On this day in history : 10th July 1040 – To help the people of the town Lady Godiva rides naked through the streets of Coventry to force her husband, the Earl of Mercia, to lower taxes….
Whilst the story is most certainly a myth, Lady Godiva was a real person during the 11th Century…. The name ‘Godiva’ is a Latinised form of the Old English ‘Godgifu’ or ‘Godgyfu’ – meaning ‘gift of God’…. She was known for her kindness and her generosity to the Church – but then, so was her husband…. Together they helped found a Benedictine monastery in Coventry….
In the legend Lady Godiva’s husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia is portrayed as greedy and money grabbing – which seems rather unjust – as he was part of a husband and wife benefactor team….such slander would not be acceptable today…. The story of her naked horseback ride only appeared a hundred years or so after her death – when it was recorded by English monk Roger of Wendover, who was often known to ‘spin a good yarn’…. But anyhow, somehow it found its way into our history books – and makes a good tale….
The story goes that Lady Godiva was dismayed at the extortionate taxes that the Earl was levying on the good citizens of Coventry…. Time and time again she pleaded with her husband to be reasonable and to lessen the burden…. Eventually he jested that only if she were to ride naked through the town would he lower the taxes….
Taking him at his word she ordered the people of Coventry to remain indoors and not to look out of their windows…. She then disrobed, mounted her horse and with only her long flowing hair to afford her some modesty she rode through the town…. Only the temptation to peek was too much for one man – a tailor by the name of Tom…. But the second he clapped eyes on Lady Godiva he was instantly struck blind…. He was the original ‘Peeping Tom’….
True to his word Leofric, Earl of Mercia, held up his end of the bargain and reduced the taxes for the people of Coventry….
On this day in history : 21st March 1920 – The death of Evelina Haverfield, the British suffragette who during WW1 began to devote herself to helping the Serbian people….
Evelina Scarlett, the daughter of William Frederick Scarlett, 3rd Baron Abinger and Helen Magruder Scarlett, was born at Inverlochy Castle, Kingussie, Scotland on the 9th of August 1867…. She grew up in London and Inverlochy before going to school in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1880….
On the 10th of February 1887 Evelina married Royal Artillery Major Henry Wykeham Brooke Tunstall Haverfield – she was 19-years-old, he was 20 years older than her…. They had two sons, John Campbell Haverfield in 1887 followed by Brook Tunstall Haverfield in 1889…. The family made their home in Sherborne, Dorset….only Henry was to die only a few years later in 1895….
Evelina remarried on the 19th of July 1899 – another Royal Artillery Major, John Henry Balguy, a friend of her late husband…. She kept her house in Sherborne – and continued to use the name Haverfield, changing it back by deed poll just a month after the marriage…. She accompanied her new husband to South Africa during the Second World War…. Being an accomplished horsewoman herself she formed a retirement camp for horses…. After 10 years Evelina and Balguy went their separate ways as it was not a happy union, although they never actually divorced….
After joining the Sherborne branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Evelina attended a rally at the Royal Albert Hall…. Inspired she then in 1908 joined the Women’s Social and Political Union, founded by Emmeline Pankhurst…. She was arrested several times, once with Emmeline during a demonstration, another time along with 200 other suffragettes for smashing windows and in 1910 for assaulting a police officer…. She reportedly claimed in court that she had not hit him hard enough and “next time I will bring a revolver!”She eventually found herself in Holloway serving a two week sentence after attempting to break through a police cordon outside the House of Parliament…..
In 1911 Evelina began a relationship with Vera ‘Jack’’ Holme, also known as the Pankhursts’ Chauffeur……it was a friendship that was to last for the rest of her life…. They soon began to live together, quite possibly as a couple – and Vera made Evelina the sole heir in her Will….
Not a lot is known about the early life of Vera Holme…. She was born on the 29th of August 1881 in Birkdale, Lancashire to parents Richard and Mary Holme…. She may have been educated in France before becoming an actress…. Vera was known to be a lesbian, she tended to dress in masculine clothes and adopted mannish mannerisms…. She joined the WSPU in 1908, soon becoming an active member, working alongside the likes of Annie Kennedy, Clara Codd and Elsie Howey…. It was in 1909 that a wealthy supporter of the WSPU bought Emmeline Pankhurst an automobile that Vera was appointed her chauffeur…. Vera also spent time in Holloway….during 1911 after being convicted of stone throwing….
At the outbreak of WW1 Evelina founded the Women’s Emergency Corps, to help with the war effort….an organisation that helped women to become doctors, nurses and motorcycle messengers….
In 1915 she received instructions to organise the dispatch of the Scottish Women’s Hospital units to Serbia, an expedition she herself accompanied…. The Scottish Women’s Hospital to Foreign Services had been founded in 1914, providing nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, cooks and orderlies to what was to become four hospitals in Serbia…. The conditions in Serbia were beyond dire….the Serbian army had just 300 doctors for half a million men…. As well as battle injuries to contend with there was also a typhus epidemic affecting both the military and civilians alike…. However, in 1916 the volunteers were forced to leave after Serbia was finally invaded…. A hard resistance campaign had been fought against the invading Austrians but eventually starvation, disease and exhaustion were to take their toll in the winter of 1915 – Serbia could no longer hold out….
