Edith Cavell – English nurse martyred 100 years ago


Edith Cavell (1865-1915)

Edith Cavell (1865-1915)

This is a scheduled break from my rock ‘n’ roll reporting to mark the centenary of the execution of English nurse Edith Cavell during World War I.

Cavell, 49, went before a firing squad in German-occupied Belgium at dawn on October 12, 1915, after a German court-martial found her guilty of treason. Her crime was to help about 200 Allied soldiers escape Belgium to the neutral Netherlands. (Also executed was Philippe Baucq, a Belgian architect.)

The night before her death, Cavell reportedly told a priest, “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” These words are reproduced on a memorial outside the National Portrait Gallery in London.

A memorial to Edith Cavell, outside the National Portrait Gallery in London

A memorial to Edith Cavell, outside the National Portrait Gallery in London

Cavell’s execution drew worldwide condemnation (except in Germany, obviously) and became a huge propaganda tool for the British government. The humble vicar´s daughter was transformed into a martyr, an icon who stirred the hearts of the public as they hunkered down for what would be another three years of war. Enlistment rates soared as Britain’s fine young men rushed to take on the murderous Huns. In 1919 Cavell’s remains were returned to England. After a memorial service at Westminster Abbey, they were taken to her hometown of Norwich and reburied in the grounds of the cathedral.

No triumphant warrior and no potentate could have received a more impressive tribute than was paid today to the mortal remains of Miss Edith Cavell as they were borne through London on their way to their last resting place at Norwich.
The New York Times, May 15, 1919.

More reading:
You can read more about Cavell at this web site, courtesy of edithcavell.org.uk.
This is a very good timeline and bio, courtesy of the Belgian Edith Cavell Commemoration Group.
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The best book about Cavell is Edith Cavell, by Diana Souhami.
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Here are some recent articles about the centenary, including a silly one from The Independent, noting that Cavell has been forgotten in Belgium.
The BBC reported from a soggy graveside ceremony.
The Daily Telegraph reported in September that Cavell may have been a spy all along.

I have been intrigued by Cavell since I was a youngster and read about her in a children’s book. I vividly remember an accompanying illustration depicting her facing the firing squad. It’s surprising that no one has made a film about her since 1939’s Nurse Edith Cavell, which you can buy and stream on Amazon here. I guess fake comic-book superheroes are more alluring.

In September 2015, I traveled to Norwich to visit her grave. I also checked out the city museum at Norwich Castle, where there is a small Cavell exhibit. I brilliantly photographed scenes from the vintage newsreel footage of her reburial (see below). My fascination with Cavell was not enough, however, to induce me to buy a horrendous commemorative coin being flogged by the Royal Mint. It does not resemble her in the slightest.

Here are some pictures that I took. More are at my Tumblr pages here and here.

A café near Norwich Cathedral

A café near Norwich Cathedral

Memorial to Edith Cavell outside Norwich Cathedral

Memorial to Edith Cavell outside Norwich Cathedral

Edith Cavell's grave at Norwich Cathedral

Edith Cavell’s grave at Norwich Cathedral

A horse-drawn caisson carries Edith Cavell's coffin through the streets of Norwich in 1919

A horse-drawn caisson carries Edith Cavell’s coffin through the streets of Norwich in 1919

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NOTE: Absolutely unrelated to the above item, my gossipy rock bio Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com

Copyright © 2015 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING.