‘Better than Florence Nightingale for Norfolk’ - Poignant service marks Edith Cavell’s final journey home
PUBLISHED: 23:04 15 May 2019 | UPDATED: 23:43 15 May 2019
Denise Bradley / Archant Library
She has been hailed as a martyr, an inspiration, and perhaps most fitting of all in her honoured profession, a “good nurse”.
And Norfolk has honoured the county's most famous nurse in a ceremony marking 100 years since she came home for the last time.
Edith Cavell gave her life for the freedom of others when she was killed by a German firing squad in October 1915.
It was exactly a century ago that a steam train shuddered into Norwich's Thorpe Station, to bring her coffin - draped in a union flag and covered in wreaths - to her final resting place in Norwich.
Her execution sent shockwaves around the world, and this newspaper reported at the time how the city reacted when she was brought home in 1919.
She was originally buried close to where she was killed, but once the war ended she was soon exhumed and returned to the UK.
The report said: "The onlookers bore themselves with an air of stillness that would have been unthinkable in circumstances less calculated to appeal to the deep emotions."
Yesterday her final journey was remembered with a memorial service at Westminster Abbey in London followed by a service of commemoration at Norwich Cathedral.
The Dean of Norwich, the Very Rev Jane Hedges, preached at the Westminster Abbey service, which also celebrated the life of Florence Nightingale.
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."
Later in the day, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev Dr John Hall, preached at the Norwich Cathedral service, part of which took place beside Miss Cavell's grave.
He said: "She stands as an icon, an example, an inspiration to women and men alike, of nursing at its best."
Dawn Collins, deputy nursing director at the region's mental health trust, attended the service along with colleagues.
She said: "The reason it's important to come for me is because it often gets lost in all the military stuff, despite the fact that she was a nurse. For Norfolk nurses she's better than Florence Nightingale, she did more for us. She set up the first nurse training school. If we'd not had Edith we might not have been here."
She said it was poignant for nurses as the profession was not just a job, but part of who they were, as it clearly was for Miss Cavell too.
She said: "She was just doing her job. But it's not just a job, this is where we came from."
The brave Norfolk nurse helped more than 200 soldiers escape from occupied Belgium during the First World War.
She was born in Swardeston, where her father was the Reverend, and it was in the village it is believed she was inspired to become a nurse when she nursed her father back to health.
She worked in Brussels - where she was head matron of Belgium's first nurse training school - but she was in Norwich when war broke out and told those closest to her: "At a time like this, I am more needed than ever."
She returned to Belgium and although she helped all sides, and was criticised for doing so, she worked with the Belgian and French resistance to shelter more than 200 soldiers from the German occupying forces.
She hid them in her basement, nursing them, before helping the soldiers escape to neutral Holland. But she was betrayed, arrested, and ultimately executed by a German firing squad at the Tir National.
On the night before her death, she 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."
Miss Cavell was so loved that even those putting her to death felt moved. The German officer commanding the firing squad at her execution said the soldiers "were deeply affected by the sublime heroism of this noble woman and I myself could scarcely control my emotions".
Mrs Hedges added: "Edith Cavell, like Florence Nightingale was a remarkable woman, but she was also a very humble one and so she would have been astounded by the thought of the elaborate arrangements made for her funeral here in Westminster Abbey at exactly this time at 100 years ago today."
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