Those smokes

The Secret

You were askin’ ‘ow we sticks it,
Sticks this blarsted rain and mud,
‘Ow it is we keeps on smilin’
When the place runs red wi’ blood.
Since you’re askin’, I can tell ye,
And I thinks I tells ye true,
But it ain’t official, mind ye,
It’s a tip twixt me and you.
For the General thinks it’s tactics.
And the bloomin’ plans ‘e makes.
And the C.O. thinks it’s trainin’,
And the trouble as ‘e takes.
Sergeant-Major says it’s drillin’,
And ‘is straffin’ on parade.
Doctor swears it’s sanitation,
And some patent stinks ‘e’s made.
Padre tells us it’s religion,
And the Spirit of the Lord;
But I ain’t got much religion.
And I sticks it still, by Gawd.
Quarters kids us it’s the rations,
And the dinners as we gets.
But I knows what keeps us smilin’,
It’s the Woodbine Cigarettes.
For the daytime seems more dreary,
And the night-time seems to drag
To eternity of darkness,
When ye ‘aven’t got a fag.
Then the rain seems some’ow wetter,
And the cold cuts twice as keen,
And ye keeps on seein’ Boches,
What the Sargint ‘asn’t seen.
If ole Fritz ‘as been and got ye,
And ye ‘ave to stick the pain,
If ye ‘aven’t got a fag on,
Why it ‘urts as bad again.
When there ain’t no fags to pull at,
Then there’s terror in the ranks.
That’s the secret — (yes, I’ll ‘ave one)
Just a fag — and many Tanks. (1)

G.A. Studdert Kennedy, aka “Woodbine Willie” for his habit of handing cigarettes to the soldiers he met in the course of his duties as a chaplain with the British Expeditionary Force.

Studdert Kennedy’s advice to a fellow chaplain at the front: “There is very little purely spiritual work, it is all muddled and mixed – but it is all spiritual. Take a box of fags in your haversack and a great deal of love in your heart, and go up to them, laugh with them, joke with them; you can pray with them sometimes, but pray for them always.”  (2)
(1) “Woodbine Willie.” [Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy]. Rough Rhymes of a Padre. Toronto: 1918. 41-42
(2) Quoted in Tony Allen’s “Cigarettes and Tobacco and WWI Soldiers,” Picture Postcards from the Great War.


Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”



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