Express & Star

WI transported back in time to hear about forgotten hero

When Penkridge WI met this month they were transported back to World War I with a talk by David Gethin on “Woodbine Willie.”

David Gethin and Penkridge WI president Vicky Atkins. Photo: Penkridge WI

Reverend Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy, an Anglican army chaplain, initially posted in a respite camp, was nicknamed Woodbine Willie for giving the troops cigarettes, also a New Testament to lift their spirits before they went back to the front line.

He funded this himself, although his parish also collected for the work, and it is estimated he gave away 280,000 cigarettes worth £43,000 today.

When he moved to the front himself in a medical team, he would comfort the injured and dying men in “no man’s land” and he was recognised for his bravery with the Military Medal.

He had a lifelong desire to help the poor. His wife once met him carrying his own bed down to someone who didn’t have one! After the war he worked for the Industrial Christian Fellowship and put his efforts into improving the lot of the men who had fought in the war. Known internationally for his work in the war, he travelled widely to speak all over the British Isles, Europe, USA, and Canada.

He died in 1929 from flu in Liverpool aged 46 and thousands came to pay their respects in the cathedral there. At his burial in his parish church in Worcester thousands attended again, throwing woodbines on the cortege. It was a fascinating story of a forgotten hero.

Penkridge WI meet next on Monday, 1 July at 7.30pm in Penkridge Reading Rooms and we will be entertained by Alton Bell Ringers. Visitors are always welcome.

Submitted by Penkridge WI

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