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Woodbine Willie was the nickname of the Rev. Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy – the Vicar of St Paul’s Church, Worcester who volunteered as a chaplain on the Western Front during World War One. He was known as Woodbine Willie because he would hand out Woodbine cigarettes to the soldiers, along with words of comfort. Woodbine Willie: Poet & Padre details his incredible life in the trenches, with lots of laughs and a few tears along the way.

The play premiered in 2014 at the Edinburgh Festival. It touched many and was praised for its sensitivity and honesty. This superb theatrical production shows the vital role he played on the battlefields of Belgium. Theatre, poetry and live music combine to bring one man’s incredible life to the stage.

Born in Leeds in 1883, Kennedy was the seventh of nine children born to Jeanette Anketell and William Studdert Kennedy, a vicar in Leeds. He was educated at Leeds Grammar School and Trinity College, Dublin, where he gained a degree in classics and divinity in 1904. After a year's training, he became a curate in Rugby and then, in 1914, the vicar of St. Pauls, Worcester.

However, it was his bravery on the Western Front for which he became so well known, and which endeared him to so many. He won the Military Cross for his reckless courage after running into no man’s land to help wounded soldiers during the battle of Messines Ridge. He was never afraid to be close to the fighting. One celebrated story tells of him crawling out to a working party putting up wire in front of their trench. A nervous soldier challenged him, asking who he was, and he said "The church." When the soldier asked what the church was doing out there, he replied "Its job."

He was also a published poet, and wrote a number of poems about his experiences on the Western Front, which appeared in two books: Rough Rhymes of a Padre (1918), and More Rough Rhymes (1919). His work has lived on to become an important historical source and an insight into the horrors of the war.

‘In 1917 Woodbine Willie was awarded the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He showed the greatest courage and disregard for his own safety… and his cheerfulness and endurance had a splendid effect upon all ranks in the trenches”. This play of overwhelming sincerity and honesty is a moving and heart-warming tribute to him.’ Broadway Baby

To book tickets, please contact the Worcester Live Box Office on 01905 611427