In August 1916 Evelina was dispatched to Serbia via Russia as ‘Head of Transport Column’ – she was in charge of an army of 75 women…. She was then later to co-found with Flora Sandes the ‘Evelina Haverfield’s and Flora Sandes’ Fund for Promoting Comforts for Serbian Soldiers and Prisoners’…. Back in England she raised awareness of the situation in Serbia….
After the War Evelina and Vera travelled back to Serbia and they set up a children’s health centre and orphanage in the small mountain town of Bajina Bašta…. The centre was later to be named after her – and she was to receive the highest Serbian award….the Order of the White Eagle….
On the 21stof March 1920 Evelina died of pneumonia…. She was buried with full military honours of the cemetery in Bajina Bašta…. Shops and offices closed for the day and all the inhabitants of the town attended…. Her work was continued after her death – a British medical mission remained in Bajina Bašta until 1922; now a hospital stands in its place where a plaque commemorating Evelina Haverfield hangs…. She is still held in the highest esteem by the Serbian people….
On her death Evelina left Vera £50 a year for life in her Will – even though it was contested by the man who was still legally her husband….
On this day in history : 7th September 1838 – Grace Darling, a lighthouse keeper’s daughter, assists her father in a daring rescue mission off the coast of Northumberland – which makes her a heroine….
During the evening of the 7th of September a terrible storm raged and 22-year-old Grace was watching it from an upper window of the Longstone Lighthouse…. Suddenly she spotted the wreck of the Forfarshire, a paddle steamer travelling from Hull to Dundee, which had struck rocks and had completely split into two….
Grace was one of nine children but on this particular fateful night all of her siblings were away and only she and her parents were home…. Deciding it would be too dangerous for the lifeboat from the nearby village of Seahouses to attempt the rescue Grace and her father headed out in their own small boat to help the survivors…. With the weather so rough they were forced to keep to the more sheltered side of the islands, meaning they had a further distance of nearly a mile to row….
The Forfarshire had been carrying around 40 passengers and with the crew there was a total of 63 on board…. As the ship split in two the stern half sank, drowning all but 12 and a further few who managed to make it into a lifeboat…. The front end of the vessel remained stuck on the rocks; 5 crew members and 7 passengers clung to the wreckage….but managed to climb on to the slippery rocks as the tide went down…. Three of the passengers, the Reverend John Robbery and two children, died of exposure….their mother, Sarah Dawson, was clinging to her dead children when Grace and her father arrived….
Grace held the small boat steady as her father helped Sarah Dawson and four men on board – they then rowed back to the lighthouse…. Grace’s father and three other men then returned to the wreck to rescue the four remaining survivors…. Those who had managed to make it to the lifeboat were picked up by a passing ship the following morning….
Grace was honoured with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s Silver Medal for Gallantry and the Gold Medal of the Royal Humane Society….and she also received a £50 reward from Queen Victoria….
On this day in history : 4th August 1865 – The birth of Edith Cavell, the English nurse who helped hundreds of British, French and Belgian soldiers escape occupied Belgium during World War I….
Edith Louisa Cavell, the daughter of a rector and the eldest of four children was born in Swardeston, Norfolk…. She worked as a governess in Belgium before training as a nurse in London…. She was employed in hospitals in Shoreditch, King’s Cross and Manchester and then took the position of Matron in Brussels – in what was Belgium’s first training hospital and school for nurses…. Her work involved training nurses during Belgium’s modernisation if its medical care system….
Edith was back in Norfolk visiting her family when WWI broke out…. On hearing that German troops were advancing on Belgium she returned to Brussels immediately…. By the 20th of August 1914 Brussels was occupied and the nursing school became a Red Cross Hospital – treating casualties on both sides, as well as continuing to treat civilians….
On September the 14th Edith was asked to help two wounded British soldiers, who after the Battle of Mons had become trapped behind enemy lines…. She treated them at the hospital and then arranged to have them smuggled out of Belgium into neutral Holland….
Becoming part of the network who helped Allied troops, over the next 11 months Edith helped over 200 British, French and Belgian soldiers escape…. She would first treat them at the hospital and then arrange for guides to take them across the border….
On the 5th of August 1915 Edith was arrested and placed in solitary confinement at St. Gilles Prison, Brussels…. She was one of 34 members of the network to be arrested….
Edith’s court martial took place on the 7th of October 1915…. She was found guilty….and sentenced to death…. Before her execution she was granted one final communion with an Anglican Priest…. She wished her friends to know that she willingly gave her life for her country….“I have no fear nor shrinking, I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful for me’….
Edith was shot by firing squad at the Tir National, the Brussels firing range, on the 12th of October 1915 – she was executed along with 4 Belgian men…. Her death caused outrage in Britain and many neutral countries – including the United States…. It prompted the US First Secretary, Hugh Gibson, to put intense diplomatic pressure on Germany….
Edith had been betrayed by a Frenchman, Gaston Quien….who after the war was put on trial by the French for his collaboration with the Germans…. He was sentenced to death for his treasonous acts, including Edith’s death – but this was commuted to twenty years imprisonment and he was released in 1936….
After the war had ended Edith’s body was exhumed and repatriated – she was buried at Norwich Cathedral and a memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey….