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A Seeker After Truths (The life and Times of G.A. Studdert Kennedy ("Woodbine Willie") 1883-1929

A Seeker After Truths (The life and Times of G.A. Studdert Kennedy ("Woodbine Willie") 1883-1929

Linda Parker
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
The author, Linda Parker is an independent researcher and author, her main field of writing and research interests are the military, religious and social histories of the twentieth century. She has written a number of books on the subject and is a member of both the Royal Historical Society and the Western Front Association.

This has been a hard book to review; not because it's badly written or doesn't engage you, because of the concepts raised and the gulf in societal attitudes between British society then and now described. Its actually extremely well written and its obvious that the author is an expert in her field, some of the Anglican theology and terminology used was completely alien to my half-remembered childhood Catholicism and ensured a view trips to “google land” seeking enlightenment.

The initial description of the family background and early life of our subject was informative and engaging and showed how his Irish background influenced and shaped him, even to the extent of studying in Dublin. The descriptive passages and excerpts used to highlight his early experiences in the Church and ministering to the poorest sections of society are excellent. It's once the War is declared that more insight into how he developed into the clearly important figure he became is first described. Reading any historical account from WW1 and it's sure that at some point there will be a mention of the exploits of a Padre on the battlefield, the exposure to thousands of Soldiers that Studdert Kennedy received from his preaching and ministry at the Railway sidings in Rouen on first serving in France started the rise of his reputation. As he then began to publish both his poetry and spiritual writings its then that his fame and influence spread.

Whilst his reputation as “Woodbine Willie” may have started there its clear that his later experience as a battlefield Padre also shaped his theological thought and development, not only through the War years but on and beyond into the 1920's. A clear picture is displayed of a clearly influential and thoughtful Priest able to preach to both Kings, he was appointed Royal Chaplain after the war, and commoners, his almost Herculean efforts with the ICF post the war and his growing move to pacifism is well described. As one of his contemporaries remarked at his death, he was one of those whose efforts during the War years had simply burnt him out, a generation of those whose exertions and hurts suffered during that time led to an untimely death. It's clear from his contemporaries accounts that his death robbed the Church of England of one of it's most thoughtful priests at a time when it was looking to renew its message with the wider population. It is also clear from the contemporary articles that the high esteem he was held in wasn't limited to England, as there were obituaries quoted from Scotland, USA and Australia.

There are complete descriptions of all Kennedy published, from his poetry through to his one attempt at fiction, including clear descriptions of the theological thought behind and often explanations proved by Kennedy himself or indeed from his contemporaries. I must admit I was unaware of his poetry when I first started reading this book, but I've made an effort to search some out and read it now. (If it this point you feel the need to insert a Blackadderish comment about “the endless poetry” please feel free.)

It's an excellent read, which describes a society and attitudes which seem much different to our own times, and explores concepts and thoughts most of us probably have either no or very little time for today in our busy lives. It also reminded me of the best Padre I ever served with, he too was at home speaking to both the high and mighty and the low and mean and was a boost to morale when he entered into any location, be it an office in BHQ or a FOB in Helmand.

A well deserved five out of five mushroom heads from me.

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