22nd September 2023

The Chapel of St Saviour in Norwich Cathedral is designated as the official chapel of both the Royal Norfolk and the Royal Anglian Regiments. As such, its walls are adorned with commemorations of past military engagements and of the fallen who served in those regiments. By contrast, you could easily miss a small, hand-written notice indicating that through a side door the visitor can find the grave of yet another war hero – or, more correctly, heroine! I’m referring to that of Edith Cavell.

Born on the outskirts of Norwich in 1865, Edith became a pioneer of professional nursing training in Brussels, later nursing soldiers from both sides during World War I in occupied Belgium. For nine months she worked covertly with the Belgian underground resistance to shelter over 200 Allied soldiers, helping them escape to neutral Holland. For this she was condemned by the German military and executed by firing squad on 12 October 1915. The night before her death, she is reported as having said, “Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.”

Those powerful words of hers are carved into the ledger stone that now covers her grave, also appearing on a plaque attached nearby to the outside wall of the cathedral. It’s good they’re repeated there because I guess they wouldn’t fit entirely comfortably within the proud atmosphere of St Saviour’s Chapel! And of course they challenge me too, for sadly at times I can find I’m not so free of hatred or bitterness towards others as I’d like to think.

Ken Stewart