World War One produced a large number of heroes, heroines and villains. I will introduce you to several of them on this blog in a series on notable people.
We start with a nursing sister.
December 4, 1865, Swardeston, United Kingdom
The daughter of an Anglican minister, Cavell was high school educated and began training to become a nurse in 1900. In 1907, she was living in Belgium where she wrote a nursing journal and served as matron of a nursing school.
World War One:
During the German occupation of Belgium, Cavell helped Allied soldiers and civilians escape the country to safety. Doing so violated German law.
Cavell was arrested in August 1915, having been betrayed by someone she trusted. She spent several months in prison before being tried in a military court.
Cavell never once denied her guilt and admitted to helping nearly 200 individuals escape. In addition, she nursed soldiers from both sides.
The trial found her guilty of treason and sentenced her to death. There were pleas from politicians and diplomats on her behalf for a pardon, but none came.
Before her execution, Cavell wrote her nurses and said, “I have told you that devotion will give you real happiness, and the thought that you have done, before God and yourselves, your whole duty and with a good heart will be your greatest support in the hard moments of life and in the face of death.”
October 12, 1915, killed by firing squad
Her last words reportedly were, “I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me.”
Cavell’s death was used in numerous propaganda campaigns such as the ones seen below. Along with the truth, many fictional accounts of her death were told. These stories were meant to make the Germans as monstrous as possible and make Cavell an innocent victim.
Many memorials have been built to remember Cavell. In addition, she has been portrayed in films, including some written during the war, and television shows and has inspired works of classical music.
Cavell is quoted as saying “Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness to anyone.”
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