Friday 9 November 2018

2018 Remembrance - Woodbine Willie: "Mates

I would like to share a war poem that has always resonated with me. It's by Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy MC, who probably isn't as familiar a name as Rupert Brooke, Wilfrid Owen or Siegried Sassoon, but who wrote some powerful pieces. I first came across mention of him in a book called It's Only Me, the story of Theodore Bayley Hardy VC, vicar of Hutton Roof, which was written by David Raw who I heard give a very interesting talk about Hardy some years back. Hardy was a fellow chaplain and friend of Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy.

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was born and raised in Leeds, the son of the vicar of St Mary's Quarry Hill, a poor area of the city in which he became familiar with the lives of working people and how poverty and poor living conditions were a  normal part of their lives.  After attending Leeds Grammar School and Trinity College, Dublin, and then training for the clergy, he became vicar of  St. Paul's, Worcester in 1914 but volunteered as an army chaplain on the outbreak of WW1, when he was sent to France and instead of staying behind the lines he was wherever the men he cared for were. I read one story that  said part way along a trench some  soldiers came across a sign by an entry that read The Vicarage. The soldiers commented about "The bloody vicarage being here" and Kennedy popped his head out and said that not only that but that "the bloody vicar" was here too! Kennedy was known as Woodbine Willie due to his habit of giving out Woodbine cigarettes along with Bibles to men in the trenches. Like Hardy, Kennedy was on the frontline in the trenches with the soldiers, and provided what comfort he could to them.

Becoming a Christian Socialist and pacifist during the war, Kennedy was appointed vicar of St Edmund, King and Martyr in London on his return to civilian life, and wrote Lies (1919), Democracy and the Dog-Collar (1921), Food for the Fed Up (1921), The Wicket Gate (1923), and The Word and the Work (1925). He then went to work for the Industrial Christian Fellowship, for whom he went on speaking tours around the country during which he became an outspoken advocate for the working classes. One of his celebrated quotes was:
If finding God in our churches leads to us losing Him in our factories, then better we tear down those churches for God must hate the sight of them.
Because of his empathy with ordinary working class people he gained huge respect from them, which was reflected by the response to his death from exhaustion at an early age in 1929. However, the Dean of Westminster refused to allow him to be buried in Westminster Abbey because, he said, Kennedy was a "socialist"!

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy's poems reflect his experiences in the trenches and in his working life, this poem Mates sums him up for me...

A Soldiers Mate…

There's a broken, battered village 
Somewhere up behind the line, 
There's a dug-out and a bunk there 
That I used to say were mine. 
I remember how I reached them, 
Dripping wet and all forlorn, 
In the dim and dreary twilight 
Of a weeping summer morn. 
All that week I'd buried brothers, 
In one bitter battle slain, 
In one grave I laid two hundred. 
God! What sorrow and what rain! 
And that night I'd been in trenches, 
Seeking out the sodden dead, 
And just dropping them in shell-holes, 
With a service swiftly said. 
For the bullets rattled round me, 
But I couldn't leave them there, 
Water-soaked in flooded shell-holes, 
Reft of common Christian prayer. 
So I crawled round on my belly, 
And I listened to the roar 
Of the guns that hammered Thiepval, 
Like big breakers on the shore. 
Then there spoke a dripping sergeant, 
When the time was growing late, 
"Would you please to bury this one, 
'Cause e' used to be my mate? " 
So we groped our way in darkness 
To a body lying there, 
Just a blacker lump of blackness, 
With a red blotch on his hair. 
Though we turned him gently over, 
Yet I still can hear the thud, 
As the body fell face forward, 
And then settled in the mud. 
We went down upon our faces, 
And I said the service through, 
From "I am the Resurrection" 
To the last, the great "adieu." 
We stood up to give the Blessing, 
And commend him to the Lord, 
When a sudden light shot soaring 
Silver swift and like a sword. 
At a stroke it slew the darkness, 
Flashed its glory on the mud, 
And I saw the sergeant staring 
At a crimson clot of blood. 
There are many kinds of sorrow 
In this world of Love and Hate, 
But there is no sterner sorrow 
Than a soldier's for his mate.

GA Studdert Kennedy MC ("Woodbine Willie")

Further reading:
The Unutterable Beauty: The Collected Poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy, [1927 Diggory Press]

Thursday 8 November 2018


As we approach Remembrance Day and the centenary of the end of WW1 many of us are remembering both lost relatives and those who fought and returned home, but often to suffer the awful consequences of war. As a child I spent much time keeping company with a bedridden Grandpa whose lungs were wrecked by exposure to mustard gas, in 1918 at the age of just 18, the effects of which took many years to emerge but which resulted in him wasting away to a skeletal figure until he died when I was 9 years old.

