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British nurse executed by Germans
Edith Cavell, taken from a French memorial booklet in the wake of her execution in 1915 Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

British nurse executed by Germans

Brussels, 29 October 1915 - A British nurse was executed earlier this month by German officers in Brussels for helping soldiers escape to England.

For more than nine months, Edith Cavell had helped British, Belgian and French soldiers to escape from Belgium. During a two day trial, Miss Cavell admitted that she had helped the soldiers traverse the Dutch frontier because she feared that if the soldiers were discovered they would be shot by the Germans.

Footage, courtesy of British Pathé, of the memorial service for Miss Cavell, which took place on 29 October 1915 in St Paul's in London.

Happy to die for her country

Following her case, Miss Cavell was allowed to see a clergyman who administered Holy Communion and heard her confession. She told him that she perfectly well knew what she had done, that according to the law, of course, she was guilty and had admitted her guilt, but that she was happy to die for her country: ‘I have no fear nor shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me.’

The Queen Mother (left), the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith (centre) and the Postmaster-General, Herbert Samuel (right) arriving at St Paul's Cathedral in London of the memorial service in honour of Edith Cavell. (Image: Illustrated London News [London, England], 6 Novemeber 1915)

Attempts by the British and American governments to secure a lesser sentence proved futile and Miss Cavell was executed by firing squad. In response to severe criticism from official and media sources, the Germans published an official response earlier this week: ‘It is, indeed, hard that a woman has to be executed. But think what a State is to come to which is at war  if it allows to pass unnoticed a crime against the safety of its armies because it is committed by women.’

‘A man and a woman are equal before the law, and only the degree of guilt makes a difference in sentence for a crime and its consequences.’

A memorial service in honour of Miss Cavell was held earlier today in St Paul's Cathedral in London. Amongst those in attendance was the Queen mother and the Prime Minister, Mr Asquith.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.