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Nurse Edith Cavell

This section provides a biography of Nurse Edith Cavell. Click here for more biographies of important people during World War 1.
One of Nurse Edith Cavell's many memorials

Nurse Edith Cavell was a British nurse during World War I. She was executed by the Germans and became a symbol of German brutality and the most famous female casualty of the war. Cavell was born in December 4, 1865 and she died by firing squad on October 15, 1915.

During World War I, Edith Cavell was a nurse at a British field hospital in Belgium, which was later placed under Red Cross control after the German occupation. She continued to serve at the hospital after the Germans took over, but helped hundreds of British soldiers to escape to the neutral Netherlands in violation of German military law. Cavell was tried and convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad.

The British did not attempt to intervene on her behalf because they felt that attempts to win her release would only anger the Germans and make it more likely that she would be executed. However, the United States who were at the time still neutral, advocated for the release of Nurse Cavell. The American ambassador in Belgium explained to the German government that executing Cavell would harm the Germans' reputation. He wrote:

"We reminded him (Baron von der Lancken) of the burning of Louvain and the sinking of the Lusitania, and told him that this murder would stir all civilized countries with horror and disgust. Count Harrach broke in at this with the rather irrelevant remark that he would rather see Miss Cavell shot than have harm come to one of the humblest German soldiers, and his only regret was that they had not 'three or four English old women to shoot.'"

The Germans executed Nurse Cavell by firing squad. Before she died, Cavell uttered a line which was to become famous and which is now inscribed on a statue of her which stands opposite the National Portrait Gallery in England. She stated: "Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone."

British propaganda elevated Nurse Cavell to the status of a martyr and her death became a sumbol of German brutality. War propaganda posters referenced the death of Cavell as a reason to fight the German barbarians.