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Swardeston War Memorial

A Grade II Listed Building in Swardeston, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.5745 / 52°34'28"N

Longitude: 1.2441 / 1°14'38"E

OS Eastings: 619918

OS Northings: 302352

OS Grid: TG199023

Mapcode National: GBR VGY.HD1

Mapcode Global: WHMTT.2KP5

Entry Name: Swardeston War Memorial

Listing Date: 11 January 2017

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1440669

Location: Swardeston, South Norfolk, Norfolk, NR14

County: Norfolk

District: South Norfolk

Civil Parish: Swardeston

Built-Up Area: Swardeston

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Swardeston St Mary Virgin

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

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First World War memorial, erected c1920.


First World War memorial, erected c1920.

MATERIALS: of rock-faced granite.

DESCRIPTION: the memorial stands on a small green adjacent to the lych gate at the entrance to the Church of St Mary. It comprises a single-step base, a roughly trapezoidal plinth and a tall shaft which tapers in rectangular section to a Celtic wheel-head cross bearing the relief carving of a sword with its blade pointing downwards. The E face of the plinth is inscribed PRO PATRIA / [Names] / 1914 - 1919.


The aftermath of the First World War saw the biggest single wave of public commemoration ever with tens of thousands of memorials erected across England. One such memorial was erected in the Norfolk parish of Swardeston in around 1920 to honour ten local men who died during the conflict. The memorial also commemorates Edith Cavell, one of the most famous civilian casualties of the First World War, who is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides without distinction and in helping over 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. Cavell was born in Swardeston on 4 December 1865, where her father was the vicar at St Mary's for 45 years. In 1889, after leaving school, Cavell went to Brussels, as governess to the children of the François family in Brussels, with whom she remained for six years. On her return to England, Cavell decided to pursue a career in nursing. After undertaking a number of roles at several English hospitals, Cavell returned to Brussels in 1907 to nurse a child patient of Dr Antoine Depage, the Belgian royal surgeon, and an acquaintance of the François family. In the same year Depage, one of the leaders of a movement seeking to diminish the role of religious orders in the care of the sick in Belgium, opened L'École Belge d'Infirmières Diplômées, a clinic and pioneering training school for lay nurses at his Berkendael Medical Institute in Brussels, and appointed Cavell as director. By 1912 the school was providing nurses for three hospitals, 24 communal schools and 13 kindergartens. In response to this success, plans were drawn up for a larger school and clinic, which opened in 1915 on land between rue de Bruxelles (now rue Edith Cavell) and rue de L'Ecole (now rue Marie Depage), Brussels.

Although Cavell was on holiday in Norfolk when news broke that Germany had declared war with Russia on 1 August 1914, she was back in Brussels by 3 August. After the Germans entered Brussels on 20 August, the clinic and training school became a Red Cross Hospital, with Cavell and her staff treating soldiers of all nations. On 1 November she was presented with a near-impossible dilemma when two wounded British soldiers found their way to the hospital. If she helped the soldiers she would put the neutrality of the Red Cross at risk but if she refused they would be in danger of being executed, along with any civilians who had harboured them. Despite the risk, Cavell decided to help the two soldiers, sheltering them for two weeks before they could be spirited away to neutral territory in Holland. Cavell then quickly redirected her energies towards assisting in the escape of Allied soldiers, with the network of opposition to the German occupation, and the assistance to prisoners of war, masterminded by the Prince and Princess de Croy. Members of the Brussels bourgeoisie were also involved, and through Cavell's contact with them, the training school became part of the network, providing soldiers with a hiding place until Philippe Baucq, a local architect, could arrange for a guide to facilitate their escape into Allied territory.

The Germans, however, were always on the lookout for hidden Allied soldiers and soon became suspicious of the training school and began to pay frequent visits to conduct routine searches. The B branch of the German secret political police, Geheime Politisch Polizei (GPP), was focused mainly on discovering hidden Allied soldiers and arresting any civilians assisting them, with officer Otto Mayer believed to have been specifically assigned to catch Cavell. On 31 July 1915, the GPP suddenly appeared at the home of Philippe Baucq and arrested him along with Louise Thuliez, another member of the escape-route team, who was visiting at the time. Over the next five days, 35 people involved in the escape network were taken into custody. On the afternoon of 5 August, officers from the GPP arrived at the training school and Otto Mayer arrested Cavell. After 72 hours of interrogation she was eventually tricked into making a confession. The Germans told Cavell that they already had the necessary information and that she could only save her friends from execution if she made a full confession. Cavell believed her interrogators and subsequently named several of her accomplices.

Cavell was taken for trial with eight others on 7 October and freely confessed to helping Allied soldiers escape, admitting that she had helped as many as 200 men. Four days later, on 11 October, along with Baucq and three others, Cavell was sentenced to death, the remaining four to periods of hard labour. Three of those condemned to death had their executions adjourned while pleas of clemency were heard, but Cavell and Baucq were ordered to be executed immediately. In spite of intense diplomatic activity across Europe, particularly on the part of the Americans, through the efforts of the US minister in Brussels, Brand Whitlock, Cavell was shot at dawn on 12 October at the Tir National shooting range in Schaerbeek and buried there. Initial shock at Cavell's death was quickly succeeded by international protest, and to many she instantly became a heroine and martyr. Her death played directly into the hands of the Allied propaganda machine, becoming particularly useful for recruitment, with an estimated 40,000 troops enlisting as a result of her execution.

In May 1919, Cavell’s body was exhumed at the Tir National and returned to England, first to Westminster Abbey for a service on 15 May, and then by special train to Norwich, where she was finally laid to rest on 19 May at the east end of Norwich Cathedral, in an area called Life’s Green.

Reasons for Listing

Swardeston War Memorial, erected c1920, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: as an eloquent witness to the tragic impact of world events on the local community, and the sacrifices it made in the First World War;
* Historic association: it commemorates, along with ten local men, Edith Cavell, one of the most famous civilian casualties of the First World War. As a genuine victim and propaganda cult figure, Cavell’s reputation continues to resonate;
* Design interest: as an accomplished and well-realised memorial which takes the form of a Celtic wheel-head cross;
* Group Value: it has strong group value with the Church of St Mary (Grade II*), the Old Rectory and attached garden wall (Grade II), and the Old Cavell Vicarage (Grade II).

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