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Honoring Edith Cavell 101 Years Later

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Edith Cavell was a nurse and a patriot. She stood up for what she felt in her heart was right and unfortunately lost her life due to her brave patriotism.

Honoring Edith Cavell 101 Years Later

Standing on the grassy hill, Edith Cavell could see the city. The tall buildings rose proudly above the rubble. One particular building caught her eye and she felt a connection. It stood tall, but broken. Two windows remained of one wall, the early morning sun beamed through the dusty glass, causing her to squint. The windows can no longer hide what was within the walls, emanating the loneliness left behind from war.

She shivered even though she wore her full nurse's uniform. Her eyes shifted to the sky. Clouds were rolling in, it would rain again today she thought as she closed her eyes. The breeze that suddenly blew across her made her open her eyes with a start. Taking a deep breath, she inhaled the smell of dew mixed with cigarette smoke. The soldier across from her had a tightly rolled cigarette hanging from his lips. His brown boots were worn, and his grey uniform was dusty. The red lining stood brilliantly out from the rest of the uniform. His pointed cap was lopsided above his grim face. His blue eyes wouldn't meet hers. The rifle at his side. There were five more lined up in front of her. The order rang out and Edith closed her eyes for the last time.


Edith's story celebrates it's 101st year this month. The above is a creative non-fiction version of what Edith may have experienced in the early morning of October 12, 1915. She was an extraordinary nurse in an extraordinary time.

When war broke out on July 28, 1914, Edith was the head matron of the Berkendael Medical institute in Brussels, Belgium. She had been in charge of the boarding/nursing school for seven years by that time. The school was converted into a Red Cross hospital in the beginning of the war. Edith was known for treating everyone, no matter where they were from. Her philosophy is reflected in the Florence Nightingale pledge, " I shall be loyal to my work and devoted toward the welfare of those committed to my care".

Edith told her nurses, " Each man is a father, husband or son. The profession of nursing knows no frontiers". A brave woman with high moral and ethical standards, she set the example for the nurses of her day, now, and future generations.

Soon, Edith became a resistance mover with the Allied Patriots through Prince Reginald de Croy, helping soldiers from Britain, France, and Belgium. She kept her underground work quiet so the other nurses would not be incriminated.

By the summer of 1915, Edith became a target. Spies were sent in to try and trick her and most of the time she was able to weed them out. However, on August 5th, she was arrested and put into prison. She is quoted as saying, " We shall be punished in any case, whether we have done much or little".

She was convicted of helping over 200 soldiers, and put to death on October 12, 1915. Her death spurred the British and their allies to use her as an example, making her a martyr. In telling her story, they were able to enlist soldiers willing to fight in her honor.

Not only is she revered by the British army, there are landmarks, streets, hospitals, and even mountains named after her.

One never knows when the time will come for us to make a choice, a choice that could lead us to our death. Would we be brave enough to do what we felt in our hearts was the right thing? Edith made that brave choice in a very humble manner. She kept silent on what she was doing, not wanting to put anyone else in danger. Most of us have never lived through a war, gratefully, but she did. She embraced her job as a nurse as well as her patriotism for her country and wounded soldiers.

This month 101 years ago Edith stood on that chilly October morning facing her German enemy. Her death was a tragedy, especially since medical personnel are usually exempt from this kind of thing. We honor her memory and bravery so many years later and if any of you ever get to Belgium, look for her monument.

The night before she died, she is quoted as saying:

"They have all been very kind to me. But this I would say, standing as I do in view of God and eternity. I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone."


Andrews, Evan. "WWI Nurse Edith Cavell Executed, 100 Years Ago." 6 Oct. 2015. History in the Headlines. 13 Oct. 2016. Web.

Walker, Alice. "Hold Thou Thy Cross before my closing eyes, Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies". 12 Oct. 2016. Wordpress.com. 13 Oct. 2016. Web.

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This is the first I have heard of this woman or her story but based on your telling of it I have some reservations concerning the validity of her actions in being considered selfless and unabashedly heroic.

You have said that she did not tell the other nurses of her clandestine activities in engaging in the underground trafficing of allied soldiers

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This is the first I have heard this woman or her story, but based on your telling of it I have some reservations concerning the validity of her actions as being considered selfless and unabashedly heroic.

You mentioned that in performing her clandestine activities in the underground trafficking of allied troops that she did not tell her co-workers so as to protect them from being incriminated in her activities. But in the end her activities were uncovered and she was executed, presumably as an enemy collaborator.

My concern here is two-fold. The first is, did she not consider that her activities once uncovered could or would be viewed as a conspiracy by German forces and through guilt by association also expose the entire lot she worked with to the firing squad?

My second concern is that given this fact wouldn't it make sense that her activities could have been discovered by another nurse or someone close to her and reported to German authorities in order to save their own life and possibly those of others if and when the plot was uncovered.

I do believe your words that "one never knows when the time will come for us to make a choice, and that choice could lead us to our death" whether literally or figuratively as in advocating for a patient, adult or child, against hospital and even state authorities.

I have found that when these chips are down, the rank and file nurse has not a friend to be found. It essentially becomes every man for himself right, wrong or indifferent.

After all, when it comes down to it, since we are in most instances not owners of the means of production we are considered hired hands at the mercy of those who may be honest, ethical, moral and uncorrupted by the profit motive or not.

I guess my point is this: not many in my experience are willing to make personal sacrifices that involve loss of job, life or limb beyond the rhetoric. Taking this stand has historically been and remains a lonely place to be.

Some of us know this experience and question whether in this imperfect world that doing the right thing has been merely relegated to a consolation prize and not worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages along with an outcast status that lingers..

Or it is just a matter of opinion depending on which side you're on and who's telling the story?

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