Edith Cavell – An Ordinary Hero
What can the story of Edith Cavell teach us today?
by Keith Griffin
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To consider the story of Edith Cavell and reflect upon what her life can teach us today.
Preparation and materials
You will need to familiarize yourself with the story of Edith Cavell. Extra information is available at: https://www.cavellnursestrust.org/edith-cavell
You will also need to print a picture of Edith Cavell (as large as possible) onto five A4 pieces of card. A suitable image is available at: http://tinyurl.com/zqqgd2e. On the reverse of the cards, write the following words:
- Nurse (on the first card)
- Patriot (on the second card)
- Hero (on the third card)
- Resistance Worker? (on the fourth card)
- Edith (on the fifth card)
Alternatively, the image could be displayed on screen and the words ‘Nurse’, ‘Patriot’, ‘Hero’, ‘Resistance Worker?’ and ‘Edith’ written on blank pieces of paper.
You will also need five volunteers.
If the assembly is being used in connection with Remembrance Day, ask the children if they can explain what Remembrance Day means and what we are remembering on that day.
Listen to a range of responses.
Remind the children about all the people who served in the First and Second World Wars, and the people who are still serving today. Explain that we are going to think about the story of a woman who helped those serving in the armed forces during the First World War.
Show the image of Edith Cavell.
Invite five volunteers to the front and ask them each to hold a card showing a picture of Edith Cavell so that the pictures are facing the audience.
Explain that, as the story about Edith Cavell’s life is told, the volunteers will display some words that tell us about her life.
Edith was born in 1865 in a village in Norfolk. Her father was a vicar and Edith complained about his boring sermons. She didn’t go to school until she was older, having been initially taught at home by a governess and her father.
When Edith was young, she wrote to her cousin saying, ‘Some day, somehow, I am going to do something useful . . . something for people.’
On one occasion, Edith went on holiday with her parents to Germany, which sowed a seed about the idea of one day living abroad. Indeed, she moved to Brussels in Belgium to work as a governess for a while, but it wasn’t long before she decided that she wanted to become a nurse.
Show the image of Edith Cavell on the front of the first card (with the word ‘Nurse’ on the back).
Edith trained and qualified as a nurse in London and then moved back to Brussels, where she soon had responsibility for training younger nurses. By all accounts, she was very strict.
Turn the card around to reveal the word ‘Nurse’.
Show the image of Edith Cavell on the front of the second card (with the word ‘Patriot’ on the back).
Edith started work as a nurse in Brussels in 1907. When war broke out seven years later, she happened to be visiting England. Edith knew that she had to return to Brussels to be with her nurses. She took a risk for herself and for her country.
Turn the card around to reveal the word ‘Patriot’.
Show the image of Edith Cavell on the front of the third card (with the word ‘Hero’ on the back).
Life was very dangerous in Belgium. German forces had overwhelmed the country and many British soldiers found themselves stranded. They needed help, they needed looking after and they needed places to hide. Edith began to take them in. She became part of a large network that helped fugitive soldiers and also arranged for them to escape back to the UK. In October 1915, Edith was arrested. A short trial took place and Edith was sentenced to death. The night before her death, Edith was visited by her priest. Edith told him, ‘I have no fear . . . I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’
Edith Cavell was killed on 12 October 1915.
Turn the card around to reveal the word ‘Hero’.
Show the image of Edith Cavell on the front of the fourth card (with the word ‘Resistance Worker?’ on the back).
We have known about Edith Cavell’s story for many years, but recently, more has been discovered about her activities during the war. Wartime is not only about fighting, it’s also about secrets, information and knowing more than your enemy wants you to know. Some people now believe that Edith was involved in espionage in the hope of helping people in the war.
Turn the card around to reveal the word ‘Resistance Worker?’.
Show the image of Edith Cavell on the front of the fifth card (with the word ‘Edith’ on the back).
Before her death, Edith’s priest said to her in her prison cell, ‘We shall remember you as a heroine and a martyr.’
Edith replied, ‘Don’t think of me like that. Think of me as a nurse who tried to do her duty.’
So who was Edith Cavell? She may have been a nurse, a patriot, a hero or even a resistance worker! I wonder how she would have wanted to be remembered?
Turn the card around to reveal the word ‘Edith’.
It seems likely that Edith would have wanted to be remembered as an ordinary woman, as a nurse.
Time for reflection
The story of Edith Cavell is a story about someone ordinary doing something very special. We are all ordinary and we can all do things that are special.
Edith wanted ‘to do something useful . . . for people.’ She wanted to ‘do her duty’.
What can we do that is useful? What is our duty?
Today, we can get involved with the work of charities around the world that are saving lives and doing good. Our support helps to save lives, just like Edith did.
Edith may be a hero, but her life story also teaches us something important about how we can live today. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in the world lived with ‘no hatred or bitterness towards anyone’?
Thank you for the life of Edith Cavell.
Please help us to think about other people.
Please help us to do something useful for other people today.
Please help us to show love to other people and to make peace in the world.