Edith Cavell she understood that she had to put her professional talent and religious convictions at the service of justice and peace, and that's how she went down in history as a heroine for practicing as a nurse to heal the wounds of soldiers during the First World War, but above all to save more than two hundred of them from the allied side and help them to flee from the occupied Belgium by the Germans.
Cavell had, however, little time to prove his worth as a nurse and his human status to always help others, because despite being formed by the best toilets of the time, he died too young, without having completed half a century of life . After her arrest, accused of spy and high treason, she was always calm and never defended herself, dying under fire despite international pressure to stop her sentence.
"War is not an adventure; it's a disease, "said Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a contemporary of Cavell. For her, aware that in a fight there is always much more to lose, the warlike confrontation became the opportunity to save the life of soldiers English, French and Belgians, escaped prisoners, wounded or killed pilots, and to help them flee from the Belgium occupied by the Germans. Her death by shooting made her famous and she became an icon of the allied cause, remembered mainly for her courage to face the execution with equanimity with her phrase "Patriotism is not enough" and that elevated her almost to the category of legend the tragic end that is presupposed to every hero.
Edith Cavell was born on December 4, 1865, in the town of Swardestone, county of Norfolk (England). She was the eldest of four children of the marriage formed by the Anglican Reverend Frederick Cavell and his wife. From a very young age, life in a humble environment taught her the importance of helping the needy and whenever she could, she helped her father to collect money for the poorest.
Since childhood Edith excelled in drawing and painting, so she took advantage of that talent to paint pictures of flowers and birds that she later sold and with which she got the money necessary to form Sunday school in the church where her father was reverend.
At the age of 25, she began to travel around Europe and to perform different jobs: in Belgium she was a governess for the children of a family of French origin and later in Austria she met a free hospital where the sick people were treated without having to pay anything. This fact so impressed the young Edith that marked her for her whole life and aroused her definitive vocation.
In 1895 she had to rush back to England to care for her father, who had become seriously ill, but when she recovered she decided to enter the London Hospital to train as a nurse. In it, Edith had the opportunity to be a student of Eva Lucke, who at that time had the reputation of being the best midwife in the city.
Cavell traveled again to Brussels in 1907 and began working as a midwife in a School of Nursing, combining her work as a nurse with that of a midwife. Thanks to his diligence and professionalism he worked in various hospitals and also had time to dedicate himself to education giving classes in several schools of nursing. He even published a magazine in 1910, 'The nurse', so that the sector could share their knowledge, documenting good nursing practices. Within the health guild, Edith Cavell she had become one of the pioneers of modern nursing and was admired and respected by the rest of the doctors and nurses.
Dr. Antoine Depage, famous Belgian surgeon and president of the Red Cross in that country, hired her to become the head nurse of the Berkendael Institute and a little later founded the Belgian School of Registered Nurses, entrusting the address to Cavell.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, Edith Cavell He was in England visiting his mother. Upon hearing the news, he returned to Brussels to join his job. Fortunately, both the hospital and the school for which he worked were under the control of Red Cross. A few months later, in November, Germany invaded Belgium and ordered that "all dangerous or suspicious wounded" be removed from the hospital. From that moment, Edith was dedicated not only to cure the Allied soldiers but to help them escape from the occupied zone to the Netherlands, a neutral country, thanks to an organized evasion network that violated the military law imposed by the Germans.
Many British soldiers had been left behind in the withdrawal of the Allied forces and were trapped in Brussels. Cavell decided to help them by hiding them in the hospital and in safe houses, including his, in Belgium. From these safe houses, around 200 British, French and Belgian soldiers were able to escape to Holland while she continued to act as a nurse and attend to wounded soldiers from both the German and the ally camp.
The German army had threatened with strict punishments anyone who was discovered to be "helping and instigating the enemy". However, despite the military government, Cavell continued to help and accomplished her purpose for ten months, when she was considered suspicious of helping the allies for their public opinions about the injustice of the occupation.
An infiltrated German spy discovered the evasion network, which was neutralized and ended with the arrest of several people, including Edith Cavell, arrested on August 3, 1915 and imprisoned in the prison of Saint-Gilles. In her interrogation she did not try to defend herself and only said in her defense that she felt obliged to help those in need.
The trials of the members of the network took place on October 7 and 8, 1915. Edith Cavell admitted the charges and did not take the floor to defend herself. On October 11, she was sentenced to death by the German military court that tried her and found her guilty of treason. The condemnation surprised many international observers because of Cavell's honesty and the fact that he had saved many lives as a nurse, both German and allied.
Both the legal advisor of the US embassy, Hugh Gibson, and the ambassador of Spain, Rodrigo de Saavedra, asked the German High Command to commute the sentence or at least its postponement, and throughout the night of October 11 they tried to get the maximum international support but with little success. The minister of the United States even warned the Germans that the execution of the nurse would further damage the already bad reputation of Germany and would be seen as an injustice in the eyes of the world.
To put an end to international pressure, the Germans decided to execute the sentence and Cavell was shot in the early hours of October 12 on a military ground and along with other Belgians convicted of similar causes. He was 49 years old. The night before his execution he was visited by the Rev. Stirling Gahan, an Anglican chaplain, who recorded his last conversation, in which he uttered two phrases that reflect his strength in facing death: "Patriotism is not enough and does not I must have hatred or bitterness towards anyone "and" I have seen death so often that it is not something strange or scary for me ".
On her last night alive, Edith Cavell also wrote to her fellow nurses as a legacy: "I have told you that devotion will give you true happiness, and the thought that you have made, before God and yourselves, your full duty and with a good heart will be your greatest support in the difficult moments of life. " The famous German poet Gottfried Benn, who was the military doctor of the prison of Saint-Gilles, witnessed and certified his death, and wrote that he had never met a woman with such courage: "How should the execution of Edith Cavell be judged? He entered the war and the war destroyed it. "
As one officer of the German General Staff later admitted, Edith's death "was one of our biggest mistakes. We could not conceive a more unpopular action ". Its execution was widely spread in the British and American media, showing itself as another evidence of German brutality and injustice. Cavell was represented as a heroic and innocent figure who stood firm in his Christian faith and in his willingness to die for his country, being later used on numerous occasions as propaganda so that his example would encourage more men to enlist in the army.
But his death was not only a bad image for Germany, but the treatment he suffered from the German military played an important role in the formation of American public opinion and facilitated the entry of the United States into the war in 1917.
In May 1919, after the war, the body of Edith Cavell was transferred from the grave in which he was buried on one side of the prison of Saint-Gilles, in Brussels, to London, escorted by a detachment of British troops and acclaimed by thousands of people who accompanied the delegation in both countries. After the state funeral at Westminster Abbey, which was attended by even the royal family, the coffin was transported by train to Norwich, where it rests in an area called Life's Green next to the cathedral.
The Church of England dedicates October 12 to the memory of Edith Cavell, commemorating her life and her sacrifice, and has numerous monuments in several cities that recall the heroism of saving lives in times of war. His legacy of effort, justice and compassion continue to be a permanent example for all health workers, especially those who carry out their work in the midst of a war.