shadbolt in a rough cabin nearby the Shadbolt's home in Burnaby. Both childless, the two couples became lifelong friends, often sharing their Christmases together.

With the crucial assistance of Earle Birney, George Woodcock lectured at UBC and later taught both English and French literature. One night in 1951 they were at a party when someone passed along the news that their friend George Orwell (Eric Blair) had died. It was as if a bridge had been removed behind them. In 1952, George Woodcock published the first of his many books pertaining to British Columbia, a travelogue called Ravens and Prophets: An Account of Journeys in British Columbia, Alberta and Southern Alaska, based on his explorations of the province with Ingeborg. George Woodcock never drove, so they were partners for the research of all his travel books. As a photographer, Ingeborg Woodcock was co-author of their book on Victoria. She was chiefly interested in Buddhism and fund-raising for various humanitarian causes, chiefly Tibetan Refugee Aid Society (TRAS) and Canada India Village Aid (CIVA). She was a friend of the Dalai Lama, having visited him at his refuge at Dharamsala, India soon after he had fled Tibet. The Woodcocks met privately with the Dalai Lama during one of his visits to Vancouver and the Dalai Lama was making arrangements for a another visit with Ingeborg Woodcock when she died on December 13, 2003 of cancer, prior to his arrival in Vancouver in April of 2004. She was described in an obituary by David Gordon Duke as a lifelong defiant smoker who resisted luxuries and "was notoriously sharp at the slightest manifestation of swollen ego." Friends spread her ashes at Anarchist Mountain in British Columbia, with those of her husband. The proceeds from the sale of her home on McCleery Street in Vancouver went to the Woodcock Fund of the Writers Trust of Canada to provide emergency assistance to established Canadian writers. Their extraordinary bequest of $1.87 million from the Woodcock estate, finalized in 2006, was one of the largest donations of its kind to the literary arts in Canada, if not the largest.


Faces of India: A Travel Narrative by George Woodcock, illustrated with photographs by Ingeborg Woodcock (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1964)]

Victoria. By George Woodcock, illustrated with photographs by Ingeborg Woodcock.(1971)

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2009] "Photography"

Ingeborg Woodcock

Ingeborg Woodcock, widow of George Woodcock, died on December 11, 2003. She occasionally collaborated with her husband, mainly as a photographer, co-authoring a book on Victoria, and she completed his unpublished translation of Proust. She preferred Buddhism and fund raising for India to the literary life. She donated a small fortune to the Writers Development Trust to create a fund to assist writers in need. The Dalai Lama was making arrangements to meet with her in Vancouver prior to her death.

[BCBW Summer 2004]

Ingeborg Woodcock and Canada India Village Aid

David Gordon Duke of Canada India Village Aid provided the following obituary notice for The Vancouver Sun:

One of the most intriguing guest appearances in Canadian biography—and certainly the briefest—occurs on page 259 of the first volume of George Woodcock’s autobiography Letter to the Past (1982):

“In 1943 at a party in Great Russell Street, I met the very private person who became my wife, and so began the relationship that has sustained my life since then. Her exemplary desire for anonymity I have to respect, even though I do not share it.”

Enter and exit the unnamed Ingeborg Woodcock, whose long and remarkably active life changed those of many thousands of people around the globe, none of whom ever knew she existed. A lifelong, defiant chain smoker, she died of cancer on Thursday Dec. 11; she stipulated there be no memorial service. Yet those who knew and (mostly) loved her must break faith now in making, finally, some slight public acknowledgement of her accomplishments and example.

To write about someone who refused to be written about means I must write about myself. I first got to know George and Inge when my partner Russell and I house-sat for them in 1979 while they travelled abroad researching a new book. Our main duty was feeding their beloved cat Alfie his daily rations of cornflakes and chicken livers, and the racoons who came each evening to the back door their nightly rations of chocolate chip cookies.

That tiny house on McCleery Street in Kerrisdale was one of the most remarkable dwellings in Western Canada: utterly spartan, yet filled with Asian art, artifacts and crafts collected on the world travels, and paintings (mostly gifts) by a who’s who of the Canadian art world. There were no luxuries: Inge kept a cheap transistor radio in the kitchen tuned to the CBC, and George typed his books on a tiny plastic portable typewriter sitting atop a home-made desk. Only two “modern” gadgets stood out in this resolutely self-sufficient environment: a huge kiln in the basement (Inge studied pottery with Bernard Leach), and in George’s study an ancient photocopier on which they duplicated newsletters for the two charities they created and directed: the Tibetan Refugee Aid Society (TRAS) and Canada India Village Aid (CIVA).

Spending a couple of weeks there was an indoctrination into the Woodcock code of moral anarchism: being good meant working hard, with no complaints and no expectation of thanks.

Here is a little bit of what Inge did not want you to know. She was born Ingeborg Hedwig Elisabeth Linzer in 1917, her mother Polish, her father a minor German aristocrat. She fled Nazism in 1936 for London, and was briefly married to British journalist Frederick Roskelly. Her friends there included Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester and (after that fateful party at which she met George Woodcock) George Orwell. In later life Inge became a particular intimate of the Dalai Lama, who in the late 1990s sent his personal physician to Vancouver in hopes of curing her arthritis.

How Inge would scorn such name-dropping! She was notoriously sharp at the slightest manifestation of swollen ego, once storming away from the head table at a charity banquet when the celebrity host began praising his own charitable endeavours.

She wasted no energy on tact. A phone from Inge usually started: “I have found a trustworthy agency helping the victims of [insert latest international emergency]. How much will your cheque be for?” The most efficient fund-raising tool in Western Canada was an open secret: fear of Inge.

She and George exploited their friends and acquaintances ruthlessly for good causes: you quickly found yourself straining your back in a human chain gang transporting boxes of sale books into St. Mary’s Church, or licking stamps for an appeal on humane treatment of farm animals. Many fled her bluntness; those who stayed frankly adored her, however warily. Whenever Woodcockists met we shared Inge anecdotes: her denunciation of seatbelts as an infringement of civil liberties; her scorn for the cultural bureaucrats who had “ruined” the CBC; her passion for driving George along Highway 0 and across the US border for hamburgers at the Fairway Café in Linden, Wa.

She got crankier in old age, as we all shall. After George’s death she spent months taking down poems he dictated to her in the small hours. She completed his translation of Proust, mocking the errors made on every page “by Scott-Montcrieff! and by Woodcock!,” but was unable to find a publisher who would return her calls. She railed against her “imprisonment” in a care facility. (“The staff are very nice, but everybody here is nuts! Including me!”) She refused invasive medical treatment at the end, determined to die as she had lived, at her own pace. She continued to see straight through everything and everyone. She is irreplaceable.

She continues to do good: the proceeds from the sale of her home go to the Woodcock Fund of the Writers’ Trust of Canada “to provides emergency financial assistance for established Canadian writers who find themselves in crisis.”

[This obituary appeared in the Vancouver Sun in December 2003.]