A BRAND new play about the Worcester vicar who earned the nickname Woodbine Willie during the First World War is to be performed for one night only at the church where he was parish priest.

The Reverend Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy was the vicar at St Paul’s in the Blockhouse in the city centre when war broke out in 1914. He volunteered to become an army chaplain, and served on the Western Front. The troops in the trenches called him Woodbine Willie because he used to hand out cigarettes to the soldiers.

Studdert-Kennedy was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery during the Battle of Messines Ridge. He wrote poems about his experiences on the Western Front, reflecting on the horrors of war in the light of his Christian beliefs.

Searchlight Theatre Company will be performing “Woodbine Willie – Poet and Padre” at St Paul’s Church on Saturday, October 25, at the start of a national tour. The play had its premiere at this year’s Edinburgh Festival with one critic praising the “overwhelming sincerity and honesty” of this tale of a man who shared his faith with the men who fought in the frontline".

The play was written by David Robinson, who takes on the role of Studdert-Kennedy. He said: “I cannot think of a better place to start off our national tour than St. Paul's Worcester. All the biographies about Woodbine Willie talk at length about his affection for the church and its surroundings. It was the generosity and understanding of the church that allowed him to volunteer for WW1 and the trenches.”.

David Warren, senior leader at St Paul’s Church, added: "The story of Woodbine Willie is truly inspirational. He demonstrated God’s love and compassion in the midst of the horrors of war. This new play is a dramatic portrayal of the impact Studdert-Kennedy had in the trenches, and the impact he had back home through his poetry, preaching and writings. As a church at the heart of the city of Worcester, we aim to reach out to the local community to share that same message of hope.”

Tickets for the play cost £10, and £5 for under-18’s, by contacting 01905 22022. There will be just one performance – at 7.30pm on Saturday, October 25. The church is also hosting a special exhibition about Woodbine Willie, his links with Worcester, and his legacy.