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Born in Swardeston, a village near Norwich on 4th December 1865, Edith Cavell was the eldest of four children. Her parents, the Reverend Frederick and Louisa Sophia Cavell, raised their children with a strong Christian ethic and a belief in the value of a good education.

Edith attended the Norwich High School for Girls, followed by a period as a governess, which including a family in Brussels. Edith went on to train as a nurse at the London Hospital under Matron Eva Luckes; she continued her training working in various hospitals in England, including Shoreditch Infirmary.

In 1907, Edith Cavell was recruited by Dr Antoine Depage to be matron of a newly established nursing school, the Berkendael Medical Institute (L'École Belge d’Infirmières Diplômées,) on the Rue de la Culture (now Rue Franz Merjay), Ixelles in Brussels. In 1910, "Miss Cavell was responsible for publishing the professional nursing journal L'infirmière". A year later, she was a training nurse for three hospitals, 24 schools, and 13 kindergartens in Belgium.

At the outbreak of the Great War she was visiting her widowed mother in Norfolk in the East of England. She returned to Brussels, where her clinic and nursing school had been taken over by the Red Cross.

By November 1914 Nurse Edith Cavell had become an important link in a complicated people smuggling organization. Wounded, British and French soldiers, Belgian and French civilians of military age were hidden from the Germans and provided with false papers by Prince Reginald de Croy at his château of Bellignies near Mons. From there, they were conducted by various guides to safe houses in Brussels. one of which belonged to Edith Cavell, amongst others. Given money and aided by guides obtained through Philippe Baucq most successfully crossed the frontier into the Netherlands.