Genes Reunited Blog
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This month marks the centenary of the execution of Edith Cavell, a British nurse who served during World War 1. She helped 200 allied soldiers escape German-occupied Belgium, offering them refuge in her own home.
Edith was executed for treason by a German firing squad on 12 October 1915.
Cavell’s courage and fortitude during her trial, and the absolute honesty with which she addressed the accusers’ questions, served as an example which reverberated worldwide.
Born first out of four children to the Reverend Frederick and Louisa Sophia Cavell on 4 December 1865 in Swardeston in Norfolk, Cavell entered the nursing profession aged 20, and trained in London.
She was appointed matron of the Berkendael Medical Institute in Belgium in 1907, where she improved and modernised the standard of nursing.
When war broke out in 1914, Edith joined the Red Cross at Berkendael Hospital. Many of the captured Allied soldiers who were treated at Berkendael subsequently succeeded in escaping – with Cavell’s assistance – to neutral Holland.
For this, she was arrested by German authorities on 5 August 1915, and spent 10 weeks in prison before her trial commenced. She, and her Belgian accomplice Philippe Baucq, were pronounced guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad.
Throughout the trial Cavell conducted herself with incredible bravery and dignity, refusing to deny any of the accusations put to her. Her noble conduct during the proceedings earned her great respect and significantly contributed to her heroic image.
Edith's execution was condemned and garnered press coverage worldwide. She is still regarded as an inspiration and true heroine of World War 1 today.