Edith Cavell – Dec. 4, 1865 – Oct. 12, 1915
Two marvels of modern maritime history, the Titanic and the Lusitania, were both lost to circumstances unexpected, unbelievable and horrific; the Titanic to an iceberg in 1912 and the Lusitania to the torpedo of a German U-Boat in 1914. While each loss caused an outcry of grief that encircled the globe, it was the sinking of the Lusitania that left a swell of anti-german sentiment in its wake that would continue to build in the coming months.
In July of 1914, just two months after the Lusitania disaster was the event that sparked the official start of the First World War. Germany, wanting to lessen resistance on their march to France, took control of neighboring Belgium in November. British-born nurse, Ms. Edith Cavell, having worked at London Hospital with great acclaim, was recruited to the Belgium’s top nursing school, L’Ecole Belg d’Infirmieries Diplomees in 1911.
By the start of the war, Ms. Cavell was still in Brussels which, now occupied by the German’s, was in a war zone. Her work quickly went from the training of other nurses to the care of wounded soldiers. Her faith and personal beliefs lead her to treat soldiers regardless of which side they were on. In that first year of the war, Ms. Cavell helped wounded British and French soldiers, as well as French and Belgium civilian men of military age, to escape the country, hiding many of them in her home before they made the journey into the Netherlands. In all, she assisted over 200 men to safety and freedom before her arrest by the German authorities in the Autumn of 1915.
Like the sinking of the Lusitania, Ms. Cavell’s arrest made national news. The world rallied behind her cause pleading dismissal or deferment of the case and leniency in all. British officials could not defend her as their assistance would only add to her guilt, but American officials did catch the German’s ear and while they agreed that Ms. Cavell had indeed showed patriotism in her care of German and Belgian soldiers but that her assistance in helping others to escape made her guilty of treason in their eyes.
Upon her arrest in August of 1915, she spent ten weeks in prison where, upon multiple interrogations, took sole responsibility for her actions, and was therefore sentenced to death. Executed October 12, 1915, in Brussels, Edith’s body was sent back to her home in Norwich, where a state funeral was held in her honor at Westminster Abbey. She is buried beside the Norwich Chapel.Her memory lives on with monuments and memorials to her the world over and in her words; “Patriotism is not Enough.”
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