November 15

Remembering the First World War

We have enjoyed welcoming everyone back from half term over the previous fortnight and hearing about all their different adventures and experiences. In Senior School, our German students enjoyed a return exchange visit to the Angela Merici-Gymnasium in beautiful Trier and our Year 11 students showed their grit and teamwork on a successful practice Silver expedition for the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. It was also fabulous to see so many family members at the BHSA’s Diwali celebrations last Friday. A riot of colour and joyous dancing; it is a real showcase of the school community at its best, inclusive, happy and fun. I am very grateful for the organising team of parents for their drive and enthusiasm.

Senior school enjoyed their second ‘Trips day’ of the year. ‘Tearing up’ the timetable for the day allows us the time and resources for enriching the girls’ educational experience. Activities ranged from: GDST netball rallies to a morning of maths; a suffragette activity day and valuable study skills support for year 11. These kind of enrichment activities are so valuable for the girls’ overall experience and development and we are very appreciative of your support and enthusiasm too.

We marked the Armistice centenary in a number of ways as we moved towards November 11th. Girls and parents enjoyed a stimulating lecture from Dr Edward Madigan of Royal Holloway on the public memory of the First World War in Britain and the DT department were busy creating the poppies for our own field of remembrance on Mycenae Terrace. In both sections of the school we observed the two minutes silence and the trumpet reveille on Friday 9th, and at Seniors there was a more formal service where I addressed the community and we sang ‘Abide with me’ together.

This year, we explored different experiences of the First World War, looking particularly at the experiences of Edith Cavell, a GDST alumna of Norwich High in the 1870s. She was recruited in 1907 to become the matron of the newly established nursing school in Brussels, the Ecole Belge d’Infirmieres Diplomees. By the time war broke out in 1914, she was training nurses for three hospitals, 24 schools and 13 kindergartens in Brussels. In November 1914, after the German occupation of Brussels, Cavell stayed in Brussels. She began sheltering British soldiers and funnelling them out of occupied Belgium to the neutral Netherlands. Wounded British and French soldiers as well as Belgian and French civilians of military age were hidden from the Germans and provided with false papers. They were conducted by various guides to the houses of Cavell, Louis Séverin, and others in Brussels, where their hosts would furnish them with money to reach the Dutch frontier, and provide them with guides. This was an incredibly dangerous move. It placed Cavell in violation of German military law. German authorities became increasingly suspicious of the nurse's actions, which were further fuelled by her outspokenness. She was arrested on 3 August 1915 and charged with harbouring Allied soldiers. The British government could do nothing to help her. Sir Horace Rowland of the Foreign Office said, "I am afraid that it is likely to go hard with Miss Cavell; I am afraid we are powerless." The night before her execution, she told the Reverend Stirling Gahan, the Anglican chaplain who had been allowed to see her and to give her Holy Communion, "Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone."

These words are inscribed on her statue in St Martin's Place, near Trafalgar Square in London. Her sentence was carried out at the Tir national shooting range in Schaerbeek, at 7:00 am on 12 October 1915. As you can imagine, In the months and years following Cavell's death, countless newspaper articles, pamphlets, images, and books publicised her story. She became an iconic propaganda figure for military recruitment in Britain, and to help increase favourable sentiment towards the Allies in the United States. Cavell's story was part of its propaganda effort and she became the most prominent British female casualty of First World War. Cavell's case was a major factor in enduring post-war anti-German sentiment. Senior School girls heard this story in their remembrance service and Junior School girls through the ‘Mighty Girls’ club, with a focus on understanding the devastating impact of war on all elements of the community: soldiers, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters alike.

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