Page last updated at 09:58 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009
Woodbine Willie - a cleric at war
Rev. Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy
Rev. Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was a vicar in Worcester

The Rev. Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, better known as Woodbine Willie, became one of the best known figures of World War I.

At the outbreak of the war he volunteered as a chaplain, and won the Military Cross in 1917.

His habit of handing out cigarettes to troops earned him his nickname, being a heavy smoker himself.

After the war he was the vicar at St Paul's church in Worcester, and is buried in the city.

He was born in Leeds in 1883, the son of a vicar, and after reading divinity and classics at Trinity College, Dublin, became a vicar, first in Rugby and then in Worcester.

Like many others, he volunteered to join the army at the outbreak of WWI, and was often in the thick of the fighting.

Troops in World War One
British troops at the Battle of Arras March 1917

One celebrated story tells of him crawling out to a working party putting up wire in front of their trench.

A nervous soldier challenged him, asking who he was, and he said "The church."

When the soldier asked what the church was doing out there, he replied "Its job."

Poems and peace

He was also a published poet, writing two books about his war experiences: Rough Rhymes of a Padre (1918), and More Rough Rhymes (1919).

After the war he became closely involved in the Christian socialist and the pacifist movements, touring the country giving public lectures.

He was in Liverpool on one of his lecture tours in 1929 when he fell ill and died.

Troops in World War One
British troops in a shallow trench during the Battle of the Somme

A crowd of more than 2,000 turned out for his funeral procession, lining from Worcester cathedral to his old parish church of St Paul's.

They tossed packets of Woodbines onto the passing cortege - a gesture the Rev. Studdert Kennedy would probably have thoroughly approved of, being a heavy smoker himself.

His life is remembered on a plaque in the cathedral which reads:

Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy M. C.
A Poet: A Prophet: A Passionate seeker after Truth
An ardent advocate of Christian Fellowship
Chaplain to H. M. King George VI
Chaplain to the Forces
Rector of S. Edmund King and Martyr in the City of London
Sometime Vicar of S. Pauls in this City
Born 27 June 1883 Died 8 March 1929.

The plaque was made of bronze by the Bromsgrove Guild.




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