Woodbine Willie – The Tale Of A Wartime Padre

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Woodbine Willie – The Tale Of A Wartime Padre

Geoffrey Kennedy was his name
Not one held in the Hall of Fame
This Reverend was a man of Leeds
Who became well known for his wartime deeds

With the gift of the gab, this Northern lad
Had a calling to be a priest like dad
Following the long family tradition
Had always been young Geoffrey’s mission

An Irish brogue gained at Dublin’s Trinity
And his way with words helped his affinity
With the working man whose songs he sang
At street corners and pubs from where they rang

On outbreak of war he took the shilling
Believing all fit men should be willing
To step right up, to volunteer
To fight for the King, to fight for what’s dear

At Lady Egerton’s canteen in France
His reputation was further enhanced
Serving soldiers, with songs regailing
Blunt Christian views, with lots of swearing

More than just the spiritual lift
He also gave out Woodbines as gifts
A caring man, he would know
Cigarettes, like his words gave a warming glow

Giving spiritual aid to the injured and dying
Geoffrey Kennedy was always trying
To boost morale of those under his wing
With the love and care he would always bring

The soldiers who would flock to hear
Him being so honest and blunt
Soon would bring to this man a tear
Seeing them all leave for the front

He joined them there when allowed
Tending to the wounded under heavy fire
He comforted the fallen from both sides
Crawling through the mud and the mire

Showing bravery and compassion
His courage certainly not on ration
The Military Cross later awarded
His heroism duly rewarded

During these hard times he wrote his verse
‘His Mate’ being most renowned
Of scenes he witnessed too many times
Of friends being felled all around

His duties included burying brothers
Saying words for the many slain
One day over two hundred souls
Their grave was the mud and the rain

He carried on serving his soldiers
His sermons still somewhat blue
Voicing his doubts about God and his faith
Tested by the horrors they’d all been through

Removed from post by the General
Demobbing was soon to come
At war’s end, to become a King’s Chaplain
Still doing the job his way….then some

Never fitting with high society
His words gaining disparaging looks
He carried on with his travelling ministry
And also with writing his books

His passing came quite early
Worn out by a hectic life
He was remembered to the end
As a compassionate friend
With a wit as sharp as a knife

The cortege route was lined for miles
By ordinary people with remembering smiles
His coffin not showered by flowers that day
But by packs of Woodbines as their way
Of saying they never would forget
His wit, compassion and caring,
And a Woodbine Willie cigarette.

By Bill Clayton
©2020

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