Marking Edith Cavell’s life and death;
Born a vicar’s daughter in Norfolk, she was executed in Belgium exactly a century ago and is still honoured around the world. We remember the remarkable life and death of Edith Cavell
Edith Cavell died a heroine a century ago, but her legacy lives on around the world. Her home county is commemorating the centenary of her death with events across Norfolk – and as far afield as Canada. Many of the centenary commemoration events will be raising money for the Cavell Nurses’ Trust, which was founded in 1917 with public donations made in memory of Edith and which supports nurses and midwives.
Here in Norfolk people can honour Edith’s sacrifice by walking or cycling a new pilgrim route between Swardeston, south of Norwich, where she grew up and Norwich Cathedral, where she is buried.
The pilgrimage takes walkers and cyclists past places significant to Edith’s story, offering insights into her life and reflections on her death. See the house where she was born in Swardeston, the hall where she was governess to the Gurney children, in Keswick, the church where she worshipped with her widowed mother in Norwich, and her final resting place in the cathedral.
Nick Miller, of Swardeston, is chairman of the Norfolk Cavell 2015 Partnership, which is collating and co-ordinating commemoration events around the county.
He moved to Swardeston 22 years ago and was intrigued by a picture he saw in the village church. Discovering it was local woman and international heroine Edith Cavell, he wanted to find out more.
“I read everything I could and just thought she was an amazing woman,” says Nick. “She knew every day that she could be arrested and shot, and she carried on for nine long months. Yes, she was a nurse and worried about their health problems, but also, she was a Christian. She was amazingly courageous. She took herself seriously, she took what she was doing seriously and she took her faith seriously.”
Nick now looks after a collection of mementoes of Edith’s life in Swardeston and is a trustee of the Cavell Nurses’ Trust. Knowing events were being planned around the county and beyond to mark the centenary of Edith’s death, he began co-ordinating the Norfolk programme.
In Swardeston itself there are walks, with a costumed guide every Tuesday. Participants can hear tales of the village as Edith would have known it around 1880.
The Swardeston Cavell Centenary Festival weekend is on October 3 and 4, and includes flowers, music and memorabilia in the church.
Across Norfolk there are also plays and services, recitals and exhibitions, and even a beer festival. And in Canada fundraisers for the Cavell Nurses’ Trust £1m appeal have climbed the 3,363-metre high Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park.
This month national attention will be focused on Norfolk as services are broadcast from Norwich Cathedral on BBC Radio Three and Four. Authors and historians will give talks about her life and legacy, and several exhibitions are taking place in Norwich, including the Cavell Railway Van, which carried Edith’s body from Dover to London in 1919, on show outside the Forum from October 5 to 17.
Edith’s body was brought back to her home county at the end of the war. Her reputation had already spread around the world – and her legacy is still helping and inspiring people a century after her death.
Painting of Swardeston Church by Edith Cavell
Nick Miller in costume giving a guided tour as part of the last Edith Cavell festival at Swardeston
Norfolk’s heroine Edith Cavell