The Nurse, the Author & the Poet

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On the morning of October 12, 1915, the 49-year-old British nurse Edith Cavell is executed by a German firing squad in Brussels, Belgium.

Before World War I began in 1914, Cavell served for a number of years as the matron of a nurse’s training school in Brussels. After the city was captured and occupied by the Germans in the first month of war, Cavell chose to remain at her post, tending to German soldiers and Belgians alike. In August 1915, German authorities arrested her and accused her of helping British and French prisoners-of-war, as well as Belgians hoping to serve with the Allied armies, to escape Belgium for neutral Holland.

During her trial, Cavell admitted that she was guilty of the offences with which she had been charged. She was sentenced to death. Though diplomats from the neutral governments of the United States and Spain fought to commute her sentence, their efforts were ultimately in vain. The night before her execution on October 12, 1915, Cavell confided in Reverend Horace Graham, a chaplain from the American Legation, that "They have all been very kind to me here. But this I would say, standing as I do in view of God and eternity: I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone."

Edith Cavell’s execution led to a rise in anti-German feeling in the United States as well as in Britain, where she was idealised as a heroic martyr to the cause and was honoured with a statue in St. Martin’s Place, just off London's Trafalgar Square. "What Jeanne d’Arc has been for centuries to France," wrote one Allied journalist, "that will Edith Cavell become to the future generations of Britain.
Edith Cavell was born on 4 December 1865, in the village of Swardeston in Norfolk, England.
Religious belief

As a vicar, Edith's father did not earn a lot of money but he gave as much as he could to the poor. Edith helped him to raise money for a Sunday school.
As a Christian, Edith learnt from both the Bible and her father's teaching that it was important to help people. This was one of the things that inspired her to become a nurse.
Travel abroad

In 1890, Edith moved to Belgium to become a governess (home teacher) for a French family.
She also travelled to Austria where she learned about a free hospital that helped the sick without asking for money.
She was very impressed by this.
She returned to England when her father became ill so she could help him recover.
Edith trained to be a nurse at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel in 1896.

In 1897, there was an outbreak of typhoid fever in Maidstone, Kent. Edith, along with some of her fellow nurses, travelled there from London to treat those who fell ill. Of the 1,700 people who caught the disease, 132 died. Edith received the Maidstone Medal for her work in treating patients who fell ill from the fever.
Between 1898 and 1907, Edith left private nursing, where she treated people with pneumonia, typhoid and appendicitis, and went back to look after sick people in the community in London. In 1903 Edith started visiting patients in their homes after they had left hospital. Afterwards she moved to the Manchester and Salford Sick and Poor Private Nursing Institution where she was promoted to Matron.
In 1914, Germany took control of Belgium, where Edith's hospital was.

Edith worked with an 'underground' group who were helping Allied soldiers escape from the Germans by guiding them to neutral Holland. She hid soldiers in the basement of her training school to avoid the German soldiers who were looking to capture and imprison them.
She kept this a secret from the other nurses as she did not want anyone else getting in trouble with the Germans. Edith hid her private diary by sewing it into a cushion to prevent the secret of the hidden soldiers from getting out.
Edith helped many soldiers escape. However, in the summer of 1915, she had a feeling that the Germans had found out about this secret.
Her family

Her father, Fredrick, was a vicar. Edith was the eldest child. She had a brother, John, and two sisters, Lillian and Florence.

When she was very young, she drew pictures of birds and flowers. Local people who liked her pictures donated money, which helped raise £300 for the school. Edith was not just a talented artist, she was also very good at French.
Some day, somehow, I am going to do something useful. I don't know what it will be. I only know that it will be something for people. They are, most of them, so helpless, so hurt and so unhappy.
Edith writing to her cousin as a young woman
Training other nurses

Edith returned to Brussels in 1907 to nurse but was soon moved on to new important work by a doctor named Dr. Antoine Depage. The doctor was inspired by the work of Florence Nightingale and put Edith in charge of training nurses to become skilled in medical care at the Berkendael Medical Institute. At that time, the only people who helped the sick were nuns who gave care but were not trained in medicine.
Outbreak of war

Edith was visiting her mother back in England when war broke out in 1914. She decided to give up her holiday and go back to Belgium to help injured soldiers, saying "At a time like this, I am needed more than ever". She also said that nurses should take care of patients no matter which side they were fighting on.
Edith and her hospital helped thousands of wounded soldiers receive proper, modern medical care.
The Berkendael Medical Institute in Belgium became a Red Cross hospital for soldiers from all countries.
Edith did not mind whether a soldier was British, French or German and she treated the injured, regardless of what nationality they were. She also hid around 200 British, Belgian and French soldiers from the Germans by keeping them safe at the nursing school and clinic where she lived.

Edith was arrested in July. When she was questioned she did not lie and admitted helping soldiers escape. Not only that, she also admitted to helping the soldiers return to fight against Germany.
The Germans ordered Edith to be shot as punishment.
Here we are looking at the role that women played during WWI, but are you sure you know how the war actually started?

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