Who's Who - Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell Edith Cavell (1865-1915) was a British nurse serving in Belgium who was executed on a charge of assisting Allied prisoners to escape during World War One.

Born on 4 December 1865 in Norfolk, Cavell entered the nursing profession while aged 20.  Moving to Belgium she was appointed matron of the Berkendael Medical Institute in Brussels in 1907.  During her brief career in Belgium she nevertheless succeeded in modernising the standard of Belgian nursing.

With war in 1914 and the subsequent German occupation of Belgium Cavell joined the Red Cross; the Berkendael Institute was converted into a hospital for wounded soldiers of all nationalities.

Many of the captured Allied soldiers who were treated at Berkendael subsequently succeeded in escaping - with Cavell's active assistance - to neutral Holland.  Cavell was arrested on 5 August 1915 by local German authorities and charged with having personally aided in the escape of some 200 such soldiers.

Kept in solitary confinement for nine weeks the Germans successfully extracted a confession from Cavell which formed the basis of her trial.  She, along with a named Belgian accomplice Philippe Baucq, were duly pronounced guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad.

The sentence was carried out on 12 October 1915 without reference to the German high command. Cavell's case received significant sympathetic worldwide press coverage, most notably in Britain and the then-neutral U.S.  Such coverage served to harden current popular opinion regarding supposed routine German barbarity in occupied Belgium.

Cavell, who is buried at Norwich Cathedral, is also commemorated in a statue near Trafalgar Square.

Click the links below to read contemporary letters and reports on Cavell's sentence and death by Brand Whitlock; Maitre G. de Leval; Hugh Gibson; Reverend H. Stirling Gahan; and Arthur Zimmermann.

The Austro-Hungarian declaration of war was the first ever delivered by telegram.

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