Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Cavell, Edith

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CAVELL, EDITH, an English nurse, born at Norwich, England, in 1872. Her father was a clergyman. She was trained as a nurse in a London hospital, entering the institution in 1896. In 1900 she went to Belgium for the purpose of organizing and carrying on a training school for Belgian nurses. She showed remarkable administrative ability, and in 1906 the institution of which she had become the head was the most important of its kind in Belgium. When the World War broke out she was on a visit to England, but at once returned and threw all her energies into the work of nursing wounded soldiers. At first there was no obstacle put in her way by the German authorities, for German soldiers as well as French, Belgian, and English were nursed without discrimination. The Dutch frontier was not far away and a secret service was organized by the Allies and their sympathizers to enable wounded English soldiers, as soon as they had sufficiently recovered, to get across the border into Holland and ultimately be transferred to their own country. Miss Cavell was intensely patriotic and aided in this work, as she freely admitted, when later on she was brought to trial. In an organization so extensive it was almost a foregone conclusion that sooner or later some traitor would reveal its ramifications. This occurred in the case of Miss Cavell, who was denounced as participating in this plan of escape and arrested by the German authorities Aug. 5, 1915. She was confined in the prison of St. Gilles, was not allowed to communicate with her friends, and it was three weeks before the fact of her arrest was made known. The British Government at once took steps in her behalf to see that she should have a fair trial, and communicated with the American Minister at Brussels, Mr. Brand Whitlock. He took up the matter at once and communicated with Baron von Lancken, the chief of the political department of the German military government in Belgium. The inquiry was made August 31, but no reply was vouchsafed, and after a delay of ten days, Mr. Whitlock wrote again, and at last was informed on September 12 that a Belgian advocate had charge of Miss Cavell's case and that no interview with the prisoner would be permitted. Further attempts on the part of the American Legation were also fruitless. On October 4 Mr. Whitlock was informed that the trial was to take place on the 7th. On the 8th the trial was concluded and judgment reserved. After the trial was concluded Miss Cavell was taken back to prison. Her friends sought in vain to find out what sentence had been passed and when it was to be carried out. They were either denied information or put off with falsehoods. The adviser of the American Legation, Mr. Leval, and Minister Whitlock himself strove with all their power to get information in order that they might, if possible, avert the doom that they feared was impending. They prepared pleas for pardon, that were to be presented to the authorities in case Miss Cavell should receive the death sentence. All their efforts came up against the blank wall of official indifference or pretended ignorance.

On October 11 Miss Cavell was told that the death sentence had been passed upon her and that she would be shot the next morning. Two hours later the American officials were being positively assured by German officials that no judgment had been passed. At 6 o'clock news was brought to the American Legation by some of Miss Cavell's friends that she had been sentenced. Mr. Whitlock was ill and could not leave the house, but he set all his secretaries to work and himself dictated another note to Von Lancken. At the same time he instructed his aids to seek out the Spanish Minister, Villalobar, and go at once to Von Lancken's house to seek a commutation of the sentence. The Americans pleaded with him, and Villalobar added his entreaties. To all their appeals Von Lancken was adamant. She had been sentenced. She must die. The Kaiser himself could not help her. The next morning early Miss Cavell was shot. She met her fate with fortitude and without the slightest sign of fear. On May 15, 1919, her body, which had been exhumed at Brussels, was taken to Westminster Abbey, where an impressive service was held. All London turned out to do homage to her memory. Flags were flown at half-mast. The body was borne on a gun carriage, covered with flowers and the national flag and escorted by a regiment of the Guards, while hundreds of thousands of spectators with bared heads lined the streets through which the cortège passed. After the ceremony the body was taken to Norwich, her native town, where the burial took place.