Sunday, 25 January 2015

Cavell Broadens the Mind

I discovered recently that 'the gal from Swardeston' -Norfolk martyr Edith Cavell- deserves to be upgraded in my estimation. Read on to find out why...


2014 was a superb year for QueenieLives. Marie Lloyd has proved extremely popular with my usual audiences of WIs, U3A, and social groups, and I've averaged 1.5 Marie performances a week since the first talk in September 2013. 

Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth I are still in demand too, and my last blog post describes the amazing day I had last year as Bess in Cambridge.

2015 brings a whole new challenge. This year is the centennial anniversary of the execution of Norfolk's famous nurse, Edith Cavell, by German soldiers on the 12th October 1915.

Another centenary happening this year is that of the Women's Institute. Their slogan is 'Inspiring Women for 100 Years'. I've been asked by the Norfolk Federation of WIs to put together a talk about Edith's life and death as part of their celebrations, so I have been busily researching that particular local lady.

I found out that Edith was indeed an inspirational woman. During 1914-15 she helped hundreds of Allied soldiers escape from occupied Belgium to neutral territory. One of the men she assisted betrayed her to the Germans, and she was summarily executed as a warning to others.

Edith's story, told in part through propaganda like the picture above, inspired thousands of British men to sign up to fight in the Great War- in fact, numbers doubled in the two weeks after the announcement of her death. 

But what of Edith's life? The daughter of a rural vicar (in Swardeston, the village next to mine, as it happens), she lived a fairly typical Victorian childhood, presumably in expectation of a suitable marriage. How could such unremarkable beginnings in Norfolk lead all the way to that dramatic ending at the Tir National in Belgium?

My personal preconceptions about Edith Cavell were wrought mainly from three things: 

  • a 1980s Norfolk education in which we wrongly emphasised the 'vell' rather than the 'Cav' of her surname. 
  • a vague acknowledgement of her status through Norwich pubstreet and building names.
  • the statue outside the Cathedral inscribed 'nurse, patriot & martyr'. 


As a Norfolk Broad myself, I'm now ashamed to admit I always thought Edith Cavell was heroic, but a bit...how can I put this? - Dull.


Let's face it, my choice of previous talks has been inspired by bright, gaudy, naughty, or powerful women in splendid outfits, and there's always been an element of Showing My Knickers. 

Somehow, Edith Cavell didn't seem to quite fit in with any of those things! 


So, my quest in researching this new talk has been to find out how Edith's life, as well as her death, was inspirational. The results? Astonishing. My preconceptions? WRONG!!

If you'd like to find out what I found out you'll have to book the talk (contact details on my QueenieLives website here); it will be on general release from April 2015.