East Anglia, Land of the Iceni Names & Legends

  Edith Cavell (1865 - 1915)

Bust of Edith Cavell outside Norwich Cathedral
Bust of Edith Cavell
outside Norwich Cathedral

Edith Cavell was born in Swardeston, just 4 miles (6 Kms) south of Norwich, the daughter of the village vicar. She had an aptitude for languages, and at the age of 25 took the post of a governess in Brussels.

Five years later she returned to Swardeston to nurse her father who was seriously ill. It was at this time that the interest in nursing began.

Ten years later she returned to Brussels, and there took up a post teaching nurses at a training school. It is reported that she was very strict and expected the highest standard from her pupils.

After the death of her father, her mother moved to Norwich, and Edith made several trips home to see her. It was during one of these visits, in 1914, that the news came that Germany had invaded Belgium. Edith immediately returned to her training school in the suburbs of Brussels.

Escaping British prisoners of war making their way along an underground escape route to Holland and then on to England, found their way to Edith's door.
Over 200 soldiers had been helped to freedom before the Germans arrested a member of the escape committee and 5 days later Edith and several others were arrested.
She was tried by military court and sentenced to death.

Despite protests from several embassies in Belgium, Edith Cavell was executed by firing squad at dawn on 12th October 1915 at a rifle range just outside Brussels.

Shortly before her execution, she said "I know now that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred and no bitterness towards anyone."

News of her death brought world-wide outrage, and she soon became a martyr. In the 8 weeks after the news broke, recruitment into the British Army doubled..

Cavell statue in Tombland (c) George Plunkett 1950
Photo (c) George Plunkett
Cavell statue in Tombland

On the third anniversary of her execution, 12th October 1918, Queen Alexandra unveiled a memorial to Edith Cavell on Tombland. In 1993, the statue was moved a few yards to its present position alongside the Erpingham Gate.

Edith Cavell's graveAfter the war her remains were brought back to England, first to Westminster Abbey for a service on 15th May 1919, and then by special train to Norwich, where thousands lined the route and followed the gun-carriage to the cathedral where she was finally laid to rest in a simple grave at the eastern end of the cathedral, in Life's Green.

Part of the simple cross which marked Edith's first grave in Brussels is now preserved in Swardeston Church, 4 miles (6 Kms) south of Norwich on the B1113.

My thanks to George Plunkett for allowing the use of his photograph.

For more information on Edith Cavell, please visit the following web site
Nurse Edith Cavell (1865-1915) a Norfolk Heroine

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Copyright © Ken Ward 2004
Photographs Copyright © Ken Ward 2004 (unless otherwise stated)
Last Updated: 11 May 2004

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