Willy Woodbine cigarettes

Artefact
First World War embossed cigarette case with Woodbine cigarettes
First World War embossed cigarette case with Woodbine cigarettes

This cigarette case embossed with the cap badge of the Royal Irish Rifles was found after the end of the First World War in the fields close to the city of Mons, the city that lent its name to the opening battle of the First World War. A packet of Wild Woodbine cigarettes normally contained five cigarettes.

The nickname derives from the padre known as ‘Woodbine Willy’, whose real name was Rev Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy MC. It is said that he claimed to be an Irishman as his father had been born in Blackrock, County Dublin. Having graduated in classics and divinity from Trinity College Dublin in 1904, Geoffery’s Irish clerical heritage was equally strong as not only was his father a vicar but his grandfather, Robert Mitchell Kennedy, had been the Dean of Clonfert, County Galway Ireland, from 1850 until his death in 1864. Kennedy gained the nickname because he would dispense Woodbine cigarettes while he comforted injured and dying soldiers. He wrote of his nickname:

They gave me this name like their nature,
Compacted of laughter and tears,
A sweet that was born of the bitter,
A joke that was torn from the years.

His experiences during the war led him to embrace Christian socialism and pacifism and he became an outspoken missionary for the Industrial Christian Fellowship (ICF). His various works in print included poetry reflecting his war experiences:

The Spirit

When there ain't no gal to kiss you,
And the postman seems to miss you,
And the fags have skipped an issue,
Carry on.

When ye've got an empty belly,
And the bulley's rotten smelly,
And you're shivering like a jelly,
Carry on.

When the Boche has done your chum in,
And the sergeant's done the rum in,
And there ain't no rations comin',
Carry on.

When the world is red and reeking,
And the shrapnel shells are shrieking,
And your blood is slowly leaking,
Carry on.

When the broken battered trenches,
Are like the bloody butchers' benches,
And the air is thick with stenches,
Carry on.

Carry on,
Though your pals are pale and wan,
And the hope of life is gone,
Carry on.
For to do more than you can,
Is to be a British man,
Not a rotten 'also ran,'
Carry on..

Woodbine Willy
(G A Studdert Kennedy)