Joseph William Schofield 1899-1967 Photo taken 1917
Grandpa signed up to the Lancashire Fusiliers on 9th October 1915, aged 16 years and 4 months. He was posted to 4/5th Battalion which had been formed at Southport in Spring 1915 as a home service depot or training ("fourth line") unit.  He would never talk about his wartime experiences but his service records for his second period of service give some of the missing details. His first period of service is unrecorded in the archives as he was under age when he signed up in 1915 and, as with the records of others like him the details of that previous period were destroyed on his discharge. He served until 6th June 1916 before being discovered to be under age and sent home: my only evidence of this is  part of a letter that survived in his service records file in the National Archives (in the burnt records, so only fragments of each sheet survived) in which he wrote to the army in 1919 querying his entitlement to a gratuity in which he had been short-changed by £4 and in which he gave the dates of his previous period of service.

His second period of service began on 31st January 1917, at the age of 17 years 7 months (but he declared on his enlistment sheet that his age was 18 years 1 month!) so presumably he was still under age. This probably explains why, in the this second enlistment, he joined a different regiment where he wouldn't have been recognised: the South Wales Borderers, being initially put into the 57th training battalion based at Kinmel in Wales.  He later transferred into the Royal Welch Fusiliers - it's the RWF cap badge he is wearing in my precious photo above. He was sent to France in early April 1918 where he was gassed the following month, resulting in his being shipped back to hospital where he remained until 9th September.

On release from hospital he was transferred to the Army Service Corps as a Driver, where he remained until eventual demob in January 1919. This last period of service in WW1 saw him posted firstly to the ASC at Willesden and then onto the 666 Horsed Transport Depot Company who were based at Blackheath in London, having been flagged as unsuitable for overseas service after being gassed.  Grandpa had, as a youngster, worked on a farm so was presumably familiar with horses.

He suffered recurrent bouts of pain as a result of the gassing, and appears to have been hospitalised again between 24th September and 16th October, although he was able to resume work after the war - as a tram conductor and then tram driver, and went on to marry in 1922 and raise a family of four  children. Despite his health he worked as an RAF civilian driver in WW2, driving a long transporter vehicle known as a Queen Mary, collecting and delivering aircraft parts to bases across the country. His health continued to decline and by the time I was born he was bedridden. He died on 15th March 1967, aged 67. 

A WW2 Queen Mary of the type driven by Grandpa in WW2

Saturday 8 September 2018

Campaigning for Grange Lido

I am supporting the campaign call for the restoration of the currently derelict Grade 2 Listed Lido at Grange-over-Sands which LibDem-controlled South Lakeland District Council has left to rot since they closed in in 1993. That this is a disgrace is incontestable, that the Lido could be restored for swimming with additional facilities is provable, and that it could therefore be a major attraction on Morecambe Bay is credible.

Outdoor swimming has become hugely popular and Lidos are seeing booming business across the country - Ponypridd Lido in Wales, which opened in March this year, has seen more than 64,000 visitors already (an average of more than 500 per day). Most Lidos were built in the 1920s and 1930s to help promote good health and well-being for working people, a role they can still perform today, along with boosting local economies, providing employment, supporting social inclusion and community, and attracting both day and longer stay visitors. A restored Grange Lido would become another really good reason to come to the Morecambe Bay area. 

The campaign group Save Grange Lido has set up a petition calling on SLDC to abandon its planned infilling of the Lido with concrete (which would make it just a flat extension of the existing Promenade) or, as they now state, just decking over it with some sort of cover like timber (not sure how that's going to work, but hey ho!)

It is known that people are willing to travel considerable distances to swim in Lidos, and Grange is the only remaining coastal Lido in the north of England. It would be a tragedy if it was destroyed.

The petition is now over 11,000 signatures. There is also a paper version in many shops in Grange, and surrounding villages which so far has almost 500 signatures. A petition with more than 1,000 verified local signatures (i.e. those of people who live, work or study with the SLDC area) will be discussed at a full meeting of the Council.


 With the coming of the Eden Project to Morecambe the focus will be on regenerating tourism in the whole bay area, to the benefit of communities both sides of the county border. If readers could please share the petition and encourage signatures that would be wonderful, the local signers guarantee the debate at Council, those from further afield demonstrate support for restoration of the Lido as a tourist attraction with a wider catchment area. Thank you.

