Ok so we’ve heard about the great rock of Chickamauga George Henry Thomas, and the dastardly doctor William Palmer. But now it’s time for me to introduce the final heroine of this topic and the subject of this post … Ms Edith Cavell, for those of you, who like me have never heard of Edith Cavell, let me tell you just how heroic she was.
Born in 1865, in Norwich the daughter of an Anglican priest, and the eldest of four children, she was taught to share with the less fortunate regardless of what she had. In 1900, Edith Cavell went on to train as a nurse at London hospital after a brief period as a governess. Nursing, at this time was a relatively new occupation for women which had grown as a result of the prestige given to it by the work of Florence Nightingale (another heroine). By 1907 Edith was asked by Dr Depage to be the matron of a new nursing school in Brussels, L’Ėcole Belge d’Infirmiėres Diplȏmėes, before going on in 1910 to begin one of the first nursing journals ‘L’infirmiere’ which documented good nursing practises and basic standards, whilst continuing to teach in Brussels.
For anyone who knows history being in Brussels in 1910 is fine but to still be there four years later 1914 and you’re in hot water. When war broke out Edith Cavell was in England, although it wasn’t long before she was back in Belgium doing her bit for the war effort in her hospital , which was soon taken over by the British Red Cross. Not long after being back nurse Cavell and everyone else for that matter was in hot water. The German Schlieffen Plan’s, to get to France through Belgium was a success and this meant that the hospital along with Belgium was under German occupation and strict military rule. Now this was a dangerous situation for anyone to be in however Edith Cavell heroically went in further and began to aid British Soldiers who were stuck in Brussels, by hiding them in the hospital and in various safe houses it is estimated that 200 British servicemen were able to escape to natural Holland.
This is truly a heroic deed in my mind as she didn’t have to although it would have been hard to turn soldiers away and say you can’t help it’s harder still to take a risk and help them escape whilst under German military rule which had strict punishments for those found to be helping the enemy.
As Edith Cavell said ‘nothing but physical impossibility, lack of space and money would make me close my doors to Allied refugees’ and this continued to be the case as Edith continued to help despite the great risk to herself.
By the middle of 1915 nurse Cavell was under suspicion for helping the allied servicemen and her defence was not helped by her outspoken views with regard to the occupation. On the 3rd August 1915, Edith Cavell was arrested and held in St Giles prison for 10 weeks with the last two spent in solitary confinement, she didn’t even try to defend herself saying that she felt compelled to help anyone in need. After a short trial the military tribunal found her guilty of treason and she was sentenced to execution. A sentence which was considered as extremely harsh by many considering that she had been honest and the fact had helped both sides saving both allied and German lives as a result of her nursing.
Despite pleas from the American minister to Belgium and the Spanish minister Edith Cavell was executed alongside other Belgians suspected and convicted of similar charges.
After her death Edith Cavell still made an impact on the war effort and was used as an example of German brutality in both the British and American Press. She was portrayed as a heroic innocent figure, strong in her faith and a true patriot in that she was willing to die for her country. After the war her body was returned to Westminster abbey for a state burial before being later buried in Norwich Cathedral, where she remains a true heroine and a great lady.
Today a statue stands in St Martin’s Place; Trafalgar Square, London in her honour inscribed is her own words ‘Patriotism is not enough I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’