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KS3/4 History: TB 218-2 - Memorial Service for Nurse Cavell (1915)

Introduce Edith Cavell using her memorial service in St Paul's

Main image of KS3/4 History: TB 218-2 - Memorial Service for Nurse Cavell (1915)
Author Poppy Simpson, BFI
TopicEdith Cavell
Curriculum linksNC KS3 History A World Study after 1900; GCSE World War One

A short Topical Budget newsreel item showing a portion of the memorial service for Edith Cavell, executed by a German firing-squad on October 12th, 1915.

As this newsreel suggests, Cavell's execution caused outrage in Britain. She became a national heroine and was used in British propaganda to emphasise the barbarity of the 'Huns'. This very short film offers teachers a useful starting point for considering the impact of her death on public opinion in the first year of the conflict as well as a way into looking at different types of propaganda aimed at a civilian audience.



Before showing the film, students should have some awareness of Cavell and the reasons for her arrest and subsequent execution.

Edith Cavell worked as first matron at Berkendael Medical Institute in Brussels. The Institute became a Red Cross hospital for wounded soldiers after the German invasion of Belgium in 1914 and Cavell was arrested in August the following year, charged with helping hundreds of British soldiers escape into neutral Holland.

What can students learn from the film? You may wish to prompt them:

  • Where is the service being held and who is attending? What does this imply about Cavell's status?
  • How are the Germans described in the opening titles and what does this imply?
  • Why is it a memorial service and not a funeral? (Cavell's body was exhumed and returned to the UK following the war, and a further service was attended by George V).
  • What can you see of the crowd that has gathered outside St Paul's and what do these numbers suggest?

What kind of impact do student's think Cavell's death had? Encourage students to evaluate the significance of her execution by directing them to examples of propaganda that used her image and/or sources that show the world-side press coverage that her death received.


Some more ideas

  • Edith Cavell was one of thousands of women who worked in occupied territories or on the Western Front. This film offers a way into looking at one type of women's war work and the contribution of women to the war effort in general.
Video Clips
Complete film (0:56)

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