Meeting Edith: peace and turmoil combine

By Janet Marshall - 06 September 2018
edith blog
As many will know, WW1 national heroine Matron Edith Cavell is buried in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral, a place she loved, having grown up in the village of Swardeston. Edith was born in the vicarage there in 1865. Janet Marshall, Head of Schools & Family Learning at the Cathedral, takes up the tale.

'In 2014 Edith went on the KS1 History curriculum nationally. As I researched, I became inspired by the powerful poignancy of Edith’s strong faith. I knew that in our tranquil, sacred space, we had to find a way of bringing this and her heroic actions alive for children. When it emerged, the tragic end to her story, recalling how she was shot dead by a German firing squad in 1915, was a tough call for children aged six and seven!

I then discovered the bond Edith had with her dog Jack. He was with her each time she led soldiers to safety in Brussels, she wrote about him in letters from prison. Jack was her friend and solace amidst the challenges of nursing and war. I realised that he was my connecting thread. Edith’s costumed character and a dog puppet were born! ‘Meet Matron Edith Cavell’ has now become one of our most popular programmes both in the cathedral and out in schools.

From day one it was crucial to ensure that this was not a ‘twee’ entertaining puppet show. As the children gather in our peaceful cathedral or in their own classroom, Edith demonstrates her love for Jesus, her friend and saviour who underpins all that she does. Jack helps them to explore the qualities of loyalty, love, trust and service.

The biggest challenge of all is when Edith and Jack make the transition from peace to war-torn Brussels. It is then that Edith’s faith and commitment to care for all people no matter what, as Jesus would have done, are put to the test.

Self-sacrifice, reliance on prayer and commitment become the key messages. Together the children explore, very simply, the sadness and futility of war. At the end of her story Edith comes out of character and together we grapple with big questions. Jack gently guides this and somehow defuses the utter tragedy of what has taken place. Young children are able to embrace this and ask those bold questions. Often we acknowledge together that sometimes there are no answers.

Sometimes children wish to share times of turmoil, grief and worry in their own little lives and we recall those who live with war across our world. As we light a candle together at the end, we offer all this either as special thoughts or as prayers to God (often there are different world faiths or none in our classes). We spend time reflecting on the worth and purpose of their own lives as special people, and our world’s need for commitment to peace.

You may think this is a tall order, but ‘from the mouths of babes’… I continue to be inspired by our young pilgrims on life’s journey.'

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