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Edith Cavell letter given to Norwich Cathedral

13 November 2020

Nurse Cavell was executed in 1915 for her part in helping Allied soldiers reach safety

Bill Smith/Norwich Cathedral

The first page of Edith Cavell’s letter. Click for more

The first page of Edith Cavell’s letter. Click for more

A LETTER written by Nurse Edith Cavell during the First World War, just days before she was captured by the Germans, was given to Norwich Cathedral in time for Armistice Day, on Wednesday.

The four-page letter, written by Nurse Cavell to her mother, Louisa, is dated 26 July 1915. It was to be her final correspondence before she was taken by the Germans from the hospital where she was working, in occupied Belgium, on 5 August 1915.

It is signed: “My dearest love to you & all the family. I am looking forward to a happy meeting later on. Ever your affectionate daughter.”

Nurse Cavell was executed by firing squad on 12 October 1915 for her part in helping several hundred Allied soldiers reach safety. After the war, her body was returned to Norfolk, where she was born, and she was laid to rest at Life’s Green, in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral.

Bill Smith/Norwich CathedralEdith Cavell

Her letter refers to timeless, ordinary concerns such as family news, the weather, transferring money, and the organisation of her pension, as well as details about her life in Brussels.

“We move into the new School at the end of this week or the beginning of next,” she writes. “It advances rapidly now & the nurses are nearly all there already. The patients will be moved at the last. The little garden in front is gay with flowers & the cleaning in progress. It is very dirty as you may imagine & will want going over many times before it is really nice as the workmen are still in and are not likely to finish for some time yet.

“We have more patients just now and are glad we shall not have to move them far. When I can get a good photo of the new place I will try & send it to you.”

The letter has been given to the cathedral by Greg Stewart, who was given the correspondence by the late poet and playwright Roger Frith.

The Librarian and Vice-Dean of Norwich Cathedral, Canon Peter Doll, said: “Nurse Cavell’s letter is a wonderful gift that will be treasured by Norwich Cathedral. It gives real insight into her life and activities just prior to her arrest, revealing her professional concern for her patients and for the completion of the new building for the nursing school and clinic she directed. . .

“Our intention is for the letter to go on public display in the cathedral at some point in the near future and to ensure that it is safely preserved for generations to come.”

The cathedral is also the custodian of two of Nurse Cavell’s Bibles, and her copy of Thomas à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ, which she was annotating until the day of her death. Her father, the Revd Frederick Cavell, had been the Vicar of Swardeston for 46 years, until 1909, when he had retired and moved to Norwich with Edith’s mother.

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