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Edith Cavell, heroine of the First World War who died ajusticiada

MORE INFORMATION photo gallery The First World War, summed up in 15 images Edith Cavell understood that he should put his talent, professional and religious

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Edith Cavell, heroine of the First World War who died ajusticiada


photo gallery The First World War, summed up in 15 images

Edith Cavell understood that he should put his talent, professional and religious convictions at the service of justice and peace. So it was that went down in history as a heroine for exercising his profession as a nurse to heal the wounds of the soldiers during the First World War, but above all for saving more than two hundred of them on the allied side, and help them to escape from occupied Belgium by the germans.

Cavell had, however, little time to prove his worth as a nurse and human category to help always to the neighbor, since, despite of being formed by the best health of the time, he died too young, without having fulfilled a half-century of life. After his arrest, accused of spy, and of high treason, was always quiet and never fought back, dying shot despite international pressure to halt his sentence.

“The war is not an adventure; it is a disease,” said Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a contemporary of Cavell. For her, aware that in a contest there is always a lot more to lose, the war became the opportunity to save the lives of soldiers, british, French and belgian prisoners who escaped, wounded, or pilots being killed, and help them to escape from occupied Belgium by the germans. His death by firing squad made it famous and he went on to become an icon of the allied cause, remembered mainly for his courage to face the execution with equanimity with her statement “patriotism is not enough” and that rose almost to the category of legend, the tragic end that is supposed to be all hero.

Edith Cavell was born on 4 December 1865, in the town of Swardestone, county of Norfolk (England). He was the eldest of four children of the marriage formed by the reverend anglican Frederick Cavell and his wife. Since very little, life in a humble background taught him the importance of helping the needy, and whenever he could, helped his father to collect money for the poor.


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Since she was a child Edith excelled in drawing and painting, so I took that talent to paint pictures of flowers and birds which he later sold and got the money needed to form a Sunday school in the church where his father was a reverend.

With 25 years began to travel Europe and perform different jobs: in Belgium was governess to the children of a family of French origin, and later in Austria, he met a hospital free where the sick were cared for without having to pay anything. This fact so impressed the young Edith that the marked for his entire life, and awakened his vocation final.

In 1895 he had to return to England so hasty to take care of his father, who had fallen ill to serious, but when he recovered, he decided to enter the London Hospital to train as a nurse. In him, Edith had the opportunity to be a student of Eva Lucke, who at that time had the reputation of being the best matron of the city.

Cavell traveled back to Brussels in 1907 and began working as a matron in a School of Nursing, combining her nursing job with the assistant in childbirth. Thanks to their diligence and professionalism he worked in various hospitals and also had time to devote himself to education, giving classes in several schools of nursing. He even edited in 1910 by a magazine, ‘The nurse’, so that the sector could share their knowledge, documenting best practices of nursing. Within the guild of health, Edith Cavell had become one of the pioneers of modern nursing and was admired and respected by the rest of doctors and nurses.


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The doctor Antoine Depage, a famous surgeon and belgian president of Red Cross in that country, hired her to become head nurse of the Institute Berkendael and a little later he founded the School of belgian registered Nurses, entrusting him with the direction of Cavell.

When in 1914 erupts the First World War, Edith Cavell was in England visiting his mother. Upon hearing the news he returned to Brussels to join his job. Fortunately, the hospital and the school for which I worked were under the control of the Red Cross. A few months later, in November, Germany invaded Belgium and ordered that “all the wounded are dangerous or suspicious” were removed from the hospital. Since that time, Edith was devoted to not only heal the allied soldiers but to help them escape the occupied area to the Netherlands, a neutral country, thanks to a network of evasion organized and that it violated the military law imposed by the germans.

Many british soldiers had been left behind in the withdrawal of the allied forces and were stuck in Brussels. Cavell decided to help them by hiding them in the hospital and safe houses, including hers, in Belgium. From these safe houses, about 200 british military, French and belgians were able to escape to Holland while she was still acting as a nurse and tending to wounded soldiers from both the German side as the ally.

The German army had threatened them with punishments that are strict to any person that is discovered that was “helping and abetting the enemy”. However, despite the military government, Cavell continued to assist and achieve its purpose for ten months, when he was suspect of helping the allies by their opinions in public about the injustice of the Asyabahis occupation.


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A German spy infiltrated discovered the network of evasion, which was neutralized and ended with the arrest of several people, among them Edith Cavell , arrested on 3 August 1915 and imprisoned in the prison of Saint-Gilles. In his interrogation did not try to defend himself and only said in his defence that he felt obliged to help people in need.

The trials of the members of the network took place on 7 and 8 October, 1915. Edith Cavell admitted to the charges and did not use the word to defend themselves. On 11 October he was sentenced to death by the German military court that tried and convicted of treason. The conviction surprised many international observers given the honesty of Cavell and the fact that he had saved many lives as a nurse, both allied as German.

Soto the legal advisor of the u.s. embassy, Hugh Gibson, as the Spanish ambassador, Rodrigo de Saavedra, asked the German High Command of the commutation of the sentence or at least its postponement, and during the night of the 11th of October they tried to get the maximum of international support but with little success. The minister of the united States warns that even the germans that the execution of the nurse would damage the already poor reputation of Germany and would be seen as an injustice in the eyes of the world.

To end the international pressure, the germans decided to execute the sentence, and Cavell was shot in the early morning of 12 October in a military area and together with other belgian convicted for similar causes. Was 49 years old. The night before his execution he was visited by the reverend Stirling Gahan, a chaplain, an anglican, that he recorded their last conversation, in which he uttered two sentences that reflect their fortitude when faced with death: “patriotism is not enough and I should not have hatred or bitterness toward anyone” and “I have seen death so often that it is not something strange or fearful to me.”


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On his last night alive, Edith Cavell wrote to her fellow nurses to legacy mode: “I have told you that devotion will give them true happiness, and the thought that you have done, before God and yourselves, your duty to complete and with a good heart will be your greatest support in the difficult moments of life.” The famous German poet Gottfried Benn, who was a military doctor of the prison of Saint-Gilles, witnessed and certified his death, and he wrote that he had never known a woman with so much courage: “How must be judged in the shooting of Edith Cavell? Entered the war and the war destroyed it”.

According to recognised after an officer of the German general staff, the death of Edith “was one of our biggest mistakes. We were not able to conceive an action more unpopular”. His execution was widely publicized in the media are british and american, showing as yet more evidence of the brutality and injustice of germany. Cavell was portrayed as a heroic figure and innocent that remained firm in his christian faith and his willingness to die for their country, then used on numerous occasions as propaganda for their example encourage more men to enlist in the army.

But his death not only meant a bad image for Germany, but that the treatment suffered by the German military played an important role in the formation of american public opinion and facilitated the entry of united States into the war in 1917.

In may of 1919, after the war, the body of Edith Cavell was moved from the tomb in which was buried in one of the sides of the prison of Saint-Gilles, in Brussels, to London, escorted by a detachment of british troops and acclaimed by thousands of people who accompanied the procession in both countries. After the state funeral in Westminster Abbey, attended by even the royal family, the coffin was transported by train to Norwich, where it rests in an area called Life's Green next to the cathedral.

The Church of England dedicated to the 12 of October to the memory of Edith Cavell, commemorating his life and his sacrifice, and has numerous monuments in several cities that remind us of the heroic save lives in times of war. His legacy of effort, justice, and compassion continue to be an example standing for all the health care professionals, especially for those who develop their work in the middle of a war.

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