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Remembering Edith Cavell: WW1 nurse heroine who battled Maidstone's Typhoid outbreak

Commemorations are taking place in Britain and Belgium for Edith Cavell, a nurse shot by German soldiers on this day 100 years ago. 

Born in Swardeston near Norwich, in 1865, Ms Cavell trained as a nurse at the Royal London Hospital. During her training she worked on the front lines of Maidstone’s Typhoid epidemic, the largest outbreak of the disease in Britain at that time affecting over 1,847 people, of which 132 died. 

The high survival rates have been attributed the professional nursing care of Ms Cavell and her colleagues, largely based on Florence Nightingale's work in the Crimea. 

Edith Cavell. Photo:Maidstone Museum
Edith Cavell. Photo:Maidstone Museum

In Maidstone the cause of the outbreak was traced back to contaminated mains water. Ms Cavell was among dozens of medical staff awarded the Maidstone Medal by Maidstone Borough Council for their efforts- the only accolade she received during her lifetime.

Later Ms Cavell became matron of a nurse training school in Belgium. In her care were soldiers from both sides, and she was involved in smuggling British and Allied soldiers through neutral Holland to safety. 

She was arrested by German forces and after an investigation she was convicted of treason and sentenced to death, despite an international outcry.

Nurses and medical staff presented with the Maidstone Medal in January 1898 Photo:Maidstone Museum
Nurses and medical staff presented with the Maidstone Medal in January 1898 Photo:Maidstone Museum
A hospital ward at the time of the outbreak. Photo:Maidstone Museum
A hospital ward at the time of the outbreak. Photo:Maidstone Museum

Ms Cavell was executed by firing squad on October 12, 1915. She was 49. 

Now, on the centenary of her death, events are taking place across the country to remember the hero. 

A bust of Ms Cavell, a pioneer of modern nursing was unveiled in Brussels today Princess Astrid of Belgium near the site of her execution, and events are taking place in Norwich, Peterborough and Swardeston to celebrate her life. 

The Maidstone Medal. Photo:Maidstone Museum
The Maidstone Medal. Photo:Maidstone Museum

But Ms Cavell's contribution to Maidstone has not been forgotten. Today mayor of Maidstone Cllr Daniel Moriarty and Glenn Douglas, chief executive of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust unveiled a rose bush planted in her memory on the hospital grounds. 

On Thursday, the United Reform Church in Week Street, where Ms Cavell was awarded the Maidstone Medal, will unveil a plaque in her memory. Two talks on Ms Cavell's links to Maidstone will take place at 3pm and 7pm. Admission is £3. 


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