Edith Cavell: Nurse, Patriot, and Martyr

Memorial to Cavell outside Norwich Cathedral

Memorial to Cavell outside Norwich Cathedral

A hundred years ago, today, Nurse Edith Cavell was executed by the Germans. She was convicted of helping British and French soldiers escape back to their forces. There was in truth no doubt of her guilt. She forthrightly admitted it. She had been nursing both Allied and German soldiers equally.

Her execution rather shocked the world, the United States, still in 1915, the Great Neutral, had tried to save her from execution, but the Germans were adamant. Looking back, it’s rather hard not to feel some sympathy with them; it doesn’t make much sense, at least to us today, to let a woman go for something one would execute a man for. But the world of 2015 is not the world of 1915, and it shocked the world. It was helped to be shocked by the efforts of Wellington House, the British propaganda unit, but it had a basis in what our people believed. Here is a bit more from Wikipedia:

In November 1914, after the German occupation of Brussels, Cavell began sheltering British soldiers and funnelling them out of occupied Belgium to the neutral Netherlands. Wounded British and French soldiers and Belgian and French civilians of military age were hidden from the Germans and provided with false papers by Prince Reginald de Croy at his château of Bellignies near Mons. From there, they were conducted by various guides to the houses of Cavell, Louis Séverin and others in Brussels, and furnished by them with money to reach the Dutch frontier and with guides obtained through Philippe Baucq.This placed Cavell in violation of German military law. German authorities became increasingly suspicious of the nurse’s actions, which were backed up by her outspokenness.

She was arrested on 3 August 1915 and charged with harbouring Allied soldiers. She had been betrayed by Gaston Quien, who was later convicted by a French court as a collaborator. She was held in Saint-Gilles prison for 10 weeks, the last two in solitary confinement. She made three depositions to the German police (on 8, 18 and 22 August), admitting that she had been instrumental in conveying about 60 British and 15 French soldiers and about 100 French and Belgians of military age to the frontier and had sheltered most of them in her house.

In her court-martial she was prosecuted for aiding British and French soldiers, in addition to young Belgian men, to cross the border and eventually enter Britain. She admitted her guilt when she signed a statement the day before the trial. Cavell declared that the soldiers she had helped escape thanked her in writing when arriving safely in Britain. This admission confirmed that Cavell had helped the soldiers navigate the Dutch frontier, but it also established that she helped them escape to a country at war with Germany.

The penalty according to German military law was death.

All that said, she became a great heroine for the British, and yes, the Americans as well, not to mention the French and Belgians. Again from Wikipedia:

Cavell’s remains were returned to Britain after the war. As the ship bearing the coffin arrived in Dover, a full peal of Grandsire Triples (5040 Changes, Parker’s Twelve-Part) was rung on the bells of the parish church. The peal was notable: “Rung with the bells deeply muffled with the exception of the Tenor which was open at back stroke, in token of respect to Nurse Cavell, whose body arrived at Dover during the ringing and rested in the town till the following morning. The ringers of 1-2-3-4-5-6 are ex-soldiers, F. Elliot having been eight months Prisoner of War in Germany.” Deep (or full) muffling is normally only used for the deaths of sovereigns. After an overnight pause in the parish church the body was conveyed to London and a state funeral was held at Westminster Abbey. On 19 May 1919, her body was reburied at the east side of Norwich Cathedral; a graveside service is still held each October. The railway van known as the Cavell Van that conveyed her remains from Dover to London is kept as a memorial on the Kent and East Sussex Railway and is usually open to view at Bodiam railway station.

In the Calendar of saints (Church of England) the day appointed for the commemoration of Edith Cavell is 12 October. This is a memorial in her honour rather than formal canonisation.

Following Cavell’s death, many memorials were created around the world to remember her. One of the first was unveiled on 12 October 1918 by Queen Alexandra on the grounds of Norwich Cathedral, during the opening of a home for nurses which also bore her name.

Source for both is Wikipedia

Yesterday’s evensong at Norwich cathedral commemorated the centenary of her death. You can listen here.


Last week Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis, was performed in Norwich along with David Mitchell’ Cavell Mass.

This seems proper to me since it commemorates a woman who did her duty to her God, and her country, took responsibility for it and willingly (and bravely) paid the price of that duty. We should all attempt to do as well.

{UPDATE} I didn’t think to look there earlier but East Anglian Film Archive has film of the funeral in Norwich. It is excellent and can be found here.Funeral of Nurse Edith Cavell

About Neo
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

11 Responses to Edith Cavell: Nurse, Patriot, and Martyr

  1. Sadly, most have never heard of this profound woman! As too so many today know little about WW 1, i.e. The Great War! Again, one cannot but think of the two granite statues of the German sculptress Kathe Kollwitz, both she and her husband who are on their knees before their son’s grave in Belgium, begging forgiveness for the war… ‘There is in our lives a wound which will never heal. Nor should it.’

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would also recommend reading the theology of Peter Taylor Forsyth (1848 – 1921), who was deeply shaken by WW 1, and had been early influenced by the Ritschlian Gospel, but later turned from mere morality, so disillusioned by modernity!

      ‘The ministry is a prophetic and sacramental office; it is not a secretarial, it is not merely presidential. It is sacramental and not merely functional. It is the outwards and visible agent of the inward gospel of Grace.’

      Liked by 1 person

      • NEO says:

        And i note that in the related posts is an article about another lady, who firmly believed in her duty: The Queen Mother, it is titled with one of her favorite mottoes:

        Duty is the rent you pay for life. A guide for us all.


      • In his Christian Theology: An Introduction, Alister E. McGrath describes Forsyth’s Justification of God (1916). The book

        represents an impassioned plea to allow the notion of the “justice of God” to be rediscovered. Forsyth is less concerned than Anselm for the legal and juridical aspects of the cross; his interest centers on the manner in which the cross is inextricably linked with “the whole moral fabric and movement of the universe.” The doctrine of the atonement is inseparable from “the rightness of things.”[1]

        In his Theology and the Problem of Evil, Kenneth Surin points to Forsyth’s Justification of God as offering a theodicy based on the cross. God can be justified for creating a world with so much pain and suffering “only if he were prepared to share the burden of pain and suffering with his creatures.” Surin concurs with Forsyth.[2]

        Forsyth wrote The Justification of God,[3] while the first world war was killing ten million and wounding another twenty million from around the world.[4] Through the lens of biblical faith, Forsyth saw even “a world catastrophe and judgment of the first rank like the war” as “still in the hand and service of God.” [5]

        Before the start of World War I, widely held views about God and human progress muted the theodic question. “Popular religion” had preached a God whose sole purpose was “to promote and crown [human] development.”[6] The “doctrine of progress” (first formulated by Abbé de Saint-Pierre) dominated Europe.[7] As Forsyth observed, but the war’s “revelation of the awful and desperate nature of evil” exploded these optimistic views and raised the theodic question about the goodness of God to full force.[8]

        There was no theodicy extant to which Forsyth could turn. In spite of his extensive theological studies, he could find no satisfactory “philosophical theodicy or vindication of God’s justice.”[9] From this, Forsyth concluded that

        no reason of man can justify God in a world like this. He must justify Himself, and He did so in the Cross of His Son.[10]

        Liked by 1 person

  2. the unit says:

    We will surely see more sacrifice for freedom and good over evil as time goes by. I hope to be around to see the treason ended of the destruction of America from within. I’m holding on…


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: My Article Read (10-12-2015) | My Daily Musing

  4. Pingback: In 1492, Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue | nebraskaenergyobserver

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.