The film staring Anna Neagle made in 1939 was based on
one of Norfolk’s heroines Edith Cavell who died at the
hands of a German Firing Squad during the First World
War. Edith was born in 1865 in Swardeston Norfolk,
daughter of Reverend Frederick Cavell who was the rector
at St. Mary’s church. Edith became a nurse at the
Berkendael Medical Institute in Brussels which became a
Red Cross Hospital for wounded soldiers after the German
Army invaded Belgium in 1914.
Edith assisted in helping over 200 allied soldiers to
the neutral territory of Holland, including some of her
own countrymen of Norfolk. Unfortunately in July 1915
some member of the escape route team were arrested and
incriminated Nurse Cavell and a Belgian man Philippe
During her interrogation her German captors tricked her
into revealing all by saying that her co-conspirators
had already told them everything. Edith trusting her
captors willingly confessed to her own guilt in the
matter. As a result she was sentenced to death.
Despite the best efforts of the neutral American and
Spanish embassies the Germans decided to carry out the
execution the very next day.
On 12th October 1915 two firing squads totaling sixteen
men shot her and four others from a distance of six
paces, Edith was then aged 50. After her execution there
was a public outcry much to the surprise of the German
Army and it is said that the allied recruitment rate
doubled in the two months following her execution.
Before her death Edith forgave her executioners.
Her remains were returned to England in May 1919 and an
impressive funeral attended by Queen Alexandra and
Princess Victoria was held at Westminster Abbey.
However, her final resting place was back in Norfolk and
she was buried in Cathedral Close at Norwich
Cathedral, Norwich. If you leave the Cathedral by
the south door you will see her simple grave.
A really good website for fuller details along with more
pictures is www.edithcavell.org.uk