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Kent & East Sussex Railway's Cavell Van in TV series Railways of the Great War presented by Michael Portillo


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The TV series Railways of the Great War features Kent & East Sussex Railway in the episode being broadcast on Friday.

The programme is presented by journalist and former cabinet minister Michael Portillo and goes out on BBC2 at 6.30pm.

It includes an interview with the railway’s Cavell Van curator Brian Janes, inside the First World War carriage.

The van carried the coffins of war heroes Nurse Edith Cavell and Capt Charles Fryatt in 1919 and the Unknown Warrior in 1920 when they were repatriated from Europe.

Mr Janes said: “To be able to present the story of such great national heroes of the war and their final journeys in a year of national reflection was an honour, particularly on such a widely watched and appreciated series of programmes.

TV presenter and former cabinet minister Michael Portillo (left) chats to Brian Janes, curator of the Kent & East Sussex Railway's Cavell Van
TV presenter and former cabinet minister Michael Portillo (left) chats to Brian Janes, curator of the Kent & East Sussex Railway's Cavell Van

“The restoration and use of the Cavell Van as a national memorial to the sacrifices made by our forebears is an achievement of which the Kent & East Sussex Railway can justly be proud.”

The van is an important railway legacy of the Great War and is on show to the public at Bodiam Station.

Visitors can read about Nurse Cavell, Capt Fryatt and the Unknown Warrior, as well as watch newsreels from 1919 and 1920 of the three burial processions and scenes of the trenches.

Built in 1919, the historic significance of the Cavell Van originates from its role in conveying the remains of the three war heroes.

The Cavell Van at Bodiam station which carried the remains of three heroes repatriated from Europe in the First World War
The Cavell Van at Bodiam station which carried the remains of three heroes repatriated from Europe in the First World War

The first of the journeys from Dover to London was made during May, 1919, when No.132 carried the body of Nurse Cavell. Thereafter, it became known to railwaymen as the Cavell Van.

Nurse Cavell helped allied soldiers in Belgium escape the Germans. She was arrested, confessed, was court-martialled and shot on October 12, 1915, for assisting the enemy.

Two months after Nurse Cavell’s repatriation, Van 132 carried the remains of merchant seaman Capt Fryatt.

In 1916, his ship was surrounded by enemy destroyers and boarded. Capt Fryatt was charged with attempting to ram a German U boat and was shot after a show trial.

The van’s most poignant duty came in November,1920, when it conveyed the remains of the Unknown Warrior – the war’s highest profile casualty.

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