Birthday: December 4, 1865
Died At Age: 49
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Also Known As: Edith Louisa Cavell
Born Country: England
Born in: Swardeston, Norfolk, England
Famous as: Nurse
father: Frederick Cavell
mother: Louisa Sophia Cavell
siblings: Florence Mary Cavell, John Frederick Scott, Mary Lilian Cavell
Died on: October 12, 1915
place of death: Tir national (National Shooting Range), Schaerbeek, Brussels, Belgium
Cause of Death: Execution
education: Norwich High School For Girls
Edith Cavell was an English nurse and humanitarian. She was executed by Germans for helping and providing shelter to ‘Allied’ soldiers during the First World War. She began her nursing career in Brussels and later became the first matron of the 'Berkendael Institute,' Brussels, where she helped improve and modernize the nursing standards. During WWI, she performed her duty as a nurse by helping the wounded soldiers from both sides. Cavell helped around 200 British, French, and Belgian soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. She was very much aware of the danger involved and knew the consequences, but she stood still with her duties. She was arrested by Germans, accused of treason and tried for the same. She was held guilty by a court-martial and executed. Her execution saw widespread protests and was condemned all over the world.
Childhood & Early Life
Edith was born Edith Louisa Cavell on December 4, 1865, in Swardeston village, Norfolk, England. She was the eldest child of Louisa Sophia and Reverend Frederick Cavell, a vicar of a local church. She had two sisters, Lillian and Florence, and a brother, John.
Cavell attended the Vicarage at Swardeston and then attended 'Norwich High School for Girls.' She later pursued studies at boarding schools in Clevedon, Somerset, and Peterborough (Laurel Court)
At Laurel Court, she learned to speak French. Her headmaster, Margaret Gibson, recommended her name for a governess job to the François family in Brussels.
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In 1890, Cavell began working as a governess for the François family in Brussels. She was strict but kind at the same time.
She also continued to pursue her interest in painting and spent time polishing her French.
When Cavell went back home for summer holidays, she developed a relationship with her second cousin, Eddie. However, Eddie refused to marry herdue to an inherited nervous condition. Just before her execution, she wrote, "with love to E D Cavell."
In 1895, she had to return to Swardeston to nurse her ill father. Her nursing got him back to health, and Cavell was inspired to pursue nursing professionally.
In 1896, Cavell worked at the 'Fountains Fever Hospital,' London, for a few months to test her nursing skills in a professional setup. She then received nursing training at the 'Royal London Hospital' under her mentor, Matron Eva Luckes.
In 1897, she, along with five other nurses, went to Maidstone, Kent, where a typhoid epidemic had broken out. She earned the 'Maidstone Medal' for her service.
In 1899, she completed her nursing training and worked as a night supervisor at 'St. Pancras infirmary for the destitute, as assistant matron at 'Shoreditch Infirmary in 1903, at the 'Manchester and Salford Sick Poor and Private Nursing Institution,' in 1906, and as a nurse at one of the Queen's district nursing homes.
She also served as a matron for some time, but she found the job "tiring."
When Dr. Antoine Depage decided to open a training school for nurses in Brussels, he wanted Cavell to be a part of it.
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Return to Brussels
In September 1907, Cavell returned to Brussels and nursed a child patient of Dr. Depage.
In October, Depage opened Belgium's first nurse training school, 'L'École Belge d'Infirmières Diplômées,' at 'Berkendael Medical Institute' and made her the operation in charge. Depage’s wife, Marie Depage, assisted her in the same. Within a year, Cavell was training nurses for three hospitals, 24 schools, and 13 nurseries.
In 1910, Cavell was offered a matron job for a newly opened secular hospital at Saint-Gilles.
Even though she was often unpunctual, Cavell kept a strict watch on trainees’ punctuality and would penalize even a two minute delay with two hours of the woman’s spare time. Such practices established work ethic, which was highly resisted by the middle classes back then.
Cavell was visiting her mother in Norfolk when WWI broke out in 1914. She realized that Belgium was under the threat of German troops and planned to return to Brussels. She wanted to move back to Brussels to help soldiers and make the best use of her nursing experience. Her family was, however, against her decision.
Back in Brussels, her clinic and nursing school were taken over by the 'Red Cross.'
In August 1914, when German forces had captured Belgium, Cavell decided to help British, Belgian, and French soldiers escape to the neutral Holland.
During the ‘Battle of Mons,’ Cavell got to know about the executions of locals who had given shelter to ‘Allied’ soldiers.
She was a ''protected'' member of the 'Red Cross' and could have refrained from such danger. Instead, she chose to sacrifice her ethics for the sake of her countrymen. She worked with a secret network of people to provide shelter to ‘Allied’ soldiers in her hospital and later help them escape through an underground passage.
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The German police got suspicious of Cavell, and her colleagues advised her to flee, but she refused and stayed back.
In August 1915, a Belgian spy reported to the authorities about the secret tunnel used for the soldiers to escape.
Arrest & Execution
Cavell was arrested by Germans and kept in seclusion. She chose not to lie during the interrogations and confessed everything.
After 72 hours of interrogation, she was moved from police headquarters to the ‘St Gilles prison’ in Brussels.
Her arrest saw worldwide protests and people pressed for her release. She was, however, sentenced to death after a short trial.
The night before her execution, Cavell uttered her famous final words, "Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone," which are engraved on her statue on 'St Martin's Place.'
On October 12, 1915, Cavell was shot by a German firing squad.
Her body was hurriedly buried at the rifle range with a plain wooden cross over her grave.
General von Sauberzweig planned to carry out Cavell's execution hastily to keep it a secret. The 'American Embassy' played a significant role in broadcasting the news, and hence the press, too, covered it extensively. Several newspaper articles and books publicized her story.
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The outcry made the Germans realize their blunder. She became an icon for military recruitment candidates in Britain and the ‘Allies’ in the United States.
The ‘Allies’ used her execution as propaganda and acclaimed Cavell as a martyr, calling her executioners ''murdering monsters.''
The army recruitment in the UK almost doubled for eight weeks after the news of her execution had come out.
The Germans, too, eventually realized that they had made a blunder and German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm abolished the execution of a female prisoner without his consent.
King Albert I of The Belgians honored Cavell with the 'Cross of the Order of Leopold' posthumously. Belgium and France honored her with the 'Croix Civique' and 'Légion d'Honneur' awards, respectively.
Her body was later disinterred in May 1919. Her coffin was carried to the 'Gare du Nord' in Brussels on a gun carriage.
A memorial service was organized in Westminster Abbey.
Cavell's coffin now rests in an area called "Life's Green" outside the south transept of 'Norwich Cathedral.'
Every October, a special service at Cavell's grave is organized to commemorate her death.
Many memorials have been erected to honor the patriot nurse. Among her memorials, one is located near the 'Erpingham Gate' toward the cathedral closeon 'St Martin's Lane,' London; and another in St Mary's church, Swardeston.
Actor Anna Neagle portrayed Cavell in the 1939 'Academy' nominated film 'Nurse Edith Cavell.'