• Richard Ing

The Edith Cavell Memorial. Remembering a selfless patriot.

The Edith Cavell Memorial.

On a busy working day in central London, many thousands of people will walk past a very substantial monument and memorial located a little way North from Trafalgar Square along St Martin's Lane. My guess is that most people will not stop to look at the monument or have too much of an idea who Edith Cavell was or know that following her death, she was so revered that in addition to this monument, a memorial was held for her at Westminster Abbey and a mountain was named after her in Canada.

Who was she and why did she become so important? Edith was born in Norfolk in 1865. She spent much of her early life as a governess. At the age of 30 she decided to become a nurse and by 1907 she was appointed as matron at L'Ecole Belge d'Infirmieres Diplomees in Brussels. And there she remained until the outbreak of war in 1914.

Here the story takes a deeply tragic turn. Edith came across many wounded British, French and Belgian soldiers whom she nursed back to health following their horrific experiences in the trenches. But she patriotically assisted them further by sheltering them from the German military authorities. She, along with others also helped many of these soldiers across the Dutch border. Disastrously, such activities put her on a collision course with the German invaders and on 3rd August 1915, the inevitable happened and she was arrested.

Edith was imprisoned and interrogated and she confessed to the actions that she had taken. The German response was uncompromising and on 12 October 1915, she was executed by firing squad. On the night before the sentence was carried out, she received a visit from an Anglican priest during which made the following statement; "Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone".

These words appear prominently on the monument to Edith along with the large statue of her completed by Sir George Frampton. Edith's patriotism and death became the focus of much adulation and many articles were written about her. She belongs to a very select club of individuals who have had a funeral service at Westminster Abbey and a memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral. Even more unusually the memorial service took place before the funeral. She became remarkably famous in death and this is the reason that such a prominent memorial was commissioned.

Edith was initially buried buried in Belgium close to the site of her execution but after the war her body was repatriated. Following the funeral service at Westminster Abbey, she was committed and interred in a second funeral service at Norwich Cathedral. In addition, her memorial in St Martin's Lane was unveiled by Queen Alexandra and a mountain in the Jasper National Park, Alberta , Canada was named for her.

The next time you pass this busy corner of St Martin's lane just take a moment to remember one of the bravest patriots that Britain has ever produced.

Copyright, Richard Ing. Photography by Richard Ing.

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