East Anglia’s Nursing Martyr comes home

It was on Thursday 15th May 1919 that Edith Cavell’s body was eventually brought back from Brussels to England.

The First World War heroine had been executed by firing squad in 1915 for helping Allied servicemen in German-occupied neutral Belgium to escape. After the war, moves were made to bring her back to England.  When her body was exhumed on Monday 17th March 1919, it was found to be well preserved and the features still recognisable. On Tuesday 13th May 1919 the body was taken to the station, escorted by British troops on the initiative of a certain Major B.L. Montgomery (later Viscount Montgomery of Alamein).  It was taken to Ostend and then put onto HMS Rowena and carried to Dover.  A peal of ‘Grandsire triples’ was rung with all the bells muffled except the tenor. With 5,040 changes, it took three hours and three minutes!  A special railway carriage then carried the coffin to London accompanied by members of the Cavell family.  A horse-drawn gun carriage then took the coffin through streets lined with spectators to Westminster Abbey, where a funeral service was attended by King George V.

Edith came from Norfolk and a proposal to bury her in the Abbey had been turned down by her family in favour of Norwich.  After the Abbey service the coffin was taken to Liverpool Street Station and then by train to Norwich.  There the coffin was placed on another gun carriage and escorted to the Norwich Cathedral by soldiers of the Norfolk Regiment.

On Monday 19th May 1919, after a service with a sermon by the Bishop of Norfolk, Edith was buried outside the south transept of the Cathedral.


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