Services pay tribute to Edith Cavell

15 May 2019
Two special services commemorated the 100th anniversary of First World War heroine Edith Cavell’s final journey home to Norfolk. A midday service was held in London’s Westminster Abbey followed by a 6.30pm service at Norwich Cathedral, echoing the events of May 15 1919 when Nurse Cavell’s body was brought home for burial following a funeral in the capital.
Edith Cavell web
The brave Norfolk nurse had helped more than 200 soldiers escape from occupied Belgium during the war and for this she had paid the ultimate price and was executed by the Germans on October 12 1915. When her body was eventually brought home from Brussels in 1919, huge crowds had lined the route to pay their respects to Nurse Cavell who was considered a national heroine.

The special service today (May 15) at Westminster Abbey also honoured fellow nurse Florence Nightingale, who was one of Nurse Cavell's inspirations.

During her address, the Very Revd Jane Hedges, the Dean of Norwich, spoke of how the power of both of these inspirational women was “displayed through love, service and sacrifice.”

She said: “These women are of course an inspiration to those who have chosen the path of a nursing career today, but in our self-centred, self-obsessed world they have so much to say to all of us about love, service and sacrifice.
These are the things which shaped their lives through their discipleship of Christ who himself said, “I came not to be served but to serve and to give up my life as a ransom for many”.

Today we gather in this Abbey at the heart of our nation to celebrate the lives of Florence Nightingale and Edith Cavell and call to mind not only their remarkable deeds but also some of their profound messages. 

From Florence, “Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better” and from Edith, “Patriotism is not enough I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone”.

We acknowledge that our world was made a better place for what they said and did; so let us all follow their example of love, service and sacrifice and so play our part in making our nation and our world a better place today.”

READ MORE: The Dean of Norwich’s sermon for the Edith Cavell & Florence Nightingale service at Westminster Abbey

At the 6.30pm service back at Norwich Cathedral, the sermon was given by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd Dr John Hall, and part of the service took place beside Nurse Cavell’s grave where wreaths were laid and the choir and congregation sang Abide with Me, the final hymn that Nurse Cavell sang before her execution.

It was a truly poignant end to a day of moving tributes to the Norfolk nurse who inspired the nation and the wider word with her selflessness and heroism.

Nurse Cavell, who was born in Swardeston in 1865, nursed soldiers from both sides of the conflict in occupied Belgium during the First World War.

She was head matron of Belgium’s first nurse training school in Brussels and for nine months she worked with the Belgian and French resistance to shelter more than 200 soldiers from the German occupying forces, helping the soldiers escape to neutral Holland.

But she was betrayed, arrested, and ultimately executed by a German firing squad at 7am on Tuesday 12 October 1915 at the Tir National. 

On the night before her death, she famously said: "Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone."

Nurse Cavell’s words are echoed on her grave which was restored with a new headstone and ledger as part of a series of commemorative events marking the 100th anniversary of Nurse Cavell’s death. 

For more information about Edith Cavell, visit www.edithcavell.org.uk

Picture: Paul Hurst