Remembering the courage of Norfolk’s Edith Cavell during the First World War

Poignant moment as Edith Cavell leaves Norwich for the last time in the summer of 1914. Photo: Bill Smith. Characters played by Scilla Gavita and Neil Smith. Poignant moment as Edith Cavell leaves Norwich for the last time in the summer of 1914. Photo: Bill Smith. Characters played by Scilla Gavita and Neil Smith.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014
4:21 PM

As war clouds darkened over Belgium in the high summer of 1914, thousands were fleeing.

But just hours before Germany invaded the country, bringing Britain into the First World War, one individual was making the opposite journey.

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Edith CavellEdith Cavell

Edith Cavell was on a visit to her native Norfolk in July 1914, as the countdown to conflict intensified. Despite the ongoing crisis, she resolved to head back to Brussels, where she worked, leaving from Norwich station on August 2.

She was never to return alive to her home county, facing execution by German firing squad 14 months later, for aiding in the escape of Allied troops caught behind enemy lines.

Today, at Norwich station, her departure was recreated by actors, to mark the start of a series of events being planned over the next 14 months to pay tribute to her.

Nick Miller, chairman of a partnership set up to commemorate Cavell, said: “This is the key defining moment when she decided to return to Brussels on August 2, and war was declared on August 4.”

The burial of Edith Cavell at Norwich Cathedral in May 1919.
The six bearers, from the Norfolk Regiment, were: Sergeant Woodward, Sergeant Major Fisher, Sergeant Major Monument, Regimental Sergeant Major Cocksedge, Sergeant Tunmore and Regimetal Sergeant Major Go(u)lder.The burial of Edith Cavell at Norwich Cathedral in May 1919. The six bearers, from the Norfolk Regiment, were: Sergeant Woodward, Sergeant Major Fisher, Sergeant Major Monument, Regimental Sergeant Major Cocksedge, Sergeant Tunmore and Regimetal Sergeant Major Go(u)lder.

Cavell, a vicar’s daughter from Swardeston, had returned home from Belgium for a holiday and to see her mother Louisa, but a telegram had warned her if she did not return to Brussels soon she would not be able to.

“This would have been at a time when literally hundreds of Belgians were pouring the other way [to Britain],” Mr Miller said.

“She had this big heart, never thinking about herself. I’m hugely impressed by her courage - that’s the defining feature in all her life, and the other thing for me is that everything she did came from her Christian faith.”

Scilla Gavita, who played Edith Cavell today, said: “She would have been feeling anxious about leaving her mother, who was in her 80s, and also very determined. She had to go back and work. This was God’s plan for her - to be useful as a nurse and do her duty. Her duty was the big thing, her duty was to care for wounded soldiers.”

Cavell cared for soldiers from both sides and aided some 200 Allied servicemen escape occupied Belgium. For this, she was executed on October 12, 1915. She is buried at Norwich Cathedral.

Do you have a First World War story? Email ww1@archant.co.uk

Events commemorating Edith Cavell

An array of events are being planned to honour the Norfolk nurse.

The Edith Cavell 2015 Commemoration Norfolk Partnership has been set up and is chaired by Nick Miller who has spent the last 20 years researching her. Full details are being finalised, but Mr Miller said the events look set to include:

• The annual graveside service at Norwich Cathedral on October 11 2014 and October 10 2015.

• Outreach work in Norfolk secondary schools.

• From April 2015, an Edith Cavell presentation at St Mary’s Swardeston and nearby Cavell Room.

• Exhibitions at venues including the Castle Museum, Norfolk Record Office, Norwich Cathedral’s Hostry, and The Forum.

• Swardeston Cavell Centenary Festival in October 2015

The EDP hopes to support the commemorations by publishing reports on many of the events.

There are also plans for events in: London, where Cavell trained as a nurse; in Brussels, where she ran a nursing training school and worked with Belgian and French colleagues to assist Allied soldiers; and in Canada, where there will be a sponsored climb of Mount Edith Cavell in the Rockies by former and serving British soldiers and nurses.

• Updates will be posted at www.edithcavell.org.uk

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