The bells of St Mary’s pealed once again for Edith Cavell



On Tuesday May 14th 2019 the Bells of St Mary’s church in Dover repeated the peal from 10am – 1pm from the same bells that a hundred years before pealed for over 3 hours as the body of Edith Cavell was taken through Dover before continuing its journey to London.

Nurse Edith Cavell, shortly before she was led out to face a firing squad, wrote:
this I would say, standing as I do before God and eternity, that patriotism is not enough. I must bear no hatred or malice to anyone.

On May 14 in 1919, a special three hour, muffled peal of bells was rung from St Mary’s and it is this peal that will be rung again on the 100th anniversary on May 14 2019. Collecting the bell ringers together able to perform the complexity of this peal has been no small feat. The ringing band has been brought together from across the South East and at least one member of the proposed ringing band has family links with those who rang in 1919.

There is an exhibition of 13 photographs presenting the return to Norwich of Edith Cavell’s mortal remains displayed in St Mary’s Church in Dover untill May 20th.

The organisation of this event is an excellent example of partnership working between Andrew Brown, from the Belgium Edith Cavell Commemoration Group, Joanna Jones of Dover Arts Development, Diderik Smet of Destination Dover and Joe Yarrow of St Mary’s Church in Dover

Joanna Jones and Clare Smith of Dover Arts Development first met Andrew Brown at a recording session in London with Peter Sheppard Skaerved of contemporary composer Nigel Clarke’s two portraits of Dover, Pulp & Rags and Dogger Fisher Geman Bite……  and and the Scarlet Flower and Epitaph for Edith Cavell . Through Nigel Clarkes compositions and subsequent CD publication Music for thirteen solo strings on Toccata Classics, Dover and Edith Cavell were once again linked.

Edith Cavell was a British nurse who opened Belgium’s first nursing school in Brussels in 1907. When WW1 broke out in 1914 she stayed and, in secret, nursed wounded Belgian, British and French soldiers. They were then helped to escape to neutral Netherlands through an escape network which she helped to create. She was arrested in August 1915, tried and executed by a German firing squad at dawn on 12thOctober 1915.

After the end of WW1, on 17th March 1919, Edith Cavell’s body was exhumed from her grave at the “National Firing Range”.

On 13th May 1919 her coffin was escorted to the North Station in Brussels on a gun carriage escorted by a detachment of British troops sent from Cologne. (The idea for sending the troops came from Major B L Montgomery, later to become Field-Marshall Montgomery of Alamein). The streets of Brussels were lined with crowds of people. At the North Station the Reverend Stirling Gahan conducted a service before the coffin was taken by train to the port of Ostend where the Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Rowena, was waiting to carry her across the English Channel to Dover.

During the voyage she had a naval guard in full colours. Arriving at about six in the evening the body was transferred to the “Adder” and brought to the landing stage then escorted to the Marine Station and placed in a specially constructed funeral coach until the next morning.

At Dover the St Mary’s Society of Change Ringers rang for three hours and three minutes in honour of Edith Cavell.

On 15th May 1919 the special train then travelled to London stopping at Folkestone and Ashford. The country stations through which the train passed were thronged with children and the men in the fields stood bareheaded as the train went by. The train arrived at Victoria Station at 11h00. Nurses walked in front of the gun carriage in the procession to Westminster Abbey. There was an escort of a hundred soldiers of all ranks. There were military bands and the streets were congested with people paying homage. The New York Times wrote the next day:

“No triumphant warrior and no potentate could have received a more impressive tribute than was paid today to the mortal remains of Miss Edith Cavell as they were borne through London”.

The memorial service in a crowded Westminster Abbey was attended by royalty and senior politicians. Her coffin was then taken by train to Norwich where she still rests in an area called “Life’s Green” outside the south transept of Norwich Cathedral.

An information sheet on Edith Cavell’s return can be downloaded here

Exhibition photographs