Edith Cavell Memorial in Norwich

Edith Cavell memorial, Norwich, England, public art

Public Art : Edith Cavell Memorial

Sculptor: © Henry Alfred Pegram (July 27, 1862 – March 25, 1937)

Description: Edith Cavell (4 December 1865 – 12 October 1915) was a British nurse and patriot who was executed by the Germans during World War I for helping some 200 British, French and Belgian soldiers to escape from occupied Belgium. The memorial features a bronze bust of Cavell in her nurse's uniform atop a pyramid shaped stone plinth. On the facade of the plinth is a carved soldier reaching up as though presenting one of the two wreathes to Cavell. In his other hand he holds a rifle.

Date Unveiled: March 1920

Location: The Edith Cavell statue stands besides Erpingham Gate outside the Norwich Cathedral in Norwich, England.


LORD MAYOR 1914-15
besides Erpingham Gate

Who was Edith Cavell? Edith Cavell was born in Swardeston, a small village near Norwich in the East of England in 1865. Her father was a victor and despite the family being frightfully poor she was alway encouraged to share with others less fortunate. After trying her hand at being a governess for a few years she decided to train to be a nurse at the London Hospital. In 1907, Cavell was recruited by Dr Antoine Depage to be matron of a newly established nursing school in Brussels, Belgium.

Within a year Cavell was a training nurse for three hospitals, 24 schools, and 13 kindergartens in Belgium.

THEN on July 28, 1914, following the assassination of Austrian archduke and heir apparent to the throne, Franz Ferdinand, the Kingdom of Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. This started a chain reaction of political events that eventually lead to World War I.

Cavell was in Norfolk at the time, visiting her mother. When she returned to Brussels she discovered that the Red Cross had taken over her clinic and nursing school.

Belgium had tried to stay neutral but Germany had other plans. They invaded Belgium, who only had a weak fighting force of 117,000 troops, to gain access to France. On August 20, the Germans under the command of Alexander von Kluck seized Brussels, forcing King Albert I of Belgium and his government to retreat to the port city of Antwerp, which they made their capital. 

Following the occupation, Cavell began helping British soldiers escape from Belgium into Holland,  which placed her in violation of German military law.

Sadly, Cavell had drawn attention to herself by her outspoken ways and soon found herself under suspicion by German authorities. Unbeknown to her, she had also been betrayed by Gaston Quien. Quien had gone into the hospital service and obtained funds and help from Cavell. He later went to Holland only to return as a German agent. He had not only informed the Germans of Cavell's activities but also that of the Prince and Princess of Croy. On the 3rd of August, 1915 Edith Cavell was arrested and charged with treason.

Cavell was held in St Gilles prison for 10 weeks before admitting that she had indeed harbored and helped soldiers escape from Brussels. She was tried and found guilty of treason. Her punishment was death by firing squad.The British government were powerless to save her.

The night before her execution, she told the Reverend Stirling Gahan "Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone." Those words would become her epitaph. 

Her final words before facing the firing squad were "Ask Father Gahan to tell my loved ones later on that my soul, as I believe, is safe, and that I am glad to die for my country."

On the 13th of May, 1919, her body was exhumed and brought with full military honours from Tir National Cemetery in Belgium to London. After a memorial service at West Minster Abbey her body was carried in a special train to Norwich, where she was reburied at the Cathedral.

Acknowledgements : Thanks to Robin for taking the time during her holidays to send me the photos.


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