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Top Secret - Edith Cavell, Profile Of A War Hero

Edith Cavell World War 1 Nurse and Hero



Full Name:

Edith Louisa Cavell


4th December 1865


Norfolk, England

Lived In:

Brussels, Belgium


Nurse and the Matron (senior nurse in charge) at the Berkendael Institute, Belgium’s first training hospital for nurses

Greatest Achievements:

  • Being considered to be the founder of modern nursing education in Belgium.

  • Helping Allied soldiers to escape from German occupied Belgium during the First World War.


As The War Broke Out:

  • When the First World War started in July 1914, Edith was working at the recently opened Berkendael Institute.

  • In August 1914, German forces invaded Belgium and took authority of the country.

  • Under the German occupation of Belgium, the Berkendael Institute was turned into a Red Cross hospital to treat wounded soldiers.

  • Edith didn’t return to the safety of England, instead she stayed in Belgium. At the hospital, she treated soldiers of any nationality, no matter which side of the war they were fighting on.


Assisting Escape:

  • In September 1914, two injured British soldiers asked Edith for help. They were stuck behind enemy lines in Belgium and needed to escape. She arranged to smuggle them out of Belgium and into the neutral country of the Netherlands.

  • Soon, Edith became part of a secret network of people helping Allied soldiers to escape German occupied Belgium.

  • Over the next 11 months, Edith helped around 200 Allied soldiers to escape to safety.


Arrest And Trial:

  • The German Authorities became suspicious and in August 1915, Edith was arrested and put in solitary confinement in St Gilles Prison in Brussels.

  • Edith was put on trial in a military court (known as a court-martial) on 7th October 1915, alongside 34 others involved in the secret network.

  • In the trial, Edith admitted that she was guilty of the crimes she was being accused of and was found guilty of helping Allied soldiers escape to England.

  • She was sentenced to death by firing squad.



  • Many countries protested that Edith’s sentence was too extreme and called for a kinder punishment. This even included countries not yet involved in the war such as the United States of America and Spain. But the protests went unheard.

  • At dawn on 12th October 1915, Edith was shot by a German firing squad at Tir National, a Brussels firing range.

  • Even facing death, Edith was brave, dignified, compassionate and forgiving. The night before her execution, she said the following words to Reverend Stirling Gahan:


“I have no fear nor shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me ... I thank God for this ten weeks’ quiet before the end. Life has always been hurried and full of difficulty. This time of rest has been a great mercy. They have all been very kind to me here. 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.”


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