Edith Cavell: 5 Major Achievements
Worldhistoryedu.com discuses the key talking points from the life and war heroics of renowned British nurse Edith Cavell. This national war hero is credited with saving the lives of several hundreds of Allied soldiers by smuggling them out of Belgium. She also nursed many wounded soldiers, both Allied and Central Powers, back to health. Fully aware that those noble actions of her would cost her own life, Cavell remained resolute and never flinched in helping those that needed her help. In the end, she was sentenced to death (on October 12, 1915) by the German government for helping enemies of the German people.
Edith Cavell: Birth and Family
On December 4, 1865, Edith Cavell was born in Swardeston, Norfolk, England. Her parents were Reverend Frederick Cavell and Louisa Sophia Warming. Her father was a renowned vicar who served for close to half a century. She had three siblings – Florence, Mary Lillian, and John Frederick.
Edith Cavell attained her high school education at Norwich High School for Girls. From there, she attended boarding schools in places like Somerset, Peterborough and Clevedon.
Early career as a governess
Between 1890 and 1895, Cavell worked as a governess in Brussels, where she was responsible for tutoring young children. Around 1895, she went back to England to tend to her father who was ill. It was around this time, her interest in nursing ignited, and she enrolled at the London Hospital to train as a nurse.
5 Major Accomplishments of Edith Cavell
Worldhistoryedu.com concisely presents five of the greatest accomplishments of British nurse and famous WWI hero and humanitarian, Edith Cavell.
Recipient of the Maidstone Medal
After her training as a nurse, she became a travelling nurse. Cavell took immense pleasure in helping those that were in need of medical help. She travelled around the country, tending to patients with all sorts of ailments, including gout, pneumonia, appendicitis and cancer. Edith Cavell also distinguished herself very well while working at the Shoreditch Infirmary (currently called St Leonard’s Hospital, Hackney, North London)
For her tireless efforts during the typhoid epidemic in Maidstone, Kent, England, Edith Cavall received the Maidstone Medal in 1897. She went on to have brief stints as the matron of the Manchester and Salford Sick and Poor and Private Nursing Institution.
First matron of L’École Belge d’Infirmières Diplômées
After being impressed by her dedication to the nursing profession, Dr. Antoine Depage – Belgian royal surgeon and founder and president of the Belgian Red Cross – appointed Cavell as the matron of his nursing school L’École Belge d’Infirmières Diplômées (known in English as Berkendael Medical Institute).
The school, which was located in Ixelles, Brussels, Belgium, allowed Edith Cavell to put her past experiences in Brussels to good use; she was adequately fluent in the French language and had a strong desire to help students. It has been stated that she trained and imparted the best standards in nursing to a great number of nurses while at the school.
Edith Cavell established a nursing journal called L’infirmière
Realizing how the religious organizations-run hospitals in Brussels at the time were not at par in terms of medical standards, Cavell worked very hard to impart in her colleagues modern nursing standards. Therefore, she established L’infirmière – a nursing journal – to promote this cause of hers.
Recognized as the patroness of modern nursing in Belgium
By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, Edith Cavell had successfully worked with a number of sponsors, including Depage, to set up a secular hospital in Saint-Gilles, Brussels. She was then appointed as matron of the hospital. In that position of hers, she trained countless nurses an midwives. Her impact on modern nursing in Belgium caused many to refer to her as the patroness of modern nursing in Brussels.
Cavell put her life on the line to tend to wounded soldiers on both sides during WWI
According to historians and biographers, when World War I erupted in 1914, Edith Cavell was in the comfort of her home in England comforting her mother who had just lost her husband. Being an absolute altruistic nurse, she made her to Brussels to take up her former position in the hospital. She was filled by an unquenchable desire to do her very best to mitigate the hellish situation that was unfolding in Belgium, which was by then almost under the control of German troop.
Not fearing for her life, Cavell started shielding wounding British and French troops in the basement of her hospital. She would then smuggle them out to neighboring Holland. In many cases, she attended to severely sick ones before covertly transporting them away from Belgium. With the help of her accomplice Prince Réginald de Croy, she went to great lengths to procure fake identification cards for the fleeing soldiers.
What made her actions the nobler was that she tended to soldiers on both sides – i.e Allied and Central Powers. She admonished nurses that discriminated against injured German soldiers. The respect and dignity she showed to people in dire need of help are some of the reasons why she is regarded as one of the greatest nurses of the 20th century.
Read More: Major Causes of World War I
Edith Cavell: Trial and Execution
Following an undercover investigation by the German authorities, Edith Cavell’s underground smuggling operation was discovered. She was subsequently arrested on 3rd August 1915. For helping enemies of Germany escape, the altruistic nurse was charged with treason. In what was only going to be one possible outcome, Cavell was found guilty and handed a life sentence to be carried out by firing squad.
All throughout the trial, she was imprisoned at the Saint-Gilles prison. She was also placed in solitary confinement for a while. Regardless of those harsh conditions, she maintained a very composed outlook and spoke articulately during the trial, which took just two days before the judgment was pronounced.
After the end of the war, Cavell’s body, which was first buried at the Saint-Gilles prison, was exhumed and sent to her home country to be given a proper burial on May 19, 1919. Her final resting place is at Norwich Cathedral.
Legacy of Edith Cavell
Edith Cavell’s unflinching dedication to freedom and the course of human progress continues to serve as an inspiration to the world. Such was her impact that a state funeral was organized (on May 15, 1919) for her at Westminster Abbey – a honor often reserved for Britons that have distinguished themselves to a great extent. She, thus, shares that honor with the likes of Sir Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.
Did you know: Edith Cavell was such a celebrated figure in the history of Britain that she is venerated by the Church of England? Her feast day is on 12 October, which was the day she was executed.