Edith Cavell's achievements
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- Whilst nursing in a poor area of London, Edith Cavell set up structures for home visits for discharged patients. - When young, Edith had spent quite a lot of time with her mother visiting the poor and sick in her father's parish. When she went to Shoreditch Infirmary, Edith felt that some of the patients being discharged were in need of similar help and set up a system for visiting them at home to support their recovery. This was an innovation which has since been acknowledged as necessary and is one of the duties of community nurses.
- Edith helped to set up and run the first training school for nurses in Belgium. - In Belgium at that time, nursing was looked down upon as a career for middle class women. A surgeon, Dr Antoine Depage, decided that he needed trained help in the hospitals, rather than untrained nuns, and asked Edith to manage a training school and clinic that he set up in the outskirts of Brussels. Edith had been trained using the methods of Florence Nightingale and she brought this discipline and knowledge to her pupils. The school was successful and started to change attititudes, especially when the Belgian Queen asked for one of Edith's nurses when she broke her arm.
- Edith instilled into her nurses that all people who need their help must be treated equally, regardless of nationality, beliefs or social class. - Edith's early Christian upbringing had instilled into her a sense of duty towards those less fortunate than herself. She took this with her into her nursing career and chose to work in hospitals situated in the poorer parts of London during her earlier career. When she became Matron at the L'École Belge d'Infirmières Diplômées', she took those principles with her and instilled them into her trainee nurses. When the Germans overran Belgium (a neutral country, taking no part in the war) she ensured that all the wounded who came to the hospital received the best care possible, despite many of them being 'the enemy'.
- Edith resolved a huge moral dilemma by following her conscience, but keeping her activities as secret as possible so others were not endangered by her choice. - As matron of a Red Cross hospital in an enemy occupied country, her duty was to treat all patients to the best of her ability but not to participate in any partisan activities. For the Red Cross to be able to carry out their important humanitarian work in war zones, their personnel have to remain 'above' the conflict and not take part in it on any side, otherwise they would not be trusted by the warring countries and allowed in to help civilians and combatants alike. By deciding to help Allied personnel escape, Edith was taking a part in the conflict and putting the whole of the Red Cross operation into danger. She solved this in her own mind by not involving the other hospital staff in her activities and using only the school area where possible.
- Arguably, Edith's greatest achievement is in the example she set for all human beings in forgiveness of one's enemies. - Edith said to her friend and chaplain, Rev Stirling Graham, on the eve of her execution, that she was glad of the 10 weeks in prison she had had to come to terms with what was happening to her and her imminent death. She still stood by her actions and felt they were the right ones for her to have taken, but she also understood that the Germans felt they had no choice but to execute her for those actions. She ended saying, "I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone." This message, engraved on her memorial, will continue to be an inspiration for many generations.