Edith Cavell

The first part of the funeral service for nurse Edith Cavell was held at Westminster Abbey on 15th May 1919. She had been shot at dawn by the Germans on 12th October 1915 for aiding the escape of allied prisoners during the First World War. Her coffin, draped with the Union flag, was carried on a gun carriage through streets lined with mourners. A wreath of red and white carnations and arum lilies placed on the coffin had been sent by Queen Alexandra, widow of King Edward VII. Her card read:

In memory of our brave, heroic, never to be forgotten Miss Cavell. Life's race well run, Life's work well done, Life's crown well won, now comes rest. From Alexandra.

The coffin was borne by six Guardsmen. The opening sentences of the Burial service, arranged by William Croft, were sung and Psalm 23, with anthems by Sullivan ('Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death') and Goss ('I heard a voice from heaven'). The only hymn sung was "Abide with me". At the close of the service the band of the Grenadier Guards played the Dead March from "Saul" and the Last Post and Reveille were sounded, The procession left to Chopin's Funeral March and the coffin made its way to Liverpool Street station for the journey by rail to Norwich cathedral, where Nurse Cavell is buried.

The Funeral service of Edith Cavell, Thursday 15th May 1919 (PDF, 296KB)

She was born in Norfolk on 4th December 1865, daughter of the Reverend Frederick Cavell and his wife Louisa. For a time she worked as a governess in Brussels and returned to England to train as a nurse. She worked at several London hospitals and became director of a training school in Brussels, the first of its kind in Belgium. Once the Great War began in 1914 she helped organize the escape of Allied soldiers, disguising some of them as patients. On 5th August 1915 she was arrested by the Germans and condemned to death and despite international efforts to save her she was shot.

A statue to her stands near Trafalgar Square in London.

Further reading

"Edith Cavell, pioneer and patriot" by A.E.C. Kennedy, 1965

"Edith Cavell" by R.V. Ryder, 1975

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

A transcript of the last letter she wrote to her cousin is in the Abbey archives


4th December 1865


12th October 1915


15th May 1919

Drawing of Edith Cavell in nurse's uniform
Edith Cavell by Eleanor M. Ross

© National Portrait Gallery, London [Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 3.0]

Cover of funeral service paper for Edith Cavell
Edith Cavell funeral paper

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster