Relative of nurse executed in the First World War to talk at rare film screening


A century after an execution that shocked Britain and her allies, a relative of the nurse shot by firing squad is to talk at rare screening of a film about her story.

British nurse Edith Cavell was court-martialled and executed in German-occupied Brussels on 12 October 1915 after aiding the escape of hundreds of Allied soldiers. Her death provoked international outrage and seriously damaged Germany’s reputation in neutral countries.

Dr Emma Cavell, who until 2013 was a medieval historian based at the University of Leeds, will return to Leeds later this month to speak at Edith Cavell in the Cinema, a series of short talks and screening of Dawn, the 1928 film about Nurse Cavell that raised diplomatic tensions between Britain and Weimar Germany.

Dr Cavell, who now works at Swansea University, will speak about her family and the enduring legacy of her famous relative.

She said: “I’m very proud that Edith’s bravery and courage is being recognised across the world at this time and am pleased to be returning to Leeds to talk about her life. I am also looking forward to a rare chance to see Dawn on the big screen.

“My branch of the family is descended from Edith’s uncle, George Cavell. We have been in Australia since at least Nurse Cavell’s time but, growing up, we have always known about her. My grandfather used to talk about her all the time and had memories of a postcard from Edith to his father, my great grandfather, in Australia.”

The event, organised by the University’s Legacies of War centenary project and supported by the Gateways to the First World War public engagement centre, takes place at Hyde Park Picture House at 3pm on Saturday 24 October. 

Other speakers at the event are Professor Alison Fell, who leads Legacies of War and will talk about the nurse’s role in the resistance networks that sprang up in occupied France and Belgium, while colleague Dr Claudia Sternberg will describe the Cavell persona in popular culture and give the background to the film and how it was received.

Musician Darius Battiwalla, an alumnus of the School of Music at the University of Leeds, will accompany Dawn, a silent film, and talk about musical improvisation and silent film – one of his areas of expertise. 

Dr Sternberg, who leads Legacies of War’s Culture and Arts strand, said: “The Cavell case featured in a number of films between 1915 and 1939, but Dawn is the most remarkable. The film emphasised that the conditions of war determined people’s actions, and Sybil Thorndike’s performance as Cavell moved away from earlier clich├ęs. As critics observed at the time, it was ironic that this production triggered diplomatic discord and the threat of censorship.

“Dawn is also of interest in British film history. As a late silent film, it anticipated some of the elements that would dominate the soldier-centred sound films from 1930 onwards – despite its focus on a woman protagonist and a civilian’s case.” 

Ollie Jenkins, Hyde Park Picture House Administrator, said: “We’re delighted to be hosting this event, which brings together film, history and music in a truly unique and wonderful way. 

“The archive 35mm print we’ll be projecting is one of very few remaining today, and we can’t wait to see it brought to life by Darius’ piano accompaniment, as well as the wealth of knowledge that all of the speakers will bring to it.”

The talks start at 3pm on Saturday 24 October. The musical introduction and screening of Dawn starts at 4pm after a short break. To secure a seat, visit

Further details about the screening can be found here: The event is free, but donations will be invited for the Cavell Nurses’ Trust.

The event will be followed by an evening screening of Suffragette at 6.15pm (usual admission charges apply).

World War One: Changing Faces of Heroism, is a free online short course produced by the University of Leeds in association with the BBC. It examines how the First World War changed traditional views of heroism and looks at the emergence of new kinds of heroes and heroines, such as ordinary ‘Tommies’ and front-line nurses, as well as alternative hero figures including anti-war campaigners. It starts on 27 October. For further details, see

Further information 

For images, and to arrange interviews, contact Gareth Dant, Press Officer, on 0113 3433996 or

Image shows Dr Emma Cavell with her daughter, Edith (named after her famous forebear) and the commemorative coin minted earlier this year to honour the memory of their relative, Nurse Edith Cavell. Credit: The Royal Mint.

Hyde Park Picture House

Established in 1914, the Hyde Park Picture House is one of the UK’s oldest cinemas and is located just outside of Leeds City Centre. The Grade II listed building features an ornate balcony, gas lighting, operational 35mm projectors and a cosy, friendly atmosphere. It screens the best independent, art house and classic films from around the world for the folk of Leeds and beyond to enjoy.

Gateways to the First World War

Gateways to the First World War is a centre for public engagement with the First World War centenary funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The aim of the Gateways team is to encourage and support public interest in the centenary of the First World War through a range of events and activities such as open days and study days, advice on access to materials and expertise, and signposting for other resources and forms of support. The Centre is managed by the University of Kent in partnership with the Universities of Brighton, Greenwich, Portsmouth, Leeds and Queen Mary, London. It also has close links with organisations such as the Imperial War Museum, National Maritime Museum and the War Memorials Trust.

Legacies of War

Legacies of War was established almost five years ago as a research and public engagement venture in anticipation of the 1914-18 war’s centenary. The project team includes researchers from several Schools within the University’s Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts & Communications: Languages, Cultures and Societies; History; Classics; Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies and Philosophy, Religion & the History of Science.