New Edith Cavell Interpretation Board Unveiled in Tombland
A new Edith Cavell interpretation board was unveiled in Tombland, Norwich next to the Edith Cavell monument on Saturday, October 13.
Explaining the significance of Edith Cavell and the sacrifice that she made, the new board marks the centenary of the unveiling of the monument, by Queen Alexandra, on October 12, 1918, the third anniversary of Edith Cavell’s execution in Brussels, by a German firing squad.
The monument was originally in front of the Maids Head Hotel, next to the Edith Cavell Rest Home for Nurses, which was also opened by Queen Alexandra in 1918. The Norwich rest home was the sixth in a series of Edith Cavell rest homes, funded by public subscription, and opened across the country. The homes cared for exhausted nurses, traumatised by the impact of the First World War. Their work continues today through the Cavell Nurses Trust.
The building that housed the Norwich Rest Home was acquired by the Maids Head Hotel in 1956 and includes a meeting room on the ground floor, named after Edith Cavell.
The new interpretation board project was coordinated by Nick Miller, Edith Cavell archivist for St Mary’s Church Swardeston (Edith Cavell’s home parish) and was unveiled by Dawn Collins, Director of Nursing for the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust.
Nick Miller explained: “We hope the new board will keep Edith Cavell’s challenging story alive. She died in front of a German firing squad for having assisted allied soldiers to escape. What was her view of her work? Her own word tell us, in conversation with Rev’d Stirling Gahan in her cell the night before she was executed: “Don’t think of me as a heroine and martyr, think of me simply as a nurse who tried to do her duty. Standing in the light of God and eternity I have realised that patriotism is not enough: I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”
“This statement draws deep on her roots and upbringing and the Christian faith which sustained her through 20 years as a nurse. When she saw her ‘brothers’, the British and French soldiers needing shelter and help to escape, she believed her duty was to help them, whatever the cost to herself. She risked all, housing them, feeding them, nursing them and walking with them to a rendezvous with Belgians who would take them onward to the Dutch frontier to freedom. She courageously persevered at this for nine long months, helping at least 200 men.”
Edith Cavell was born in 1865, the first of four children of the vicar of Swardeston. She worked as a governess in the east of England and Brussels. Aged 30 she returned to care for her sick father and then enrolled as a trainee nurse, wanting to do ‘something useful for people’. After nursing for ten years in the poorest parts of London and Manchester, she moved to Brussels in 1907 to create the first Belgian professional nurse training school.
On holiday in Norfolk in July 1914, with her widowed mother, she chose to return to Brussels to support her nurses as war was imminent. Under the German occupation she secretly hid British and French soldiers, often wounded and helped them to freedom in Holland. She and all involved knew they risked being shot for this. Eventually she and her network were betrayed. Thirty five were arrested, interrogated and tried by a German military court. She and a colleague were shot at dawn on October 12, 1915. After the First World War her body was brought back to the United Kingdom and she was buried at the east end of Norwich Cathedral on May 15, 1919.
For more information about Edith Cavell see www.edithcavell.org.uk