Thursday 2 August 2018

Saving Grange Lido

I'm supporting the campaign to save the last surviving coastal Lido in the north of England from being filled in. Will you help me? Signing the petition will help send a strong message to SLDC that they are being shortsighted in disposing of this Grade 2 Listed Lido, which, although closed in 1993, could become one of the jewels of the South Lakes if restored and developed with creativity and ambition.

Sunday 29 April 2018

Review: The Garden, by Gillian Linscott

The GardenThe Garden by Gillian Linscott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. Despite the title it isn't just about gardening! The garden sets the scene and is the thread that runs through the story, which progresses from 1907 to 2001, via pre-war Herefordshire, WW1, the anger of the post-war pit lockouts in the Rhondda and the struggle of the miners for decent wages. In between there is love, sorrow, passion and hatred. The early parts where the garden is being created I found fascinating, seeing how the planting was laid out to create illusions and effects - I might try some ideas on a much smaller scale in my own jungle, sorry, garden! The politics of the pit lockouts, as the mines were returned to private ownership after wartime government control, show the depths of hardship faced by the colliers, seeing armed soldiers at the pit gates, hearing the Riot Act read as they try to prevent the use of blackleg labour, fighting for their jobs and their families' futures. (Who would have thought that similar scenes would recur in the 1980s?!)

My only criticism of the book, and it's why it's only getting a 4 star not a 5 star rating, is the number of silly mistakes throughout the book, e.g. countless instances of "bur" instead of "but": the letter "r" seems especially problematical as it appears in many places where there should be the letter "t", the same applies where "m" appears instead of "in". Other silly spelling errors also appear, and these should have been picked up by the proofreader.

However, it's a great story and well-worth reading, if you can manage to ignore the errors!

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Sunday 7 January 2018

Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St Mary's)Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars (I wish I could give it more!)

It's not often I find a book that makes me giggle through most of it. This one does! I love the writing style, the quirky humour, and the whole oddball off-the-wall concept of St Mary's. It has history, it has science, it has romance, it has danger, it has more eccentrics than you can shake a stick at and... it has dinosaurs... oh yes! Now I find it's the first in a series and I can't wait to start on Book 2, 3, 4, 5... you get the idea! I predict lots of giggling over the next few months! 5 stars isn't enough for this.

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Saturday 6 January 2018

Review: The Taste of Summer by Kate Lord Brown

The Taste of SummerThe Taste of Summer by Kate Lord Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the audio version of this book whilst cooking and baking in the run up to Christmas, it was the perfect accompaniment to my culinary efforts! It's a lovely story, well told with interesting characters. Who could fail to fall in love with the lovely chef Connor with his Irish brogue? And as for that baggage Bea, I wanted to beat her round the ears with a rolling pin for all the horrible things she did! The recipes that are peppered (see what I did there?!) throughout the book are great too. I'll have to buy a Kindle or printed version now to be able to try them out!

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Friday 5 January 2018

Review: The House on Bellevue Gardens by Rachel Hore

The House on Bellevue GardensThe House on Bellevue Gardens by Rachel Hore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book. It tells the story of several people via or because of their connection with the house. The characters have almost all experienced some trauma in their lives, whether domestic abuse, loss of loved ones, mental health difficulties etc... which makes it sound dreadfully serious and dull, and it isn't. Far from it, it's a fascinating series of stories about the characters, with whom I laughed, sympathised, empathised, and at times cried. It's a people book, looking at humanity: the best and the worst that happens to them. Well worth reading!

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Thursday 4 January 2018

Review: Tim Vicary's Trials of Sarah Newby, book 4

Broken Alibi: Lies, Memory and Justice (The Trials of Sarah Newby, 4)Broken Alibi: Lies, Memory and Justice by Tim Vicary
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've now read all four of the Sarah Newby Trials books and I love them. Sarah is a complex character, not always likeable but eminently tough and capable as a barrister, yet just as vulnerable and afraid as most of us would be when faced with something that threatens her family or her safety. The stories are complex too, this fourth book is probably the most complicated plot so far, but if you spot them the clues are there as you read through it. I became increasingly nervous as the story moved towards the final outcome - will it all end OK? No spoilers from me though, if you want to know what happens you'll have to read it yourself!

Just a wee note to the author: in each of the four I have spotted small grammatical errors and in a couple of instances some minor continuity errors and a couple of errors of fact, hence the 4* not 5* rating.

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