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War! Lies! And a Packet of Fags!

The Great War and its aftermath—the true story of “Woodbine Willie” (Studdert Kennedy)

About the Stage Play


Spring 1918. The British are in headlong retreat, morale is in tatters. The military authorities turn, not to a soldier or politician, but a priest. They call for “Woodbine Willie”.

This was the affectionate nickname of Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929), an army chaplain who joked with the men, shared the horrors of the trenches and gave them cigarettes. Determined that the war must be won at all costs, he used all his popularity and powers of persuasion to urge them to fight to the last man.

Three years later on Armistice Day 1921 he denounced the war as madness. He hurled himself into the political turmoil of the 1920s, urging workers and bosses to seek reconciliation.

The play explores how a priest dedicated to serving his fellow men was sucked into the war machine. It then dramatises his obsession with peace as he worked himself literally to death in his efforts to bring both sides of industry together. Ironically preaching war made him a hero, but when he preached peace he was pilloried from all sides.

Excerpt from the Play

If we can gather our dead – Germans, Austrians, Russians alike – into one noble brotherhood and make them cry to us a personal cry that nothing can be gained by victory in war by anybody, anytime, anywhere – then there is hope. If not, I fear that, as we grow cleverer, we shall produce more and more monstrous things to maim and kill, until at last in some awful final struggle we shall wreck the world we ought to rule, and die amidst its ruins.


The play was given a rehearsed reading at the London and International School of Acting in January 1992. A shortened version was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 entitled “Waste of Glory” in July 1994 and repeated in November 1995.


War! Lies! And a Packet of Fags! was written by David Gooderson.


The play is based on extensive research into the life of Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, including meetings with members of his family, and a detailed study of the background of the period.

The Great War & Studdert Kennedy

Profile: British soldiers, First World WarG.A. Studdert Kennedy (Woodbine Willie), priest


Waste of muscle, waste of brain
Waste of patience, waste of pain
Waste of manhood, waste of health
Waste of beauty, waste of wealth
Waste of blood and waste of tears
Waste of youth's most precious years
Waste of ways the Saints have trod
Waste of glory
Waste of God

Poem by G.A. Studdert Kennedy

For brief details, rest mouse over image

Performing Rights

For all enquiries about performing rights, whether professional or amateur, contact David’s Literary Agent:

Mike Sharland at The Sharland Organisation via…

No public performance of this play can be given unless a licence is obtained before rehearsals begin.

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