Me and Jonathan Calder seem to be conducting sort of parallel lives. There’s so many little tidbits he comes up with which are from my little sphere of interests also.
Jonathan has just linked to a superb clip of Divine Comedy’s Absent Friends. This track impressed me so much that it sent me off on a research tangent about a year ago. I found out all I could about “Woodbine Willie”, who is mentioned in the song along with other noble and forlorn figures such as Jean Seberg, Steve McQueen, Oscar Wilde and Laika. (Laika was a dog and the first animal to be launched into orbit.)
“Woodbine Willie” was Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy. That’s quite a mouthful – which is why, no doubt, first world war soldiers sought a snappier name for him. He was a chaplain with the army on the Western Front. He won the military cross for running into no-man’s land, under fire, to help the wounded. What he would do is give the dying a last cigarette and comfort them, as he could. Hence his nickname, “Woodbine Willie”.
Kennedy acheived a lot of fame when he returned to Blighty from the war. I read a biography of him called “A fiery glow in the darkness“. What stood out is that he dedicated his life, as a priest, to helping the poor at home, and at war, the wounded and dying.
The man was truly inspiring and a refreshing example of what a Christian should do and be.
I found out that “Woodbine Willie’s” grandson is a parish priest at Marlborough, Wiltshire, and exchanged letters with him.
As an aside, Neil Hannon, the driving force of Divine Comedy, is the son of the bishop of Clogher, which might explain how he came across “Woodbine Willie”.Tweet