As 2015 sees the commemoration of Nurse Edith Cavell’s life and work, Keighley Local Studies can look again at contemporary correspondence regarding the Cavell Memorial Fund and a report for the Edith Cavell Homes of Rest for Nurses. These original documents are part of the large WW1 archive in Keighley’s Brigg collection, ref: BK 10/683/7/9.
Edith Cavell was born in Norfolk and trained as a nurse eventually moving to Belgium where she became matron of the first Nursing School as well as a reforming manager of hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. When war broke out she began serving on the front line in Belgium. Despite some criticism, Edith made it her mission to care for all soldiers at the Red Cross hospital, including German and Austrian. Furthermore, in order to prevent her Allied patients being shot, she very bravely became involved in the Belgian underground. In fact Edith helped to successfully smuggle over 200 soldiers out of hospital and into neutral Holland. Unfortunately, in 1915, the Germans discovered the network. Edith was arrested and tried for treason. On 19th October, despite international protest, and still wearing her nurse’s uniform, Edith was shot by firing squad. She was just 49 years’ old.
In 1917, an appeal was launched, to provide homes of rest for nurses in need of temporary mental or physical respite. It became the Cavell Nurses’ Trust. Recently, Edith Cavell’s dedication and heroism has been acknowledged with a new commemorative £5 coin, issued by the Royal Mint to mark the WW1 anniversary years.