HER Stories: Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell was a British woman who worked as a nurse in German occupied Belgium during the First World War.

Edith worked as a governess in Belgium before she trained as a nurse in London. She worked in several hospitals in England before she was invited to set up a nurses’ training school in Belgium in 1907. Due to her pioneering work at this training school in Belgium, where there was previously no established nursing profession, she was considered the founder of nursing education there.

Throughout her time working as a nurse in occupied Belgium, the hospital where Edith worked became a Red Cross hospital which indiscriminately treated soldiers from both sides of the war as well as civilians.

In September of 1914, Edith treated two British soldiers who had been trapped behind German lines. After treating them she was asked to help the wounded soldiers escape so she arranged to have them smuggled out of Belgium and into Holland, which was neutral from the war. Following this successful smuggling, Edith then went on to help over 200 allied soldiers and Belgiums who were eligible to serve in the military, to escape from Belgium.

For a period of 11 months Edith would shelter soldiers in her hospital and then arrange for guides to escort them to the border and see them safely into Holland.


On the 5th August 1915, Edith Cavell was arrested for her acts and was imprisoned in solitary confinement at St Gilles Prison in Brussels. Following this, Edith was tried at court martial in October of the same year. There were 34 other people who had been involved in this network in some way and were tried alongside her.

Edith Cavell was found guilty and she was shot by firing squad and killed on the 12th October 1915. Her execution was legal under international law yet rightly so it sparked outrage in Britain and many neutral countries. When executing someone for saving lives is acceptable under international law, it makes you question the sanity of the world.



Her death was used in some ways as a from of propaganda to encourage more soldiers to enlist and it worked. In the week following Edith’s death, the number of soldiers being recruited rose from 5000 to 10,000 a week. How Edith Cavell would have felt about her execution inspiring scores more soldiers to be sent to their death…




Shortly before her execution, Edith Cavell said:

“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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