Common-Place or “Locus Communis” — a place to remember
G. A. Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929) was an English Anglican priest and poet. During World War I, he served as an army chaplain on the Western Front and was awarded the Miltary Cross in 1917 for risking his life as he went to the aid of the many wounded and dying during an attack on the German front line. He was nicknamed “Woodbine Willie” for being at a dying soldier’s side to offer comfort and a final smoke.
I’d never read Kennedy’s poems until introduced to them by fellow blogger and friend Mere Inkling, who mentions a passage from Kennedy’s book Lies! excoriating those “who are making their fortunes out of the appeal to the animal in man.“
Kennedy died at the age of 45 while on tour as a missioner laboring on behalf of the working class men and women he served.
His 1917 citation for the Military Cross read: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He showed the greatest courage and disregard for his own safety in attending to the wounded under heavy fire. He searched shell holes for our own and enemy wounded, assisting them to the dressing station, and his cheerfulness and endurance had a splendid effect upon all ranks in the front line trenches, which he constantly visited.”
The following poem is from Rough Rhymes of a Padre (1918).
by G.A. Studdert Kennedy
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 dawn.
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.