CSS graphic

Tenterden Terrier

Cavell Van



This van is in the care of the Museum though having only indirect connection with Colonel Stephens and his work. It was built in 1919 at Ashford Works (Kent) by the South Eastern and Chatham Railway; PMV No 132 was the prototype of a family of similar designs built by that Railway and its successor Southern Railway over the following thirty years. Production eventually exceeded 1,600 vehicles.

In May 1919, as a new vehicle and the then sole example of its type, No 132, known as the 'Special Van', was chosen to convey the body of Nurse Edith Cavell from Dover to London with full military honours. The subsequent production vehicles were consequently known by railwaymen as Cavell Vans.

Edith Cavell was famous as a pioneering nurse who worked in a Belgian hospital before and during the First World War. Although Belgium was occupied by German forces, she remained at the hospital where she assisted many captured British soldiers to escape and return to Britain. For this work, Edith Cavell was executed as a spy by German firing squad in 1915 and became regarded by the British and their allies as a heroine. At the end of the War in May 1919 her body was conveyed to London (Victoria) for a memorial service in Westminster Abbey, followed by burial at Norwich Cathedral.

Later in July 1919, the same vehicle carried the body of another national hero of the time, Captain Fryatt, from Dover to London (Charing Cross) for a memorial service at St Pauls. Captain Fryatt was Master of a Harwich - Hook of Holland ferry who had used his vessel to attempt to ram an attacking German U-boat. He was later captured and executed by the Germans.

On 10th November 1920, No 132 conveyed the body of the Unknown Warrior, with full military ceremony, from Dover to London. On arrival, the coffin stood overnight in the London Brighton & South Coast Railway Station Platform 8 (now 18) under honour guard. The next day, 11th November, the coffin was placed on a gun carriage and with ceremony fit for a Field-Marshal was taken to the unveiling of the Cenotaph by King George V. The King placed a wreath of red roses and bay leaves on the coffin and then followed the gun carriage to Westminster Abbey for the burial. A plaque on Victoria Station commemorates the arrival of this train.

The journeys of all these national icons were viewed by massed crowds and station stops were notable for the crowds wishing to participate at acts of national mourning.

No 132 has been returned to running order so that it may be used in special trains and as a national educational asset for schools. The vehicle has been returned to its appearance when it was in funeral trains. It has a display inside outlining its history with a replica of the Unknown Warriors coffin mounted on a central catafalque and draped in a large Union flag.

There is public access while the vehicle is either parked in a convenient siding or at a platform when used in a train. It is usually placed at Bodiam Station on the Kent & East Sussex Railway and is open most days that trains run there.

The Cavell Van was on display at The Forum In Norwich

from Monday 5th October 10:00 to Saturday 17th October 16:00 when it was visited by an estimated 10,000 visitors.
It has now returned home to Bodiam.

Read more about the visit (link to Visit Norwich website)

Below are some photos taken of the Cavell Van whilst in Norwich


Cavell Van Visitor comments at the Centenary of Edith Cavell’s death, Norwich 5-17th October 2015

  • Very Moving and poignant place of remembrance
  • A very moving exhibition. A very brave lady
  • It is humbling to see this, I am glad someone protected this for all to see
  • A wonderful way to remember a brave lady
  • This is just wonderful
  • A reminder of the eternal fight against tyranny
  • A special exhibition for a special person
  • Beautifully restored and a very fitting memorial
  • Very, very moving
  • Amazing, very Special
  • A brilliant and moving piece of history I have been blessed with seeing with my very own eyes.
  • I loved this place
  • Very moving, Great exhibition
  • Such a simple but wonderful display
  • Remembered –god bless
  • A privilege to be here
  • God bless you and thank you
  • Very special place , great history
  • Light…in a world of shade
  • Great experience
  • Very Moving. a privilege to see it
  • A moving tribute to all the bravery and sacrifice of war
  • Extraordinary to feel so physically connected to this woman .

Further Reading:

The Unknown Warrior and the Cavell Van. Brian Janes. K&ESR. 2010.