Home   News   Article

Subscribe Now

Remembering the historic figures from Norfolk or Suffolk who have shown extraordinary courage or conviction




In our current crisis, we have all been reminded of the heroes among us who put themselves at risk to help others. Suffolk, and indeed Norfolk, have a proud history of courage, self sacrifice and standing up for beliefs with more than one of our greatest historic heroes being part of the medical profession. Here are six figures with links to Suffolk and Norfolk who's courage should never be forgotten.

1. Edith Cavell

Born in Swardeston, Norfolk, Edith Cavell was a nurse who gave her life to save the lives of allied soldiers during the first world war. While working in German occupied Belgium, Edith treated soldiers from both side of the conflict without discrimination.

Her pioneering work in the country, which did not have a recognised nursing profession established, led to the founding of nursing education in Belgium.

While working in the country she joined a network of individuals who sheltered allied soldiers and arranged guides to help them travel to the border and escape to allied soil.

Edith and her accomplices helped hundreds of soldiers escape, gambling with their lives in the process.

Ultimately, they paid the price when German soldiers discovered the network and arrested all involved.

Edith was tried alongside 34 others and found guilty, before being executed by firing squad in October 1915.

2. Saint Edmund

Statue of St Edmund in Bury (34126006)
Statue of St Edmund in Bury (34126006)

In 856AD, devout christian Edmund became king of East Anglia at 15 years of age.

When the great heathen army of viking warriors landed on English shores in 865AD, East Anglia was their first target.

King Edmund offered horses and safe passage through East Anglia to the army in exchange for peace and initially, the viking army obliged.

After the sacking of York in 867AD however, the viking returned to East Anglia, waging war on the kingdom in 869AD.

King Edmund met the army in battle near Norwich and was defeated by the army, which was among the largest ever seen at the time, with an estimated 3,000 men.

The vikings captured King Edmund and demanded that he renounce christianity or die.

King Edmund chose death rather than abandon his beliefs and was tied to a tree and shot with arrows before being beheaded.

This act of unshakeable faith led to him being named the first patron saint of England and his remains were brought to Bury St Edmunds and laid to rest in 902AD, where they remained for a time, giving the town its name.

3 - Dr Elizabeth Garrett

Born in 1836 as one of 12 children, Elizabeth Garrett could easily have settled into a comfortable life as the daughter of a successful businessman and married.

However after befriending feminists Emily Davies and Elizabeth Blackwell, she decided to do what no woman ever had before in Britain - become a doctor.

She enrolled at a nursing hospital in Middlesex and attended classes intended for male doctors before being barred from them.

Elizabeth continued to study however, and as there was no law against a woman taking the exam to qualify them to become a doctor, Elizabeth took the exam and passed.

She established a dispensary for women in London in 1870, before teaching herself French so she could travel to Paris to study for a medical degree that she was unable to obtain back home.

Having gained the degree, she returned home to find the British Medical Register would not recognise it.

In 1872, the tenacious doctor founded the new hospital for women in London, which was staffed entirely by women.

Due to her relentless efforts and accomplishments, an act was passed in in 1876 which allowed women to enter the medical profession.

Having become the first doctor in England, Elizabeth retired to Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast in 1902, and went on to become the first female mayor in England in 1908.

4 - Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson

A portrait of Admiral Nelson hangs in the National Museum of the Royal navy in Portsmouth (34147325)
A portrait of Admiral Nelson hangs in the National Museum of the Royal navy in Portsmouth (34147325)

Born in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, in 1758, Horatio Nelson joined the navy at age 12, and quickly rose to become a captain at 20.

By the time he participated in his first major battle, he had been given command of his own ship, the HMS Agamemnon.

HeCalvi, helping the British navy to capture the island of Corsica, losing the sight in his right eye when a stray shot caused rock fragments to be thrown into his face.

Having risen to the rank of commodore by 1797, Nelson led the HMS Captain against the larger Spanish fleet at Cape St Vincent, disobeying an order and attacking three Spanish ships.

He could have faced a court martial for engaging the ships, which had broken away from the main fleet, but after boarding and capturing one ship, he led his men across to the deck of the 112-gun San Josef as it came alongside to help the newly captured San Nicholas.

Nelson's men won the fight and captured the second ship, leading to Nelson being hailed as the hero of the day.

Later that same year, he would have his upper arm almost severed by a musket ball while leading an assault on a shore at Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

He climbed back aboard his ship, sought out the surgeon, and said: "The sooner it is off the better", and was back on his feet giving orders to his men half an hour later.

At Trafalgar, Vice-Admiral Nelson led the British navy through, arguably, its finest hour as it took on the combined might of the French and Spanish fleet in 1805.

Leading 33 ships against the 41 of France and Spain, in the flagship HMS Victory, Nelson set an example of courage to his men by wearing his uniform with all its medals, making him clearly recognisable as a high ranking officer.

This act of extreme courage would draw gunfire away from his men and towards Nelson during the battle, a fact which ultimately led to his death.

Despite muskets being inaccurate weapons, a french soldier in the mast of a ship alongside the Victory was finally able to shoot Nelson during the battle.

After being carried below with a fatal wound which had passed down through his shoulder and into his chest, Nelson clung on to life until he had been given news that the battle was won.

His body was preserved in a barrel of brandy rather than being buried at sea and he was brought back home to England to be buried in St Paul's cathedral.

5 - Boudica

The fabled queen of the Iceni tribe which rose in revolt against the might of the Roman empire was born somewhere near Norwich in around 30AD.

During the invasion of Britain, the Roman soldiers are said to have beaten Boudica and forced themselves on her daughters, which caused the uprising to begin.

Boudica's quest for vengeance started with early victories, including the sacking of Colchester and London in 60 or 61AD, before her army finally met that of Suetonius Paulinus at the battle of Watling Street somewhere near St Albans.

The warrior queen commanded not only her own warriors from Iceni lands near Thetford, but those from neighbouring areas who rallied to her cause.

As with so many other leaders before her, Boudica was unable to defeat the Romans on the battlefield, and her army was decimated.

Rather than be taken as a slave, or endure torture, Boudica poisoned herself ending her life on her own terms.

Her courage in taking on the strength of the Roman empire and the early successes against them have led to her story becoming an integral part of British history.

6 - Harvey Frost

One of the many young men who fought heroically during world wars one and two, Harvey Frost had a distinguished military career before going on to become mayor of Bury St Edmunds three times.

Having seen service with ground troops during world war one, Harvey narrowly avoided serious injury when shards of shrapnel left holes in his uniform shortly after he had survived a gas attack while he was fighting with the Suffolk Regiment.

He then went on to join the RAF where he had another very near miss.

While flying over St Eloi, his BE2c became involved in an aerial battle with a German plane and his pilot was shot.

Turning around to see the pilot slumped in his seat unconcsious, Harvey ran to the front of the plane and tried to regain control of the plane as it went down.

While doing so, he was shot in the leg and crash landed before being taken prisoner.

After two operations while at a German hospital, he was finally allowed to go home when Britain and Germany swapped prisoners in 1917.



This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More