One of the most distinctive figures of the First World War – Woodbine Willie – has been remembered with a new Ripon Civic Society plaque unveiled by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.
Rev Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy (pictured below), the 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 in Ripon occupied a prominent site on the corner of North Street and Princess Road, next to the clock tower, from 1898 to 1915.
David Winpenny, chairman of Ripon Civic Society, said: “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 were 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.”
The plaque marking the history of the building was unveiled by the Rt Rev John Packer on Friday, February 15, who provided funding for the commemorative disc along with the former Archdeacon of Richmond, Janet Henderson – who is to become the Dean of Llandaff – and from Ripon College Cuddesdon, near Oxford – the successor to Ripon Clergy College
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”.
Woodbine Willie 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 plaque was the second unveiled by Ripon Civic Society in five days after a plaque commemorating the connection between Lord Grantham, later Earl de Grey, and Ripon was revealed at the Prison and Police Museum on St Marygate.