Woodbine Willie by Bob Holman (2013)
“Woodbine Willie” was the affectionate name given to the Reverend G. A. Studdert Kennedy MC (1883-1929) by the men with whom he served in France during the Great War 1914-18. Stationed initially in a railway siding in Rouen, it was his custom to spend many hours in the canteen with the men awaiting transport to the front, and then go with them to the train distributing Bibles from one haversack and Woodbine cigarettes from another. He is, perhaps, the most celebrated army padre of all time, and he happens also to be one of my Heroes of Faith.
So when I first came across this new biography, two thoughts initially crossed my mind: is he really “an unsung hero of World War One” as the subtitle would have us know; and is there room for yet another book in the canon of literature on this great man? After all, there was the first book, By His Friends, published immediately after his early death in 1929 at the age of 45. 1962 saw the publication of William Purcell’s Woodbine Willie, republished in 1983 to mark the centenary of his birth, followed in 1997 by Michael Grundy’s A Fiery Glow in the Darkness
It was wonderful, then, to find that this excellent new book does indeed contain some original material and new insights. But even if that were not so, this is a story that cannot fail to inspire. And so it is a story that is worth telling and retelling, simply in the hope that it will reach a wider audience and enthuse a new generation. Holman rises admirably to that challenge.
Reviewed by Tim Heaton, author of “The Long Road to Heaven: A Lent Course Based on the Film The Way”, to be published by Circle Books on 25 October.
Published by Lion, Woodbine Willie is normally priced £9.99. Mention the website to order at the special price of £8.99 and POST FREE until September 30th 2013.