Edith Cavell festival celebrates Norfolk’s great heroine

Edith Cavell festival at Swardeston

Edith Cavell festival at Swardeston, on the 98th anniversary of her execution during the Great War. Nick Miller as Ezra Parr giving visitors a guided tour of the village as it was in the Cavells day. Photo: Bill Smith Edith Cavell festival at Swardeston, on the 98th anniversary of her execution during the Great War. Nick Miller as Ezra Parr giving visitors a guided tour of the village as it was in the Cavells day. Photo: Bill Smith

Sunday, October 13, 2013
8:05 PM

The life of one of Norfolk’s great heroines was celebrated by villagers from her birthplace and visitors from around the world at a weekend of events.

Saturday marked 98 years since the death of nurse Edith Cavell by firing squad, after she was found to have helped some 200 soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium during the first world war.

The occasion was marked by an Edith Cavell festival in Swardeston, which included an exhibition of memorabilia, talks, fancy-dress guided tours of the village and even a presentation by a descendant of one of the men saved by the heroic nurse.

Robert Tunmore is the second cousin, once removed, of Sgt Jesse Tunmore, of the 1st Norfolks, who was helped to cross the border into Holland by Edith Cavell in August 1914 after he was captured by the Germans.

The 53-year-old, who is a nurse in London, has begun a project to unite the descendants of the ‘Cavell 200’ and to raise funds for the Cavell Nurses Trust, which supports nurses in need.

He said: “The more we can tell our stories, the more we can encourage people to come out the woodwork with their own.

“We know there are people across the world who she rescued, not just in this country. We’ve already met people from Australia, and we have links in Canada, but people could be anywhere.”

He said his distant cousin, who lived at Reepham, had undergone two failed attempts to leave Belgium in the summer of 1914, after suffering injuries at the Battle of Mons, and being taken prisoner by the Germans. He escaped from the hospital where he was being treated and made contact with Edith Cavell, arriving in time to spend Christmas Eve at her hospital in Belgium.

After crossing the border into Holland and making his way back to Britain, Sgt Tunmore, then 21, was held on suspicion of being a spy, but was soon back in army ranks and sent back to France on October 11, 1915 – the day before Edith Cavell was executed.

He was one of the six pallbearers at her funeral.

Mr Tunmore said: “I’m still learning about the story all the time. I’ve known about the connection for a long time, but it’s only recently that I’ve been in contact with other people involved in the Cavell 200.”

Many of the weekend events had to be moved from a marquee by the church to the village hall because of the bad weather.

There was a screening of a DVD on Edith Cavell’s life, a display of historic postcards and a specially-commissioned stained glass window featuring the nurse, created by Sarah Bristow of Glassworks Studio in Norwich.

Fancy-dress guided tours of the village were led by Nick Miller, dressed as Ezra Parr, describing the village as it would have been in 1880.

Kirstie Pope, of the organising committee, said Edith Cavell was an enduring source of pride for Swardeston.

“It brings visitors from across the world – we have had people from America come in the past, and even members of the Cavell family.

“We organise this in memory of Edith Cavell, to keep people informed and to keep the community involved.”

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