Statues: the Edith Cavell Memorial

WHAT: Edith Cavell Memorial:

WHERE: St Martin’s Place (map)

BY WHOM: Sir George Frampton

WHEN: 1920

Edith Cavell was a 49 year old British nurse, shot in Brussels by the occupying German forces on the morning of 12 October 1915.

She had been born in Norfolk, and after a period as a governess (including some time in Brussels) she trained as a nurse at the London Hospital. She was recruited to be the matron of the first school for nurses in Brussels in 1907, and within a year she was training nurses for three hospitals, twenty-four schools, and thirteen kindergartens in Belgium.

When the First World War broke out in August 1914, Cavell was in the UK visiting her mother, but – with neutral Belgium invaded as part of the German advance – she returned to her nursing school in Brussels which by that time had become a Red Cross hospital.

The hospital treated combatants from both sides, as well as Belgian civilians, but Cavell was involved in helping British and French soldiers escape via Holland. She was arrested in August 1915, tried in a Court Martial for “war treason” – aiding a hostile power to the Germans – and sentenced to death.

Despite an international outcry and representations from the US ambassador, she was shot by a firing squad on 12 October 1915. The night before her execution she is reported to have said to her chaplain “Standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” The latter part of this appears on the memorial.

Cavell’s death became a notable cause for the allies – the judicial “murder” of a woman – and featured in much propaganda of the war, both in the UK and in the US, where the execution (heightened and elaborated) was used to try to turn public opinion towards entering the war against the Germans.

After the war ended, Cavell’s body was exhumed and returned to the UK. After a state funeral in Westminster Abbey, she was buried in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral (where another memorial stands).

The memorial was commissioned in 1915 and the commission given to Sir George Frampton, who declined to take a fee for the work. It is in Modernist style, and has a 10 feet (3.0 m) high white carrara marble statue of Cavell in her nurse’s uniform, standing on a grey Cornish granite pedestal. The statue is in front of a larger grey granite pylon the top of which is carved into a cross and statue of a mother and child. It was unveiled by Queen Alexandra (wife of King George V) on 17 March 1920. The location was chosen because it was close to the first headquarters of the British Red Cross, which were then at 7 St Martin’s Place.

The Edith Cavell Memorial, St Martin’s Place WC2

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