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Nurse Edith Cavell (12th October)

Edith Cavell is a good saint for NHS workers this year: she cared for the sick despite the danger to her own safety.

Edith was a vicar’s daughter from Swardeston in Norfolk, where she was born in 1865.  She became a governess, but her heart was for nursing, so she went on to train at the London Hospital, before nursing in various hospitals such as St Pancras and Manchester.

When Edith was 42, she decided to go abroad, and was appointed matron of a large training centre for nurses in Brussels. She was still there seven years later, when the First World War broke out and German troops invaded Belgium on their way to Paris and the Channel Ports.

Edith’s nursing school became a Red Cross hospital, and she turned down the opportunity to return to the safety of England. Instead, her nurses tended wounded soldiers from both German and Allied armies. 

Sadly, in 1915, when the Germans began their occupation of Brussels, they took a dim view of Edith’s work. But they would have been even more unhappy had they known she was helping to smuggle 200 British soldiers across the border into the Netherlands!

Finally, the Germans arrested Edith in August 1915, and put her into solitary confinement. They tricked her into confessing to a charge which carried the death penalty. But Edith refused to show either regret at what she had done, or any fear or bitterness towards her captors. 

On 11th October 1915, the night before her execution, Edith was visited by the Anglican chaplain to Brussels, the Revd Stirling Gahan. Together they said the words of Abide with Me, and Edith received her last Holy Communion. 

She told Gahan: “I am thankful to have had these ten weeks of quiet to get ready. Now I have had them and have been kindly treated here. I expected my sentence and I believe it was just. Standing, as I do, in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness to anyone.”

Edith was shot by a firing squad next day, on 12th October 1915.

After the war her body was exhumed and buried in Norwich Cathedral. Her memorial service in Westminster Abbey attracted thousands. A commemorative statue of her stands near Trafalgar Square.

Source : Parish Pump