Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell, the daughter of the rector of Swardeston, Norfolk, was born in 1865. After training as a nurse at the London Hospital she became the first matron of the Berkendael Medical Institute in Brussels.

After the German Army invaded Belgium in 1914, Berkendael became a Red Cross hospital for wounded soldiers regardless of their nationality. On 5th August 1915, she was arrested by the Germans and charged with having helped about 200 allied soldiers to escape to neutral Holland.

Cavell was kept in solitary confinement for nine weeks, during which time she was tricked by the Germans into making a confession. Edith Cavell was tried by court-martial, and along with her Belgian accomplice, Philippe Baucq, was found guilty and sentenced to death. Cavell's execution by firing-squad on 12th October, 1915, received world-wide press coverage.

Primary Sources

(1) Edith Cavell, comments to Sister Wilkins (1915)

We are bound to be caught one of these days. There are too many people in the organisation and the Germans know that many men are crossing the border.

(2) Margaret Cole, Women of Today (1938)

Edith Cavell was arraigned, with thirty-five other persons, on the charge of having facilitated the escape of enemy subjects from Belgium into neutral territory. This was, naturally, an offence against German military law; but it was not a capital offence. However, the prosecution further asserted, and was prepared to prove, on Miss Cavell's own confession, that she had provided English and French soldiers with funds and with guides to enable them to get across the frontier and so back to their own countries - in order, presumably, to fight once more against the Germans. It was also said that she herself had admitted to having received letters from repatriated soldiers, thanking her for enabling them to "fight another day". If that were so, the German prosecutor contended, she was clearly guilty of attempts to conduct soldiers back to the enemy fronts; and for that, under the German military code, the penalty was death.