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Woodbine Willie, WW1 Padre

and former Curate at St Andrew's Rugby, 'Rugby Parish Church'.




Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy came to Rugby as a curate in 1908 and quickly became well known here, particularly for preaching around town in the open air.  Described as a humble man who never bore a grudge, he struggled with asthma and wrote poetry.  He had a burning passion for social justice and clearly believed he was called to minister primarily to people outside the church rather than to those already within it.  He became nationally well known as a result of his ministry as a Chaplain in the First World War, when the soldiers called him Woodbine Willie.  This was because he carried packets of Woodbine cigarettes with him wherever he went, giving them away to soldiers in the trenches.


Geoffrey served in the Somme offensive and was awarded the Military Cross after running into no-mans-land to help the wounded during an attack on the German front-line.  He was known as a man with a voice like a foghorn.  When he preached at Church Parade every eye was on him and his sermons were the chief topic of conversation during the ensuing week.  “He handed out compassion, friendship, jollity and cigarettes in equal measure”.


Geoffrey was well known for giving away everything he possessed to those in need.  He was also well known for swearing throughout his sermons, presumably something he didn’t do in St. Andrew’s!  During the war he wrote a letter home saying (presumably in case he was killed) that his son should be brought up knowing “that being a gentleman means using your life to serve and help your fellow men as much as ever you can, and that it is dishonourable to desire only to make money and be comfortable”.


Geoffrey founded the Industrial Christian Fellowship -'Faith on Monday Mornings' which seeks to help Christians in their daily work lives. Find out more here. 


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