History's HEROES? 1865 - 1915

Edith Cavell

Who was she?

Things you may not know about Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell was the daughter of a vicar but she thought her father's sermons were boring. More
Edith's father was something of a Puritan and would want to keep a strict Sabbath (Sunday). More
The family were quite poor as Frederick Cavell had used most of his money building the vicarage at his own expense. More
When Edith was a girl, one of her favourite winter pastimes was ice skating. More
As a child she helped establish a church room for a Sunday School. More
Edith was quite an accomplished artist. More
As a young woman, she once danced until her feet bled. More
She is thought to have had a romantic fondness for her second cousin, Eddie. More
Edith was described by her nursing teachers as unpunctual and even a little lazy but when placed in charge of others she became a strict matron! More
She was fond of animals and nature. More
Edith was weeding when she heard that World War 1 had started. More
The password of the underground movement in Belgium that Edith worked with was 'Yorc'. More
Edith carried out most of the work with the escaped soldiers herself as she did not want to implicate others. More
She sewed her diary into a cushion so it would not be found if the nursing school was searched. More
Edith was not arrested for espionage, as many people believed, but for treason. More
The only evidence found against Edith at the hospital was one tatty postcard. More
Edith did not attempt to defend herself. More
Her last words were that she was glad to die for her country. More
She did not want to be a martyr. More
Although the German action was justified according to the rule of war, it was a serious blunder. More
Laurence Binyon, a famous English poet, wrote a poem about Edith shortly after her execution. More
Edith's body was carried from Dover to London in a passenger luggage wagon. More
Edith could not be buried inside Norwich Cathedral. More

Edith Cavell in brief

But this I would say, standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone.

Edith Cavell was a vicar's daughter, an English matron of a teaching hospital and an influential pioneer of modern nursing in Belgium.

When World War 1 broke out she was visiting her mother in England. She returned to Belgium as she felt her nursing skills would be needed more than ever and felt it was her duty to stay in the occupied country rather than return to the safety of England. Edith's hospital became a Red Cross hospital, and wounded soldiers of all nationalities were equally treated there. Her strong Christian beliefs motivated her to help all those in need, both German and Allied soldiers. She once said, "I can't stop while there are lives to be saved". However, when some wounded British soldiers, who had been cut off from their comrades, arrived, Edith had to face a near-impossible dilemma: if she helped the soldiers she put at risk the neutrality of the Red Cross and would possibly endanger others working with her. If she refused to help them they would be in danger of being executed, along with any civilians who had harboured them.

Edith decided to help them despite the risk to herself. "Had I not helped, they would have been shot", she later said. She then agreed to join a Belgian underground movement and helped more than 200 Allied soldiers to escape to neutral territory. When the network was betrayed, she was arrested, tried by a court martial, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.

The execution was carried out at dawn by a firing squad, on October 12th, 1915, in Brussels. Edith was still wearing her nurse's uniform. She immediately became a national heroine to the British and her death was used as propaganda against the Germans.  However, Edith never wanted to be a martyr; to Edith the protection of hunted men was a Christian and humanitarian act for which she was prepared to face the consequences. Just as importantly, she is also remembered for her forgiveness.

On the eve of her execution she said, "I am thankful to have had these 10 weeks of quiet to get ready. Now I have had them and have been kindly treated here. I expected my sentence and I believe it was just. Standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone".

Picture Gallery Edith Cavell

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