Building Peace in Halifax with the help of Woodbine Willie

Studdart Kennedy  aka Woodbine WillieThe traumatic life of the WW1 padre, Woodbine Willie written by a Halifax vicar was brought to the stage by children at a local school as part of the commemorations of the First World War.

The Revd Guy Jamieson, the vicar of Southowram and Claremount, wrote the children’s play for the ten year olds in Year 5 at his local Withinfields Primary School.

Using a mixture of music and poetry, the play attempts to show how Woodbine Willie (born Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy in Leeds in 1883) used his often traumatic experiences on the front line to teach by word and example the urgency with which a peace-building culture needed to be established in every community.

“The children in Year 5 took different roles, they looked at his family life, the poverty he faced as he grew up, one of 14 children, in the Quarry Hill flats in Leeds where his father was curate at St Mary’s and the horrors of war he experienced,” explained Guy.

“His was a constant learning experience and as a result the play is something of an emotional rollercoaster as it reels from Woodbine Willie’s dreamy forgetful idealistic ideas through his comic eccentricities through to the true horrors and trauma he saw first-hand among the trenches in France,” he said.

The play – called The Life Of Woodbine Willie - included one the padre’s poems and members of the church choir introduced a new hymn based on Psalm 133 Called How Good It Is What Pleasure Comes When People Live As One.

The event is part of a number of initiatives inspired by the centenary commemoration of the outbreak of WW1 by Churches Together in the Claremount and Boothtown area of Halifax. The church will be opening its doors throughout the summer to display exhibitions of work produced by children’s projects including the work the Scouts have done on life in Halifax in 1914 and a local high school pupil’s Duke Of Edinburgh Award work on sports life in Halifax at this time. This has uncovered some interesting facts including that one of the mills in Halifax provided most of the uniforms for WW1; the scouts were used as runners; and local churches put together gifts for the troops on the front line in France.

Other WW1 projects include a look at the poetry and music inspired by the First World War – by those who either fought in the war, or who were personally affected by it, such as Vaughan Williams who was an ambulance driver, Halifax composer, George Dyson and Woodbine Willie, Wilfred Owen and Siegfreid Sassoon.

They are working alongside the Bankfield Museum in Halifax which has used the WW1 anniversary to transform itself and will be opening up to the public around the weekend of Aug 3 and 4 – the date 100 years ago when Britain entered the First World War.

 “This is about using the commemoration of the First World War to make ourselves present. It’s an exciting challenge, but this is who we are. The church has long term gifts of peace and reconciliation and we are constantly able to speak into events of the day.  It’s what gives us our relevance, ” said Guy.

There will be a special commemoration for everyone together in St Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church on Aug 3 at 4.30pm to mark the outbreak of the war.
Guests include the Mayor of Calderdale, Coun Pat Allen and the Littleborough Brass Band.

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