“Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards any one.” Edith Cavell (1865-1915)

Photograph of Nurse Edith Cavell displayed in St Mary’s Church, Swardeston

Growing up in Norwich I have always known about Edith Cavell our local Norfolk heroine of the First World War. My school bus passed by the Memorial to her located outside the Erpingham Gate at Norwich Cathedral, her grave lies within the Cathedral precincts and we had a school house called ‘Cavell’.

The Norwich Memorial to Edith Cavell

Born at Swardeston House in 1865  the family of the Reverend Frederick Cavell moved the following year in to the new Swardeston Vicarage which Edith’s father had paid to have built on land next to his parish church of St Mary the Virgin.

St Mary’s Church, Swardeston

Swardeston Vicarage Today

It was here that Edith Cavell spent her early days. You can read much more about her early life, interests, education and travels here.

Edith Cavell in 1910 with her two adopted stray dogs Jack and Don (photo in Swardeston Church)

She had worked in Brussels, become fluent in French and later trained as a nurse working at times in both London and Brussels. She later turned to nurse training and such was her attachment to Belgium that when she heard of the invasion of Belgium by the Germans in 1914 she returned to that country and was already nursing there when Britain declared war on Germany on 3rd August 1914.

To Edith all men were equal and to be treated so at her hospital. She not only treated and nursed German and Belgian soldiers she later became involved in assisting British soldiers who were wounded and cut off from their retreating army beyond the front line.

“Edith also faced a moral dilemma. As a ‘protected’ member of the Red Cross, she should have remained aloof. But like Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the next war, she was prepared to sacrifice her conscience for the sake of her fellow men. To her, the protection, the concealment and the smuggling away of hunted men was as humanitarian an act as the tending of the sick and wounded. Edith was prepared to face what she understood to be the just consequences.” (Edith Cavell website)

Plaque attached to a house in Ghent (Courtesy RB)

In August 1915 Edith was interned and the date for her execution as a collaborator was set as 12 October 1915. The evening before the English chaplain Stirling Gahan was allowed to visit her in her prison cell. There she received Holy Communion and they recited the words of the hymn Abide With Me together. This is what she said to him :

“I am thankful to have had these ten weeks of quiet to get ready. Now I have had them and have been kindly treated here. I expected my sentence and I believe it was just. Standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone”.

Despite Spanish and American attempts at intervention she was shot at dawn on Tuesday 12 October 1915.

Edith Cavell’s Grave at Life’s Green

After the War, in 1919, Edith Cavell’s body was returned to England and a funeral service was held at Westminster Abbey on 15 May. A special train brought her remains to Norwich station from where she was buried in a spot called Life’s Green in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral. Ironically, her coffin was carried on a gun carriage!

Books and Film 

YouTube film Edith Cavell (1939) starring Anna Neagle

Friends Lynne and Lyn have both written eloquently about a recent biography of Edith Cavell by Diana Souhami. I heard Souhami speak in London about the biography and I’ve read it myself but I refer you to their superior reviews.

Lyn also read and reviewed a novel about Nurse Cavell Fatal Decision by Terri Arthur.

Other Memorials to Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell Window at Swardeston Church

War Memorial at Swardeston, Norfolk

Statue erected in honour of Edith Cavell near Trafalgar Square, London.

Edith Cavell bust in the London Hospital MuseumLynne‘s photo. She says : “Apparently it was in the sitting room of the nurses home I lived in there, not that we ever noticed it.”


24 comments on ““Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards any one.” Edith Cavell (1865-1915)

  1. Beyond fantastic, Barbara! In leading me to Lyn and Lynne’s blogs, to the heart stopping movie, and to the biography, you have done an amazing piece of work with just one “story”! I’ve spent a good deal of time in Norwich and idly passed by various Edith Cavell sites – the pub! – without thinking. Never no more.

    • Barbara says:

      Thank you, Diana. I’m so glad that you found these connections interesting. I didn’t remember the pub – not one of my teenage ‘haunts’!

  2. Yes! That’s the very place. Though I think it was painted white when I used to visit. My friend was teaching at the University of East Anglia and lived right round the corner from that pub. I often passed it wondering about Edith Cavell – but never bothered to find out. Until now.

    • Barbara says:

      Yes it’s been tarted up a bit now. People have to make a living. Googling images I see that once it was brown and rather non-descript. Probably why I never noticed it – but I can picture now where it is. Can’t imagine what Edith would have thought of having a pub named after herself! Not a lot methinks.

      • Well, I wouldn’t mind having a pub named after me 100 years after I was gone, but she was of a different standard. Her centenary is coming up in a couple of years, wonder if there will be celebrations.

  3. Barbara says:

    I’m sure there will be, Diana. I will have to keep checking the website – I know they have held celebrations in the past. With enough notice I could try to be there. If so, you can count on me to report back!

    • Still at least 2 years off, but I’ll take you up on that! Though I’ll be in England before that. In June, in Cambridge. Can’t wait to see a few Doves!

      • Barbara says:

        Hope you manage to cross some of our paths again, Diana. Remember I’m retired now so travelling on any day of the week is a lot easier!

      • I’d be terribly disappointed if we couldn’t have a Dove-meet. I can tell you’re retired from all the heavenly traveling you’re doing…and as I am not retiring, I am benefiting from your travels and reflections no end!

  4. I’ve heard of Edith and her quote, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen any background material on her. Thanks for this fascinating post!

    • Barbara says:

      You are welcome, EEE, thank you for your comment. A very brave woman indeed and someone I had heard of for all my life, both of us being Norfolk women born and bred!

  5. Barbara says:

    Well, Diana, I’m not so sure that I’m doing more travelling since finishing work I just don’t have to fit work in around the travel and can take off on any day I like. Currently I’m finding it the most strange not to be working on Saturdays.

  6. Nilly says:

    Thank you for this interesting post, Barbara. Today my thoughts are wrapped up in the fate of my mother’s “Norfolk family” as they were deeply affected by WW1 and your reminder of Edith is very timely.

    • Barbara says:

      Thank you, Nilly. I already have a plan for my post on 11.11 next year which includes my father’s Norfolk family and World War 1.

  7. sherry says:

    What a moving post, Barbara.

  8. Lyn says:

    Lovely post, Barbara. Thanks for linking to my reviews. Edith was such an inspiring person. So difficult to know if we would have been as brave in her situation. The movie is interesting but a bit stilted, I think. Anna Neagle was always very good at portraying noble characters but a bit stiff. Interesting to see George Sanders as an evil German!

    • Barbara says:

      Thank you, Lyn. I am pretty certain I would not have been as brave or even as got as far as she did by volunteering to nurse in an enemy-occupied country. I haven’t yet watched the film.

  9. Belated comment from me, my original one on the 11th got swallowed by the iPad so catching up now. How I wish I had been more aware of the Edith connection when I worked at the London, mind you I’d have been a danger…wandering along those corridors in a literary dream! Lovely post Barbara,
    Waving at Diana…when are you coming to Devon??

  10. […] last year’s “Remembrance” post about the life and death of and memorials to Norfolk heroine Nurse Edith Cavell I […]

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