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Primary Magazine - Issue 63: A little bit of history

Created on 22 April 2014 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 02 August 2018 by ncetm_administrator


Primary Magazine Issue 63Memorial to Edith Cavell, Norwich by ell brown,(adapted), some rights reserved

A little bit of history

The programmes of study for history in the national curriculum suggest that children in KS1 should be taught about:

  • events beyond living memory that are significant nationally or globally [for example, the Great Fire of London, the first aeroplane flight or events commemorated through festivals or anniversaries]
  • the lives of significant individuals in the past who have contributed to national and international achievements. Some should be used to compare aspects of life in different periods [for example, Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria, Christopher Columbus and Neil Armstrong, William Caxton and Tim Berners-Lee, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and LS Lowry, Rosa Parks and Emily Davison, Mary Seacole and/or Florence Nightingale and Edith Cavell]

A little bit of history has featured articles on The Great Fire of London, Christopher Columbus, Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, and Neil Armstrong.

The Art of Mathematics has featured articles on Pieter Bruegel the Elder and L S Lowry.

You might be interested in these: they consist of a brief history of the person or event, followed by suggestions for mathematical links that you can make.

In this issue, we have the second in our series looking at some of the other historical topics that are included in the history programmes of study. This month we take a brief look at Edith Cavell.

Edith Cavell was born on 4 December 1865 in Swardeston, a village four miles north of Norwich.

star iconYou could print out a copy of a map of England, locate your school on it and Swardeston (or Norwich if that is easier) and ask the children to find the distance between the two places as ‘the crow flies’. Once they have the measurement in centimetres, they convert according to the scale on the map to find the distance in miles. You could let younger children use a calculator. They could then convert this measurement to kilometres, again using a calculator if appropriate. They could explore different routes to travel there. They could do this by using string to place along the chosen route, then measure it and convert to miles. Which is the shortest route that they can find? You could ask them to work out how long it would take to get there if travelling at, say, 60 miles per hour.

Edith Cavell window, Swardeston, by donald judge (adapted), some rights reservedEdith’s parents were the Reverend Frederick Cavell and Louisa Sophia Warming. When they met each other, Frederick was training to be a minister in London and Louisa was his housekeeper’s daughter. They were not allowed to marry until Louisa had completed some extra education and was thought fit to be a parson’s wife!

Edith was the eldest of four children. She had two sisters, Florence and Lilian and a brother called Jack. The girls had their early education at home. Later in 1881, Edith spent a few months at Norwich High School, and between the ages of sixteen and nineteen she went to three boarding schools: Kensington in Bushey, Hertfordshire, at the time a school for poor clergy families, Clevedon, near Bristol, and finally Laurel Court, Peterborough. At Laurel Court she was taught French and appeared to have a flair for the language, learning it quickly. This was helpful to her when she spent some time as a governess at one of her postings with a family in Brussels, between 1890 and 1895.

In 1895 she returned home to nurse her sick father. It was this experience that made her want to pursue a career in nursing. She trained from 1886 to1898 and then held various nursing jobs. In 1907, she was offered a position as the matron of a new nursing school in Brussels. She developed a very successful training programme that produced well qualified nurses for three hospitals, 24 communal schools and 13 kindergartens. She also opened a clinic.

star iconYou could ask the children to make up a mathematical fact file about Belgium. This could include monthly or mean temperature and rainfall, population, area of land, how many countries border it (and which they are), and currency. The children could make comparisons with the same information for England. Which country has the greater population, area of land? The children could make a currency ready reckoner to compare Euros and Sterling.

When World War I broke out in August 1914, Edith was visiting her widowed mother back home in Norfolk. She returned to Brussels where her clinic and nursing school were taken over by the Red Cross.

In November 1914, after the German occupation of Brussels, Edith began sheltering British soldiers and secretly sending them out of occupied Belgium to Holland. Wounded British and French soldiers and also Belgians and French of military age were hidden from the Germans and provided with false papers by Prince Reginald de Croy. From there, they were guided to Cavell, and other nurses in Brussels. The men were given money and guides to take them to the border with Holland. All this meant that Edith was in violation of German military law and the German authorities became increasingly suspicious of her actions. She was arrested on 3 August 1915 and charged with harbouring Allied soldiers. She was held in prison for 10 weeks, the last two in solitary confinement. She was then court-martialled, prosecuted for aiding British and French soldiers, given the death penalty and shot dead on 12 October 1915, despite several countries pleading for her release.

star iconAsk the children to work out how old Edith was when she died, using a counting on strategy.You could print out copies of the Edith Cavell timeline from History’s Heroes, cut out the statements out and give to the children to order horizontally to make a timeline of her life.

The Edith Cavell Carriage by ARG_Flickr (adapted), some rights reserved)

Edith's remains were returned to Britain after the war and a state funeral was held at Westminster Abbey. On 19 May 1919, her body was reburied at the east side of Norwich Cathedral. A graveside service is still held each October in her memory and in the Church of England calendar 12 October is the day appointed to commemorate her.

There are many memorials: at least 19 medical and nursing facilities, 26 streets, and 16 schools around the country and in other parts of the world which have been named in her honour.

star iconYou could ask the children to find the names of these and locate the areas in the UK and the countries around the world where they are found. You could then ask them to compare their distances from your school as suggested at the beginning of this article.

Information sourced from:

We hope that this article will be helpful if you study Edith Cavell with your children. If there is any area of history that you would like us to make mathematical links to, please let us know.

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If you've enjoyed this article, don't forget you can find all previous A little bit of history features in our archive, sorted into categories: Ancient Number Systems, History of our measurements, Famous mathematicians, and Topical history.

Image Credits
Page header by ell brown (adapted), some rights reserved
Edith Cavell Memorial Window, Swardeston by donald judge, some rights reserved
The Edith Cavell Carriage by ARG_Flickr, some rights reserved

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