Edith Louisa Cavell was a British nurse who was executed by a German firing squad in Brussels, Belgium. The reason for the execution is that she was trying to save the lives of soldiers from both sides of the war without discrimination, instead of only helping the Germans. She is well known for her statement that “patriotism is not enough”.
When she was young, Edith moved to Belgium where she worked as a Governess, but returned to her hometown Swardeston when her father became very ill. She looked after him for a long time, and it is probably that experience that inspired Edith to become a nurse.
She was trained at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and was a distinguished student. She was known for her strong values and good intentions.
When WWI started she returned to the hospital in Brussels. On the 4th of August, the Germans invaded Belgium, and Cavell chose to remain at her post, tending to German soldiers and Belgians alike. There were posters all over occupied Brussels warning that “Any male or female who hides an English or French soldier in his house shall be severely punished”. Edith’s strong sense compassion and humanity led her to ignore warnings and she helped some 200 Allied soldiers to escape from German-occupied Belgium.
In august of 1915, the German authorities arrested her and accused her of helping British and French soldiers, as well as Belgians hoping to serve with the Allied armies, to escape Belgium for neutral Holland.
The German claim that Cavell was a spy was vehemently denied by the British government and she became a national heroine whose death inspired tens of thousands to join up for the war effort.
Edith Cavell, who was 49 at the time of her execution, was already notable as a pioneer of modern nursing in Belgium.
Many memorials were created around the world to remember her. One Allied journalist wrote: “what Jeanne d’Arc has been for centuries to France, that will Edith Cavell become to the future generations of Britons.”