Woodbine Willie: An unsung hero of World War
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Muddling Through: The organisation of British Army
Chaplaincy in World War One
Church Times Bookshop £22.50 (Use code
Stretcher Bearer! Fighting for life in the
Charles H. Horton
Dale Le Vack, editor
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BOB HOLMAN in Woodbine Willie memorably retells the
story of Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, the slum priest, heroic First
World War chaplain, and post-war prophet to English society
(Comment, 1 March). In recent years, he has been commemorated in
the Church of England calendar. How many churches remember him
liturgically? How many Anglicans remember him at all?
This quick forgetting illustrates our destructive obsession with
the contemporary and our lack of belief in the communion of saints.
Are we scared of being inspired and changed by heroic figures? This
eloquent and passionate book enables an astonishingly self-giving
person to step out of the shadows and become our contemporary.
He learned comradeship with the poor from his vicarage
upbringing. Like three of this brothers, he felt called to the
priesthood. At theological college, he seemed possessed by a force
that would not let him go, with fire that would blaze out. He
accepted a Worcester parish because it had a small stipend and
destitute people. He enlisted as a chaplain on 21 December 1914.
Four days later, he was conducting a carol service in the pouring
rain in a French square.
During one bombardment, he knelt up to his waist in water,
ministering to the men. Dodging shells, he pulled the wounded out
of the mud. He held a man down while the doctor operated without
anaesthetic. Ministering in an advanced post to 20 "smashed-up" men
in the Ypres Salient, he realised they needed morphine. To fetch
it, he ran through a German barrage, sheltering in shell holes
(where he rescued the wounded, German as well as English) on the
way. For this he was awarded the MC.
He returned to his parish, believing war was evil and Church and
liturgy needed reform. "On two points I am certain: Christ and His
sacrament; apart from these I am not sure that I am certain of
anything." He was in great demand as a speaker. His books,
particularly his poems, quickly sold out. He campaigned for the
poor and greater equality, but could not support Labour until it
became "thoroughly Christian".
In 1921, he became chief missioner for the Industrial Christian
Fellowship, recently formed to attract working-class people to
church and to bring conciliation to industry. Travelling all over
the country, he worked himself to death in 1929, aged 45. The
streets of Worcester were lined for his funeral at the
Holman tells us in a challenging epilogue that he himself
resigned as a professor to work among people in great poverty. Just
as Studdert Kennedy devoted himself to the poor, so he hopes more
Christians will live and work in poor areas, invest in ethical
banks, and shop with firms owned by workers.
Muddling Through provides carefully researched
information about the organisation of First World War army
chaplaincy. By contrast with Holman's passion, Peter Howson
presents his material coolly, rather surprising in someone who was
25 years a Methodist chaplain. There have been many studies of the
work and personalities of chaplains, but he regrets the lack of
attention to the ways chaplaincy was organised.
During the war, there was a continual debate about the best
location for chaplains - advance dressing posts, or nearer the
fighting in greater danger? There were continuing tensions between
the Churches over whether each had been allowed enough chaplains,
and whether they were answerable to an acceptable authority. At
first, because of lack of proper deployment, chaplains were either
under-used or overworked. But, by the end of 1915, chaplaincy
provision had improved: there were more chaplains and a better
At first, chaplains were thrown into this new ministry without
preparation. Sadly, Howson only sketches the new training courses.
From the Battle of the Somme onwards, chaplains ministered closer
to the fighting; so more were killed: 185 died; and of these 111
were Anglican. Many received awards for bravery, including three
Howson provides scholarly appendices. Too many verbatim
documents make the narrative lumpy. The cover, depicting an
immaculate chaplain holding a book and standing aloft in a plane
cockpit, addressing seated troops many feet below, is depressing
and unrepresentative. A much preferable alternative picture would
have been one that showed a chaplain kneeling by the side of a
Stretcher Bearer! is one of the few accounts of what
the war meant to those in the ranks. Charles Horton was a member of
the Royal Army Medical Corps. Although he volunteered to join the
army, he had no wish to kill. By becoming a non-combatant, he could
not become an officer; for RAMC officers had to carry weapons for
This autobiography, written half a century after the Armistice,
has been helpfully edited to provide the military, topographical,
and historical context. Horton was very restrained in his
descriptions of terrible conditions and fearful suffering. We are
told that he never missed Sunday worship, but unfortunately we are
not allowed to enter into his Methodist beliefs and attitudes.
Perhaps the editor removed them?
Horton had a strong sense of place as he took the reader through
the various stages by which he approached the French and Italian
fronts. What he called a "protective fatalism" was widely
cultivated, and enabled people to cope. Singing songs that mocked
war, sex, and religion, while marching, interposed humour between
war and fear. This book tells us graphically what it meant to carry
Canon Alan Wilkinson is an honorary assistant priest at
Portsmouth Cathedral. The Lutterworth Press is to publish a third
edition of his book The Church of England and the First World
War at the turn of the year.