The Battlefield and the Crucifix


On March 8, the Episcopal Church encourages us to remember Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy, an English Anglican priest and poet, who was nicknamed "Woodbine Willie" during World War I for his habit of handing out Woodbine cigarettes to the soldiers he ministered to. Our prayer and concern has been prompted in recent days by news once again of warfare in Europe. Hearing stories of young Russian soldiers in Ukraine who had no idea of what they were being sent to, I was reminded of a reflection by Studdert Kennedy prompted by an experience he had in summer 1917, that touches on the innocence even of many wearing the 'wrong' uniform. We listened to his words, published in 'The Word and the Work', during mass at the friary today:


On June 7th, 1917, I was running to our lines half-mad with fright, though running in the right direction, thank God, through what had been once a wooded copse. It was being heavily shelled. As I ran I stumbled and fell over something. I stopped to see what it was. It was an undersized, underfed German boy, with a wound in his stomach and a hole in his head. I remember muttering, “You poor little devil, what had you to do with it? Not much great blond Prussian about you.” Then there came light. It may have been pure imagination, but that does not mean that it was not also reality. It seemed to me that the boy disappeared and in his place there lay the Christ upon his cross, and cried, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my little ones ye have done it unto me.” From that moment on I never saw a battlefield as anything but a crucifix. From that moment on I have never seen the world as anything but a crucifix.


Picture: Hodder & Stoughton, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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