The Rev. Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy, known as ‘Woodbine Willie’ for his habit of bringing cigarettes to the troops, stands out as a hero of the Great War.
Though Kennedy was born in Leeds, his family had roots in Ireland.
His father served for a period as a curate in Ballymena, while he himself graduated from Trinity College, Dublin. It is appropriate , then, that the Irish group,Divine Comedy should make reference to him in their song, ‘Absent Friends’.
Kennedy was gloriously unconventional.
When himself a curate, he was reprimanded by his rector. “Kennedy”, said the rector, “I can take one heresy from you a Sunday, but definitely not two!”
As a war chaplain, he was committed to the welfare of his men, witness the gift of cigarettes, and his courage earned him a military cross. He was a fine preacher, and King George V took care to hear preach at least once each year.
But what he had seen in the trenches made him a socialist and a pacifist.
Once , addressing guests at a fancy lunch, he looked round and remarked: “It’s funny the kind of people God allows to have money!”
He took seriously the remark of Canon Scott Holland: “The more you are interested in the Incarnation (Of Jesus made flesh), the more you must be concerned about drains.”
Kennedy was a devoted husband and father, espousing a muscular Christianity. Writing from the front ,he gave his wife advice about the training of their son: “Make him a sportsman, encourage him to play games and play the game. Teach him to despise cowardice. teach him to love and reverence women.”
Those who read his poems or his writings are struck by his deep compassion for all, and his intense love for Jesus Christ.
Track down if you can his collection of poems, ‘The Unutterable Beauty’.
Find there his challenging poem, ‘Indifference’, and the one which begins: “I wonder what he charged for chairs at Nazareth?”
As the world remembers many heroes, those of us whose lives have been enriched by the words of Studdert Kennedy salute a true hero of the faith.