Some Soldiers’ Stories

The first two British soldiers helped by nurse Edith Cavell – November 1 1914

Colonel Dudley Boger and Sergeant Fred Meachin, The First Cheshire Regiment

Boger from Ryder
Col. Dudley Boger

 

The Cheshires were part of the British Expeditionary Force which was driven south through Belgium in 1914 by the German advance. Colonel Boger (49) was commanding the regiment: Sgt Meachin was one of his NCOs. Both were wounded in the battle of Audregnies on August 24 – Boger had been shot three times and had sustained serious wounds in his side and foot: Meachin had been hit on the head by a spent bullet.

They were treated in a German field hospital in a convent nearby and escaped a month later. They were helped by several Belgians who hid them in their homes. Eventually they arrived in disguise at the door of Edith Cavell’s clinique in the Rue de la Culture in Brussels on the evening of November 1 with a guide, Herman Capiau. Edith Cavell hid them both in her quarters and tended to their wounds herself.

Meachin head
Sgt. Fred Meachin

They spent seventeen days in hiding with her and then she passed them on to Belgian guides to take them to the Dutch frontier. Col. Boger was captured before he got out of Brussels  and spent the remainder of the War in internment. Sgt. Meachin made it out to Holland and back across the Channel (although he was initially arrested as a deserter). He returned to fight in France and received the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1917.

Sources: 

Rowland Ryder, Edith Cavell, 1975, Hamish Hamilton, pages 92-3 , 107-110, 118-120, 234

Diana Souhami, Edith Cavell, 2010, Quercus, pages 160-1

 

Two Norfolk soldiers helped by Edith Cavell, 1914-15

Private R W (Billy) Mapes and Sergeant David Jesse Tunmore

Private ‘Billy’ Mapes

Private R W Mapes 1st Norfolks (2)
Pte. Billy Mapes

Billy Mapes was from Hethersett, near Norwich and fought with the 1st battalion Norfolk Regiment. He was severely wounded in the ankle and detached from his men. His slow journey to Brussels came via the same Red Cross Convent at Wiheries where Col Boger and Sgt Meachin had been held. Following his escape he spent a number of months in hiding in the home of the Camus family, where he managed to stay undetected when German officials searched their store. He was then in contact with a number of Belgian agents who, as with Tunmore, directed him to Edith Cavell.

On reaching Brussels at the end of 1914 with a nasty ankle wound, Mapes introduced himself to staff at Cavell’s Institute. Hearing the accent, Cavell asked Mapes where he came from. He replied;

“I’m from Hethersett, Ma’am”

Wide-eyed, Cavell announced;

“I know it well. It’s near Swardeston where I was born”. “

Before Mapes left for the Dutch border as part of a group of six, Cavell embraced him, kissing him on the cheek and saying;

“Dear old Norfolk. I’d do anything to help a Norfolk man”

 Mapes’ large group remained hidden until they approached Antwerp, where they had to turn back. A second attempt, crossing into Holland near Turnhout, proved successful. He and his comrades reached England on 15th June 1915..

Unknown to Mapes, for months he had been listed by the Army as missing – believed killed. His mother had stubbornly rejected the Vicar of Hethersett’s suggestion of a Memorial Service and had refused outright to believe he was dead. Villagers wept at his return to the village.

In mid 1915 he conducted a cautious interview with the Eastern Daily Press. Wary of protecting their identities, he did not disclose information on Cavell or the escape network to anybody.

Sergeant David Jesse Tunmore

tunmore
Sgt. David Tunmore

David Jesse Tunmore served in the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment. He was promoted Sergeant at 19 years old, believed to be the youngest Sergeant in the Army at the time. During August 1914,Tunmore’s battalion formed part of the rearguard at Mons.

During this action, he became separated from his unit. With no Officers present and the senior Sergeant lost, he took command of the remaining men. Tunmore recalled;

“The Germans were everywhere and firing from the tops of the slag heaps”

Wounded and completely surrounded, he lay in a stream, emerging only for air. Once captured by the Germans he was held in the Wiheries convent (along with Col Boger, Sgt Meachin and Pte Billy Mapes). He managed to escape after several weeks, along with another soldier.. They obtained civilian clothes in a nearby village and then met a Belgian agent deep in the woods in an old disused church. It was this agent who told them of Edith Cavell.

They arrived in Brussels on December 23rd 1914 and found Edith Cavell at her Institute. Tunmore quashed Cavell’s reservations of him being a spy by recognising Norwich cathedral in a photograph and speaking fondly of Norfolk. The couple were welcomed in. Cavell sheltered them in a cellar behind the Clinique and provided them with money and passports.

The pair left for the Dutch frontier shortly after but turned back just short of Antwerp. A new requirement meant that the passports were no longer of use. They then returned to the Cavell clinique and with Edith Cavell’s help in taking their photographs and bribes they made it across the frontier into Holland at the second time of asking.

On his return to England Tunmore wrote to Edith Cavell’s widowed mother and told her of her situation. She wrote back to him, concluding ‘May God bless her and bring her home in peace that I may see her again. Life with me is uncertain as I am in my 81st year.’

Sources:

Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, Norwich Castle – Edith Cavell and the Norfolk Regiment (no date)

Pte RW Mapes

Rowland Ryder, Edith Cavell, 1975, Hamish Hamilton, pages 91 and 160-1

Sgt David Tunmore

Rowland Ryder, Edith Cavell, 1975, Hamish Hamilton, pages 91, 117,126-9,135,229,234

Diana Souhami, Edith Cavell, 2010, Quercus, pages 160, 197, 210-2

Back to the 2018 page