The execution of nurse Edith Cavell (1865-1915), an Englishwoman working in a Red Cross hospital in Brussels during the Great War, was one of a number of scandals that did nothing to help the German Empire justify their claim to be the superior civilisation of Europe.
IN 1907 Edith Cavell, a forty-two-year-old nurse and former governess, moved to Brussels to help Dr Antoine Depage establish a training school for nurses. Within four years, she had three hospitals and over thirty schools under her care, and had founded a new medical journal.
Soon after the Great War broke out in 1914, Cavell began using her position to smuggle over seventy soldiers and a hundred civilians out through Holland to safety in England. But she was betrayed to the authorities, and arrested on August 3rd 1915.
After ten weeks in prison, Cavell was court-martialled despite being a civilian, convicted of treason despite not being German, and executed by firing squad on October 12th.* She offered no apology for her actions, and her final words were ‘I am glad to die for my country’. Yet Edith, daughter of a Norfolk clergyman, had also confided to her English chaplain in prison: ‘Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’
* Something similar happened to Captain Charles Fryatt, a ferryboat captain captured by the Germans.