Edith Cavell in Her Own Words

Edith Cavell wrote to her cousin Eddy Cavell:  ‘Some day I am going to do something useful – something for people. They are most of them so helpless, so hurt and so unhappy’. [1]

In late July 1914 as she decided to return to Brussels: ‘My duty is with my nurses’. [2]

To her nurses as the German forces approached Brussels:  Any wounded soldier must be treated, friend or foe. Each man is a father, husband or son. As nurses you must take no part in the quarrel – our work is for humanity. The profession of nursing knows no frontiers.’  [3]

Seeing German troops entering Brussels she wrote in her diary:  ‘We were divided between pity for these poor fellows, far from their country and  their people, suffering the weariness and fatigue of an arduous campaign, and hate of a vindictive foe bringing ruin and desolation on hundreds of happy homes and to a prosperous and peaceful land.’ [4]

She invited Colonel Boger and Sergeant Meachin into her clinique on November 1 1914, knowing the possible death penalty for such assistance. In May 1915 after having helped scores of men in a similar position, she wrote to helpers in the network : ‘Don’t send any more men – but we must save them ,– if one were caught and shot it would be our fault.’ [5]

After the announcement of the death sentence on her, Edith Cavell was impassive: she felt it useless to appeal: she said later: ‘I am English and they want my life.’ [6]

After 10 weeks in solitary confinement in St Gilles prison ‘I thank God for these ten weeks of quiet. It has been like a solemn fast from earthly distractions ’ [7]

‘I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me.’ To the Revd Stirling Gahan in her meeting with him on her last night. [8]

In the same conversation  Gahan said: ‘I shall always think of you as a heroine and martyr.’ She replied: ’Don’t think of me like that: think of me simply as a nurse who tried to do her duty’. [9]

 ‘Standing as I do in the light of God and eternity, I have realised that patriotism is not enough: I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.[10]

To the Revd Gahan as he left her ‘We shall meet again’ (clearly implying in heaven).[11]

In her final letter to her nurses on the night before she was executed: ‘‘When better days come our work will again grow and resume all its power for doing good. I told you in our evening conversations that devotion would bring you true happiness and that the thought that before God you have done your duty well and with a good heart will sustain you in the hard moments of life and in the face of death.  I may have been strict, but I have loved you more than you can know.’ [12]

“The woman said to her chaplain: ‘Ask Rev Gahan to tell my loved ones that my soul I believe is safe. My conscience is clear. I die for God and for my country.’” German report on Edith Cavell’s execution [13]

[1] Rowland Ryder, Edith Cavell, Hamish Hamilton, 1975, p 14
[3] Diana Souhami, Edith Cavell, Quercus, 2010, p163
[4] Diana Souhami op cit p163
[5] Diana Souhami op cit pp 252 and 255
[6] Diana Souhami op cit p353
[7] Diana Souhami op cit p372
[8] Diana Souhami op cit p372
[9] Diana Souhami op cit p372
[10] Diana Souhami op cit p372
[11] Diana Souhami op cit p372
[12] Diana Souhami op cit p367
[13] Ref Rowland Ryder op cit p223 and Diana Souhami op cit p 327