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  • Certain events of the First World War stood out in the public consciousness, were huge

  • propaganda opportunities, and caused a great public outcry. The sinking of the Lusitania

  • springs to mind, but one that meant far more to an empire that was actually at war was

  • the execution of British nurse Edith Cavell.

  • I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to a Great War bio special episode ofWho did what in

  • world war one?” Today my star is Edith Cavell.

  • Edith Louisa Cavell was born December 5, 1865 in Norfolk, England. Her parents were the

  • Reverend Frederick Cavell and Louisa Sophia. Edith was the eldest of four children. She

  • was educated in the local vicarage and did not attend the local school, but later went

  • to Norwich High School for girls. After school she worked as a governess, including a five-year

  • stint in Brussels, before training as a nurse at the London Hospital.

  • In 1907, she was recruited as matron of a newly established nursing school in Brussels.

  • Although by modern standards it was anything but modern- there was no running water in

  • the bedrooms of the 50 some odd patients and only one operating theater- it was very successful

  • in introducing modern nursing techniques to Belgium.

  • When the war broke out, Edith was not actually in Belgium, but was visiting her mother, now

  • a widow, in Norfolk. Against the wishes of her family and friends she returned to Brussels,

  • feeling that her nursing skills would now be more needed than ever.

  • Brussels was occupied by the German army on August 20th, 1914 and wounded men- German,

  • French, Belgian, British- began to pour into Edith’s clinic, which became a Red Cross

  • hospital for all nationalities. 60 British nurses were sent home, but Edith and her assistant

  • remained. Over the following week as the German invasion of Belgium continued, many Allied

  • soldiers found themselves trapped behind enemy lines. Some were executed when they were caught

  • and there were a number of atrocities against civilians at this time.

  • Cavell took it upon herself to aid British servicemen, hiding them in the hospital and

  • in safe houses around Belgium. She helped some 200 British soldiers escape to neutral

  • Holland. Now, she continued, of course, to work as a nurse, treating soldiers from both

  • sides, even as the occupying Germans threatened strict punishments for anyone actively aiding

  • and abetting the enemy.

  • She did not tell her co-workers what she was doing, not wanting to get anyone in trouble

  • with the Germans, and though she kept a private diary, it was sewn into a cushion to protect

  • her secret life. Still, in mid 1915 she came under suspicion, and on August 5th was arrested

  • and put in St. Gilles prison.

  • She would spend ten weeks in prison, and at her trial she admitted her guilt of the crimes

  • with which she was charged. She was sentenced to death. Diplomats from neutral Spain and

  • the United States tried to intercede to have her sentence commuted, but it was in vain.

  • The night before her execution on October 12th, 1915, she told her chaplain, “...this

  • I would say, standing as I do in view of God and eternity: I realize that patriotism is

  • not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone.”

  • She was actually one of a group of five people sentenced to death, and her execution together

  • with Philippe Baucq by firing squad was carried out early in the morning. She completed her

  • diary with the entry, “died at 7 AM on the 12th of October 1915.”

  • Here’s the thing. Cavell- well, and Baucq- were sentenced on the 11th, only one day before

  • the execution was carried out. Cavell herself didn’t find out she was to be shot until

  • 8:30 the night of the 11th. See General von Sauberzweig, the German military governor

  • of Brussels, figured that if he hurried the execution, the media wouldn’t pick up on

  • it. He was wrong. The moment Edith Cavell the nurse died, Edith Cavell the heroine and

  • martyr was born. The American Embassy among others made sure that the story was widely

  • spread and it was hyped in both the British and American media, where Cavell was portrayed

  • as a martyr and those who executed her as murdering monsters. This was, in point of

  • fact, contrary to Cavell’s own last wishes, when she specifically said she did not wish

  • to be remembered as either martyr or heroine, but simply as a nurse doing her duty.

  • Over the following two months, Cavell’s fate helped double recruiting in Britain,

  • and her name became one of Britain’s wartime rallying symbols.

  • Hey, here’s a side note that you can take any way you like:

  • That same autumn the French executed two German nurses who were helping German soldiers escape,

  • and when asked why they didn’t publicize this similarly to Cavell’s execution, the

  • German High Command replied, “Why complain? The French had a perfect right to shoot them.”

  • After the War, Cavell’s body was taken back to Britain for a memorial service at Westminster

  • Abbey and then transferred to Norwich, to be laid to rest at Life's Green on the east

  • side of the cathedral. The King had to grant an exception to an order that prevented any

  • burials in the grounds of the cathedral to allow Cavell’s reburial.

  • In the Church of England's calendar of saints, the day appointed for the commemoration of

  • Edith Cavell is the 12th of October. This is a memorial in her honor, though, and not

  • any sort of formal canonization, and so not a "saint's feast day" in the traditional sense.

  • Following Cavell's death, many memorials were created around the world to remember her.

  • One of the first was unveiled on October 12, 1918 by Queen Alexandra on the grounds of

  • Norwich Cathedral, during the opening ceremony for a home for nurses, which also bore Edith

  • Cavell’s name.

  • The first film made of the story was the 1916 Australian silent filmThe Martyrdom of

  • Nurse Cavell”. She’s also been honored by Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park

  • in Alberta, Canada, and Edith Cavell is featured on a UK commemorative £5 silver coin, part

  • of a limited set issued this year- 2015- by the Royal Mint.

  • Edith Cavell was a vicar's daughter, an English matron of a teaching hospital, and a fairly

  • influential pioneer of modern nursing in Belgium. 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“. But of course no one remembers that today, do

  • they? Her execution by the Germans remains one of the more shocking episodes of the First

  • World War and received worldwide condemnation and extensive press coverage, and while you

  • may believe her execution to be justified or not, it showcased the effect propaganda

  • could have upon civilians, but also the effect the war itself was having on civilians in

  • the actual theaters of war.

  • And news flash! Seriously, I have a news flash. Now, this episode was edited from notes on

  • November 12, 2015. The very next day Flo our social media guy found a recent article from

  • the Telegraph that writes that Edith Cavell was actually spying for Britain and passing

  • along German military secrets. Dame Stella Rimington, former director-general of MI5,

  • asserts Cavell was indeed passing along intelligence. Actually, the German governor of Belgium at

  • the time, Moritz von Bissing- who had an awesome mustache, maintained at the time that she

  • was a spy and that was the justification for her death. It seems he may well have been

  • right. You can find a link to that article in the comments section.

  • The actions taken against civilians in Belgium in August and September 1914 are often called

  • the rape of Belgium”, and you can see our episode covering that right here...

  • Don't forget to subscribe. See you next time.

Certain events of the First World War stood out in the public consciousness, were huge

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Edith Cavell - Not A Martyr But A Nurse I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

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    劉錚 posted on 2016/02/02
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