Rediscovering Norwich: Happy Birthday Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell is well known across Norfolk and especially around the Norwich area. On this day in 1865, she was born in a small village called Swardeston in Norfolk. A nurse during World War One, she died in 1915 after being shot by the German troops when they discovered she was aiding allied soldiers.

There are many sites and buildings around the area named after this incredible woman. However – rather shamefully – I had never heard of her before I came to University in Norwich. Still many people do not know that much about her, myself included.

So I thought I would mark this special day and use it as an opportunity to educate myself about the life of Edith Cavell and what makes her ‘Norfolk’s Greatest Woman’.

  • She is buried in the grounds of the magnificent Norwich Cathedral and many people still visit her grave today.
  • Edith assisted men of all nationalities during the war when they were wounded and seeking refuge. It was for this reason that she was shot by German forces.
  • It seems she was a keen and skillful painter; a watercolour by her dated 1903 was purchased from a second-hand shop in Sheringham, Norfolk, for just one shilling in 1965.
  • A three-act opera was written by Maltese composer Paolino Vassallo (1856-1923) about Edith’s life and death. However, the third act is currently missing and an appeal asking for it’s whereabouts has been issued.
  • Famous English poet Laurence Binyon also wrote a poem about her after her execution.
  • She first became interested in nursing as a career after travelling in Europe. She visited a free hospital run by Dr. Wolfenberg and donated money towards it.
  • Her passion for nursing was then cemented after she returned to Swardeston to nurse her sick father. She went to nursing school shortly after.

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Revolutionary nurse Edith Cavell was born #OTD 1865. Cavell trained as a nurse and by 1907 became the matron of a nurse's training school in Brussels; this school revolutionised nursing and saw it transformed into a serious profession. . When the Germans invaded Belgium in 1914 Cavell began to assist in the escape of allied soldiers, with the school becoming a crucial part of the resistance network. She was arrested after aiding the escape of at least 200 men. Cavell was kept in solitary confinement for nine weeks. The day before her trial she signed a written confession and was executed by firing squad at dawn on 12 October, 1915. . Cavell is pictured here with her dogs Don and Jack in the garden of the Berkendael medical institute, the hospital where she had established the training of professional nurses in Belgium. . #EdithCavell #FirstWorldWar #POTD #PortraitoftheDay #MilitaryNurse #Nursing #FWW #WW1 #WorldWarOne #Spy #Resistance

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  • She is thought to have had romantic feelings for her second cousin, Eddie, but he did not want to marry because of his nervous condition.
  • Edith was responsbile for providing some of the most qualified nurses after she was put in charge of a newly opened nursing school in Brussels, Belgium. Queen Elisabeth of Belgium even asked for one of Edith’s nurses to treat her broken arm.
  • During the War, she joined an underground group that aimed to help soldiers escape to neutral territory. It was during this time that she hid almost 200 allied men at the Berkendael Institute where she was working.
  • The password of this secret group was apparently ‘Yorc’.
  • Edith was supposedly weeding when she heard that World War One had broken out.
  • She was actually tricked into confessing her ‘crimes’ – the German Secret Police told her they already had all the information they needed and she could save her friends if she confessed. Edith believed them and was later executed.
  • In fact, the only evidence the police had was one postcard.
  • She was shot at 2am on October 12 1915 in Schaerbeek, Brussels.
  • Perhaps the quote she is most remembered for is this, said on the eve of her execution:

“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.”

  • There are many sites around Norwich and Norfolk that preserve the memory of Edith Cavell – The Edith Cavell restaurant, the memorial outside Norwich Cathedral, The Edith Cavell Building at UEA housing the School of Nursing Science, Cavell Road in Norwich, Cavell Primary School, Cavell House, The Cavell Van which transported her remains from Dover to London during her repatriation.
  • There are also hundreds of sites, building, memorials and roads dedicated to Edith Cavell not only in the UK and Brussels but also across the rest of Europe and all over the world.

Her iconic legacy, bravery and kindness is still celebrated across the globe. She was – and still is – a remarkable woman who should be remembered for years to come.

Happy Birthday Edith. 

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