My father used to tell me about Woodbine Willie and I grew up knowing the story of how he was the Tommy’s Padre. Because he chain smoked he became Woodbine Willie and because he handed smokes out freely he became a favourite. Growing up as he did in the rough area of Quarry Hill which was just across from the notorious Bank he had encountered the men (and boys) who he would live alongside for 4 war years.
My Father always spoke of him fondly and as he generally thought anyone to do with the Church was low down on the food chain, that was a real compliment.
When I began my family tree I found my Grandmother and her parents attended St. Mary the Virgin, Quarry Hill, Leeds. They were married there on the 19th January 1891 by the Vicar William Studdert Kennedy. He had nine children with his wife Jeanette Anketell and Geoffrey was the seventh child. Educated at Leeds Grammar School and Trinity College, Dublin he taught before joining the Church.
During the First World war he comforted hundreds of frightened men. It must have been hard not to lose your faith when you were experiencing such horror every day. Many times he began his service with the words “I know what you’re thinking – here comes a bloody parson” He was a real Working Man’s Priest. Awarded the Military Cross in 1917 at Messines Ridge after going into No mans Land to give his own brand of comfort.
He wrote poems. These too echo the man who, although educated, never forgot the character and humour of the men who lived on Quarry Bank, Leeds.
When there ain’t no gal to kiss you, And the postman seems to miss you, And the fags have skipped an issue, Carry on.
When ye’ve got an empty belly, And the bulley’s rotten smelly, And you’re shivering like a jelly, Carry on.
When the Boche has done your chum in, And the sergeant’s done the rum in, And there ain’t no rations comin’, Carry on.
When the world is red and reeking, And the shrapnel shells are shrieking, And your blood is slowly leaking, Carry on.
When the broken battered trenches, Are like the bloody butchers’ benches, And the air is thick with stenches, Carry on.
Carry on, Though your pals are pale and wan, And the hope of life is gone, Carry on. For to do more than you can, Is to be a British man, Not a rotten ‘also ran,’ Carry on..
He died in Liverpool suddenly age just 45.