Edith Cavell was born at Swardeston in 1865 and was the daughter of the Rev Frederick Cavell.
The head of a training school for nurses in Brussels, she helped soldiers of all nationalities during the First World War under the Red Cross.
She also helped British and allied soldiers to escape to neutral territory in Holland.
Edith was arrested in August 1915. At her trial, she agreed she had helped soldiers to escape and she was condemned to death.
She was shot by a firing squad on 12 October; she was 49 years old at the time of her death.
The full story of her life and legacy can be found at the Edith Cavell website.
Records relating to Edith Cavell
- The novelist Sir Henry Rider Haggard mentions Edith Cavell in his War Diaries, which are held by us at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO). He noted on 23 October 1915 – 11 days after her execution - that her name and portrait were already being used by speakers urging men to enlist and fight the Germans. Two days later he quoted an unnamed American newspaper as saying that: “Emperor William would have done better to lose an entire army corps than to butcher Miss Cavell.”
- Initially Edith's body was buried on the rifle range where she fell, but in 1919 she was reburied just outside Norwich Cathedral. Her family preferred this to a burial in Westminster Abbey. Norwich Cathedral archives show that Edith’s family also suggested that her tomb should be of the design adopted by the Government for fallen soldiers. Her grave can still be seen in the Cathedral Close – it was rededicated in May 2016 with a new headstone and ledger stone.
- S T Felstead, author of Edith Cavell: The Crime That Shook The World, wrote to the Norwich Library Committee in July 1941, offering them a unique archive. He had met a Captain Joel, head of German counter-espionage during the war, in the course of the research for his book. Felstead paid Joel £1,000 for the German secret police dossier on Edith Cavell and he offered the 200-page document to Norwich for “a figure commensurate with its worth”. The letter, now held by the NRO, is not mentioned in the Library Committee minutes of July and September 1941, so either it was never received or the committee ignored it. Probably the dossier was way beyond their budget.
- The Library did sanction the purchase of a piece of Cavell memorabilia in September 1941. This was a manuscript of an opera written around the life of Edith Cavell for which they allowed a bid of £2. The NRO holds the manuscripts for the first two acts of the opera, but not the third (MS 21153).
List of records at the NRO
- Swardeston parish baptism register recording her baptism (PD 199/4)
- Papers of the Cavell family including printed books and photographs relating to Edith (MC 304)
- Letter (in French) from Cavell to Dr Sano about hospital work, 22 February 1912 (MC 1292/1,809X4)
- Note in Cavell’s hand about Prince Reginald de Croy. With letter from S T Felstead offering Norwich Library the German secret police dossier on Cavell, 1941 (MS 10957, 36F8)
- Photocopy of letter from Cavell about a job appointment, 1914 (FX 100/1)
- References to Cavell in H Rider Haggard’s War Diaries (MS 4694/1/1)
- Letters about Cavell memorial at Swardeston, 1915-17 (MC 1105/1, 805X7)
- Letters re Cavell memorial fund, 1915-17, 1966 (PD 199/33)
- References to Cavell's grave in the Cathedral Chapter books (DCN 24)
- Undated photographs of Cavell's grave (DCN 106/29)
- Consistory Court papers re Cavell memorial window at Swardeston, 1916 (DN/CON 178)
- Photographs of Swardeston church including portrait of Cavell in the church (PD 199/25)
- Press cuttings regarding remembrance services for Edith Cavell at Norwich Cathedral, 1974-75, and a biography of Cavell by Roland Ryder, 1975 (SO 115/10, 931X8)
- References to Cavell’s death in The South Heigham Parochial Magazine and to a memorial reredos at Holy Trinity church, Heigham, Norwich (after the death of Edith’s father, her mother lived in College Road, Norwich and worshipped at the church), November 1915-October 1916 (PD 522/103).