Thursday, 28 March 2013

Army Chaplains related to Worcester Cathedral

Within the main Cathedral of Worcester is the St. Georges Chapel. This particular chapel was created to honour the men and women of the county, who prior to 1936 had no specific area within the cathedral dedicated to their memories. The chapel was formally consecrated by Bishop Perowne on armistice Sunday 8 November 1936.
Rollo of Honour for original members of the British Expeditionary Force in the Worcestershire Regiment 1914-15 outside the St. George Chapel. Photograph by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Inside the chapel there are 6 stained glass windows, all of which show either the images of servicemen, regimental flags and badges and religious figures. Around the walls are hung 26 flags and banners, which represent the various regiments, militias, with two others representing the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

The Rolls of Honour outside the George Chapel which people can consult. Photograph by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Around the walls of the chapel are a number of commemorative plaques, dedicated to either individuals, rolls of fallen comrades and regimental groups. Whilst the bulk off these are specific to the army, namely groups and individuals, there is one that is dedicated to a Capt. Patrick  Hamilton, of the Royal Flying Corps and one in honour of possibly the most famous person connected to the city in the twentieth century, that of Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy M.C.
The plaque in the St. George's Chapel to Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy or Woodbine Willie. Photograph by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

There are a number of books written about the life and times of this remarkable man, together with the publications of his poems.

In brief, he was born in Leeds on 27th June 1883.He had 5 step brothers and sisters and 8 other brothers and sisters, from his father’s second marriage. He moved to Worcester in June 1914, where he was the vicar of St. Pauls, in the Blockhouse district of the city. He soon gained a reputation as a kind, generous and godly man around the city and was well liked in general. He volunteered to serve at the outbreak of the First World War and in December 1915 was appointed a Chaplain and posted to France. His dedication to duty and his tireless help with the troops earned him widespread respect and admiration, together with the nickname “Woodbine Willy”, this through the offering of cigarettes to injured and dying soldiers. He won the Military Cross for his reckless courage, he would often run into no-man’s-land to help wounded soldiers, either to pray over them or bring them back to safety. He died on 8th March 1929 of pneumonia aged only 45.

Whilst the deeds of Studdert Kennedy are noted and commemorated, there is another whose actions and devotion to duty are not noted within the Chapel area. A minor canon named Thomas Cuthbert de la Hey volunteered to serve during the First World War also. He held numerous offices and positions in the life of the Cathedral. Upon his enlistment he was sent to the front in September 1917 as a Chaplain, appointed to the 55th (Lancashire) Division, with which he served throughout the war.
Cuthbert de la Hey in his army chaplain's uniform. Photograph by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

He also received the Military Cross in April 1918.It was awarded to him for his part played in the defence of Givenchy, fought from 9th  to 16th April 1918, ‘in recognition of personal bravery and devotion to duty’. Like Studdert Kennedy, his abiding aim was the comfort and help of his fellow soldiers. He organised a fund which was used for the purpose of this task and through this he was able to provide, on one occasion, a large case of biscuits, a large case of chocolates and a large case of cigarettes, which was divided amongst the men.

The dangers of the front were no stranger to him. He was home on leave at the end of June and returned on 13th July. The following morning he was wounded in the left arm by a high velocity shell!
Reverend Cuthbert de la Hey in more peaceful times.Photograph by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

He survived the war and returned to clerical life in the city. The actions of this man were almost a mirror image of Studdert Kennedy: both had an unswerving loyalty to their fellow man. To find out more about Woodbine Willie why not have a look at Bob Holman's new book: Woodbine Willie- An Unsung Hero of World War One (Lion books 2013).

By Adrian Skipp.

No comments:

Post a Comment