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Nurse Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell is buried near the east end of Norwich Cathedral. Born in 1865 Edith Louise Cavell grew up in the vicarage at Swardeston, a village just south of Norwich. She was an accomplished artist and would collect and draw wild flowers. From an early age Edith displayed a natural flair for the French language which she learnt easily and quickly. On leaving home she had several jobs as a governess and in 1890 took such a post in Brussels.

 

Painting of Edith Cavell

In 1895 Edith returned to the vicarage at Swardeston to nurse her father through an illness. It was this experience which led Edith to pursue a vocation in nursing.

In 1905 she returned to Brussels and was placed in charge of a pioneering training school for lay nurses on the outskirts of the city.

Edith often returned to visit her mother, who, since her husband's death, was living in Norwich. She was visiting her mother in the city's College Road when news of the German invasion of Belgium reached her. She was back in Belgium by 3rd August 1914.

In the autumn of 1914, two stranded British soldiers found their way to Nurse Cavell's training school. Others followed and were spirited away to neutral Holland. An underground lifeline was developed by Edith from her school, helped and financed by Prince and Princess DeCroy from their chateau at Mons. Some 200 Allied soldiers escaped this way.

Two members of the escape team were arrested on 31st July 1915 and five days later Edith was interned. The German authorities, having held a secret trial, sentenced Edith and four others to death and were determined to carry out the executions immediately. The Ambassadors of the (then) neutral America and Spain made frantic efforts to save her; these efforts failed and Edith and four others were executed by firing squad at a rifle range just outside Brussels at dawn on 12th October 1915.

Permission was given for the English Chaplain, the Revd Stirling Gahan, to visit her the night before she died and together they repeated the words to the hymn Abide With Me... It was also to Gahan that Edith made her famous comment that 'patriotism is not enough...'

The Allies acclaimed Edith as a martyr. Within eight weeks of her death, recruitment into the British Army had doubled; this was in the days before conscription.

Edith's remains were returned to England after the war for a state funeral at Westminster Abbey. A special train then took her to Norwich Thorpe Railway Station. From there a great procession accompanied her the east end of the Cathedral. It was here that Edith was laid to rest, a true British heroine who gave her own life to save the lives of others.

There is a Graveside Service at Norwich Cathedral every October. The 2012 service will take place at 11 am on Saturday 13 October.

To find out more

We stock several books about Edith Cavell in the Cathedral Gift Shop at the back of the Nave and online.

There is also a website dedicated to Edith Cavell

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