Funeral of Nurse Edith Cavell

  • Theme - Events
  • Year - 1919
  • Location - Norwich
  • Filmmaker - George Swain


This film clip shows the arrival of Nurse Edith Cavell's coffin at Norwich Cathedral on 15th May 1919. Following a religious ceremony, Cavell's body was laid to rest at Life's Green, to the east of the Cathedral. Everyone was eager to catch a glimpse of the procession. Members of the public resorted to climbing trees and lamp posts in order to get a better look as the coffin was placed into the ground.

Cavell's procession comprised of many nurses and representatives of various women's movements. They walked alongside nuns, wounded war veterans and both civic and military dignitaries. Of the six pallbearers carrying Cavell's coffin, one was Sergeant Jesse Tunmore of the Norfolk Regiment, who had been with Cavell in Brussels in 1914. His escape from the war was largely due to her work. The other five were Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) or volunteer nurses, Sergeant Majors Cocksedge, Goulder, M.C., Fisher M.C., Monument and Woodward, each of whom had served in the Great War.

The footage was recorded by George Swain, a local photographer, usually engaged in taking pictures at small events and weddings. The opportunity to capture the funeral of a national heroine in his own home town was too great to miss. Edith Cavell's funeral was Swain's first effort in cinematography and his film was subsequently shown at a Norwich cinema, at that time owned by a friend of his father's.

Edith Louisa Cavell was born in Swardeston on December 4th, 1865, the daughter of the vicar. She took up nursing at the age of 30 and worked for a while in the slums of London before moving to Belgium. Here. she created a nursing school and became Matron of the Berkendale Medical Institute in Brussels. Cavell is attributed with founding the Belgian nursing profession.

In 1914, World War I broke out and the Berkendale Clinic was turned into a Red Cross Hospital. Edith Cavell was still in Brussels when it was occupied by the German army. She was offered an opportunity to return to England but declined, preferring to continue to nurse wounded soldiers, both German as well as Allied men. Secretly, she worked to get French, Belgian and British soldiers out of occupied territory, but the Germans discovered her activities and arrested her and the chain of people involved. Cavell was tried, found guilty and shot by the German army on October 12th, 1915. She was buried in Brussels until the end of the war when it was decided to bring her body back to England. On the day of the funeral, the coffin travelled from Dover to London. A service was held in Westminster Abbey before it continued on to Norwich.


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