Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy was an Anglican priest serving as chaplain during World War I. He would go to the front lines and crawl into no-man’s land during the thick of battle giving spiritual comfort to and sharing his Woodbine cigarettes with the injured and dying soldiers. They nicknamed him ‘Woodbine Willy’.
Studdert-Kennedy’s sermons were easy listening and fun and effective. He also wrote poetry in the vernacular. While writing Hold The Oxo! I became very fond of Woodbine Willy and his courage in his ministry to the soldiers. I included one of his poems in my manuscript. For whatever reason, the poem didn’t make the cut so I decided to give him his voice here.
You were askin’ ’ow we sticks it,
Sticks this blarsted rain and mud,
’Ow it is we keeps on smilin’
When the place runs red wi’ blood.
Since you’re askin’, I can tell ye,
And I thinks I tells ye true,
But it ain’t official, mind ye,
It’s a tip twixt me and you.
For the General thinks it’s tactics,
And the bloomin’ plans ‘e makes.
And the C.O. thinks it’s trainin’,
And the trouble as he takes.
Sergeant-Major says it’s drillin’,
And ‘is straffin’ on parade,
Doctor swears it’s sanitation,
And some patent stinks ’e’s made.
Padre tells us its religion,
And the Spirit of the Lord;
But I ain’t got much religion,
And I sticks it still, by Gawd
Quarters kids us it’s the rations,
And the dinners as we gets.
But I knows what keeps us smilin’,
It’s the Woodbine Cigarettes.
For the daytime seems more dreary,
And the night-time seems to drag
To eternity of darkness,
When ye aven’t got a fag.
Then the rain seems some’ow wetter,
And the cold cuts twice as keen,
And ye keeps on seein’ Boches,
What the Sargint ’asn’t seen.
If ole Fritz ’as been and got ye,
And ye ’ave to stick the pain,
If ye ’aven’t got a fag on,
Why it ’urts as bad again.
When there ain’t no fags to pull at,
Then there’s terror in the ranks.
That’s the secret — (yes, I’ll ’ave one).
Just a fag — and many Tanks.
— “Woodbine Willy”*
To read other Woodbine Willy poems check:
Rough Rhymes of a Padre (1918)
More Rough Rhymes (1919)