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Remembering Edith Cavell

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Edith Cavell Sculpture in London, from a low angle

Edith Cavell Memorial, London

Today, as we mark a two minute silence at church in the Armstice Day tradition, I expect I will mostly be pondering the life, death and example of Edith Cavell. She was an English nurse, shot during WWI for aiding the resistance in Brussels where she was working. I have recently finished reading Diana Souhami’s biography of Cavell and so am much better informed than I was when I took the photo to the right in August 2006.

She was quite a straight-laced character, who came quite late to nursing and did not get the most glowing reports from the leader of the training school she attended. However, she showed great determination in her vocation of caring for others, setting up her own nursing school in Belgium and, when war broke out, staying there and helping all in need. As well as wounded Germans she also secretly nursed injured British, French and Belgian service men and assisted them in escaping. The occupying Germans eventually arrested her and then, after a brief and unjust trial, quickly executed her.

Her name was widely used for propaganda purposes and not all was perhaps worthy of the stand she made for mercy towards suffering humans. Perhaps the best memorial is found in the words she is recorded to have uttered to Revd. Stirling Gahan, who was connected to the church she attended and who visited her the night before her execution:

I have no fear or shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me. Life has always been hurried and full of difficulty. This time of rest [ie. her ten weeks in prison from arrest to execution] has been a great mercy. Everyone here has been very kind. But this I would say, standing as I do in view of God and Eternity: I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.

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