Norfolk

Edith Cavell: Appeal to find missing third act of opera

Edith Cavell
Image caption Nurse Edith Cavell was executed by a German firing squad in 1915

Libraries are being asked to check their shelves and archives in the hope of unearthing a 1920s musical score recounting the story of a war heroine.

The piece is the missing third act of an opera that recounts the story of nurse Edith Cavell, from Norfolk.

Miss Cavell is credited with helping 200 British soldiers escape occupied Belgium during World War One.

She was arrested for treason - and executed by a German firing squad in 1915.

The three-act opera was written by Maltese composer Paolino Vassallo (1856-1923) and performed in Malta in 1927.

'Needle in a haystack'

The Norfolk Record Office (NRO) already holds the first two acts in leather-bound manuscripts after it acquired them at auction in 1941.

Staff are appealing for help in finding the third act after a request from a student researching Vassallo's work in Malta.

Image copyright Norfolk Record office
Image caption The opera was dedicated to Edith Cavell and performed in 1927

Nick Miller, keeper of the Cavell memorabilia, described it as a "wide search for a needle in a haystack".

"We're asking older libraries, anyone with collections to have a look, it could be buried somewhere on a shelf," he said.

"It is an extraordinary document. The composer's handwriting is all over the first two acts in four colours of ink - so there's no reason the third act won't be the same."


Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The memorial to nurse Edith Cavell outside Norwich Cathedral
  • The eldest child of a village parson, Edith Cavell was born in 1865 and grew up in Swardeston, Norfolk
  • She entered nursing at the age of 33, and worked across England before travelling to Brussels in 1907 to help run a new nursing school
  • During her care, Cavell helped 200 British soldiers escape into Holland
  • She was arrested by German police - and sentenced to death for treason
  • Miss Cavell was executed at dawn on 12 October, 1915. Her body was returned to Norfolk - and she is buried in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral

Mr Miller added: "We want people to know what a courageous and extraordinary woman she was.

"Her faith through her upbringing is the core of what motivated her."

Norfolk county archivist Gary Tuson said Edith Cavell's life story is not complete without the third act.

Image copyright Norfolk Record Office
Image caption The first two acts of the opera are held at the Norfolk Record Office

"It is the real emotional centrepiece of Cavell's life, charting her execution and death, the tragic end," he said.

"It may not even exist anymore. If we're not successful then it may be a good opportunity for someone to complete her story and write it."

More on this story

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites