Edith Cavell: 4th December 1865 – 12th October 1915
With yesterdays Centenary services taking place throughout Europe, Norwich has been lucky enough to have the Cavell Van on display outside the Forum. This modest carriage, along with the small exhibition inside, helps us to remember one of the true heroes of the First World War – Norfolk’s very own Edith Cavell.
Born in Swardeston on 4th December 1865, Edith was working as matron at Saint-Gilles Hospital in Brussels when war broke out in 1914. Although many British nurses were repatriated, Cavell’s sense of duty meant that she chose to remain, even after the arrival of the German army to Brussels on 20 August 1914. She immediately began sheltering escaping soldiers, even though the Germans had made clear that anyone caught doing so would be sentenced to death. Aware that her continued compassion would ultimately cost her her life, Edith was able to bravely help more than 200 soldiers before finally being arrested on 5th August 1915. Sentenced to death two months later on 9th October, Edith stayed true to herself until the bitter end, telling her chaplain the night before her execution ‘Patriotism is not enough; I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’
The news of her death provoked outrage in Allied and neutral countries, including the USA. Indeed, the international public outcry that surrounded Edith’s execution was so great that it was thought to be instrumental in the USA’s later decision to enter the war. Overnight, Edith became the most prominent British female casualty of the First World War, not just because of her devotion to caring and nursing, but due to her heroic attitude towards death. It thus seemed only right that Edith’s remains were exhumed, and her body returned to Britain, something that became possible with Allied victory in 1919. It was in the carriage standing outside the forum today that Edith was transported from Dover to London, where a public funeral service was held at Westminster Abbey on the 15th May 1919, 3 years and 7 months after her death. Her coffin was then transported to Norwich and reinterred in Life’s Green outside of Norwich Cathedral. Yet although returned to her home county, Edith’s compassion is remembered throughout the world, with many statues, schools, streets, and even a Canadian mountain and a geographical feature on Venus honouring her name!
The carriage will be at the Forum until Saturday 17th October. See more info here