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  • Writer's pictureTastes Of History

On This Day: Edith Cavell executed

Updated: Feb 17

On this day, in the early hours of October 12th, 1915, a British national, still wearing her nurses’ uniform, was led out into a yard at Belgium’s national rifle range in Brussels. Alongside her was Phillipe Bancq, a Brussels-based architect. Shortly after dawn, two German firing-squads, each of eight men, were paraded in front of the pair. When ordered, the soldiers fired executing both Bancq and the British nurse - Edith Louisa Cavell.

She was born in Norfolk on December 4th, 1865. After training as a nurse in London, in 1907, Edith travelled to Brussels where she became Matron of the Berkendael Medical Institute, a pioneering training establishment for nurses in Belgium. When the German Army invaded and occupied Belgium, the Institute became a Red Cross hospital, treating casualties from both sides. Nurse Cavell had been permitted to remain and continue her work by the occupying German forces.

The offence for which she was executed was for helping British soldiers trapped behind German lines after the Battle of Mons escape to neutral Holland. Clearly Cavell was guilty of aiding the enemy, as the Germans saw it, but the decision to shoot a nurse whose only crime was to help others was met with utter revulsion around the world including in the United States.

Cavell’s remains were returned to Britain after the war and a state funeral was held at Westminster Abbey. On May 19th, 1919, her body was reburied at the East side of Norwich Cathedral. A graveside service is still held there each October.


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