One of the most distinctive figures of World War I, ‘Woodbine Willie’, is remembered on a new plaque put up by Ripon Civic Society at the place where he trained.
The Rev’d Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, the World War I chaplain who was famous for his habit of giving the troops the Woodbine cigarettes that earned him his nickname, was born in Leeds and read divinity and classics at Trinity College, Dublin before enrolling at Ripon Clergy College. The College occupied a prominent site on the corner of North Street and Princess Road in the city, adjacent to the Diamond Jubilee clock tower, from 1898 to 1915.
‘Woodbine Willie’ volunteered to join the Army in 1914 and was often in the thick of the fighting, assisting the soldiers and offering comfort, both spiritual and in the form of his famous cigarettes. He described his chaplain's ministry as taking ‘a box of fags in your haversack, and a great deal of love in your heart’ and said, ‘You can pray with them sometimes; but pray for them always’.
Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy won the Military Cross in 1917 at Messines Ridge in Flanders after running into no man's land to help the wounded during an attack on the German frontline. After the War he became a prominent Christian Socialist and pacifist. He died on a lecture tour in Liverpool in 1929.
The new plaque marks the history of the building, and was dedicated by The Rt Rev’d John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, on Friday 15 February. The plaque has been funded by donations from the Bishop, from the former Archdeacon of Richmond, Janet Henderson, who is to become the Dean of Llandaff, and from Ripon College Cuddesdon, the successor to Ripon Clergy College.
David Winpenny, Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, says, ‘Ripon Clergy College was a feature of the city for only a few years but in that time trained many men for the Church of England – and among them Army chaplains like Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy. The Society is proud to mark the College’s history and its most famous alumnus with this plaque, and we are very grateful to everyone who has contributed to it.’
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