20 June 2024

Life of local heroine remembered

Two famous sisters from history were remembered during a special event at St Nicholas Church in Withernsea.

On Saturday, October 21, Withernsea poet and storyteller Godfrey Holmes hosted four history talks to remember the Cavell sisters who dedicated years of service to the First World War effort and healthcare services in Withernsea.

Godfrey spoke to more than 100 guests about the lives of nurse Edith Cavell (1865-1915), and her sister Florence (1867-1950), long-standing matron of Withernsea Hospital.

Florence and Edith were the daughters of a Norfolk parson and both trained at the London Hospital in Whitechapel.

Edith was arrested, tried and executed in 1915 for aiding the escape of British prisoners of war from a hospital in German-occupied Belgium.

Meanwhile, Florence clocked up 40 years of service for Withernsea convalescent homes and worked tirelessly to see that Edith’s dream of a home for sick, elderly, tired or convalescing nurses came true.

In 1920 the Daily Mail reported on a garden fete, held by the Girls Club of the Withernsea branch of the National British Women’s Temperance Association (NBWTA). It was raising funds for the Edith Cavell Homes of Rest for Nurses. Florence’s efforts meant that six such convalescent homes were already up and running.

Florence retired from hospital life in 1946.

Three years later she was visiting Leeds at Christmas. As she crossed the Headrow she was hit by a car and suffered serious head injuries. She was admitted to Leeds General Infirmary where she was x-rayed to see if she had fractured her skull. Fortunately, she had not, and was allowed to return to her home at 227B Queen Street, Withernsea.

The following summer she died in the place where she had given 30 years of service – the Hull and East Riding Convalescent Home.

Godfrey also spoke of his personal connection to Edith Cavell, linked to his childhood studying the story of the sisters in Sunday School. He previously travelled to Bodiam Castle in East Sussex to inspect the Cavell Van: the carriage that transported her exhumed body from a crowded Dover Dock to an equally crowded Charing Cross. Much later, Godfrey visited Withernsea’s Convalescent Hospital.

Organiser Darrin Stevens said: “Godfrey Holmes presented the story of the two sisters, Edith and Florence Cavell in an even balance for both remarkable ladies. Godfrey was his usual enigmatic self, who told the magnificent life stories of the ladies to over 100 people throughout the four sittings. Some very interesting highlights for Florence, our local heroine.”

Among those listening to the talk were Mr and Mrs Herbert, of Hollym. Mr Herbert said that Edith was the aunt of his paternal grandmother, and the couple visit the grave in the grounds of St Nicholas Church throughout the year. They were delighted when asked to lay the wreath for Edith.

Doris Cook, wife of Peter Cook, who was custodian of the town clock of 20 years, was also impressed by Godfrey’s talk and was honoured to be asked to lay the wreath for Florence Cavell, whose grave she visits regularly.

Doris trained in basic general nursing in the Royal London Hospital, where Edith Cavell trained and worked and her memorial is held within the grounds of the hospital to this day. Doris was later a midwife at the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies in the 1960s and then at the Royal London from 1970 to 1974.

During the event, organisers also raised £100 for the NHS and £100 for the St Nicholas Church clock.