Edith Cavell

Americans are particularly interested in the story of Edith Cavell,

because the American minister in Brussels on behalf of the American

people asked German officials to spare her life, or at least to

postpone her execution, until he might have an opportunity to see that

she was properly defended. Germany's disregard of America and the

wishes of the American people was clearly shown by the scornful manner

in which Germa
y set aside as of no importance American protests and

requests. Her action in this case was similar to her action earlier in

regard to the Lusitania, involving in both cases direct falsehoods by

representatives of the German government.

Germans wondered that the shooting of an English woman for treason

should cause a sensation, just as they wondered why even their enemies

did not applaud them for murdering more than a thousand non-combatants

on the Lusitania. They did not realize that both of these crimes

would add thousands of volunteers to the armies fighting against them,

and that they would always be recorded in history as among the most

despicable deeds of a civilized nation. Some one has said, "Attila and

his Huns were ignorant barbarians, but the modern Huns know better and

therefore they are more to be condemned."

Edith Cavell was so brave, so frank, so honest that it would seem that

even to the Germans her virtues would

plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against

The deep damnation of her taking-off.

But not so, for German education and training have evidently made the

German people look upon almost everything in a way different from that

of Americans, Englishmen, and Frenchmen. And yet the common German

people do at times show that they have a feeling of admiration, if not

of affection, for peoples of other nations; for we are told of a German

city erecting a statue to the French and English soldiers who died as

captives in the German prison located there, with the inscription, To

our Comrades, who here died for their Fatherland.

But we must remember that there are many kingdoms in Germany and cruel

Prussia rules them all. It was Prussian savagery and barbarity that

approved the massacre by the Turks of almost an entire people, the

Armenians, and it was done under the eyes of German officers. The same

is true of the wholesale slaughter of non-combatant Serbian men, women,

and children by the Bulgarians. A word from Germany would have stopped

it all.

When the war broke out, Edith Cavell was living in England with her

aged mother. She felt her duty was in Belgium and she went to Brussels

and established a private hospital. An American woman, Mary Boyle

O'Reilly of Boston, a daughter of the poet, John Boyle O'Reilly, worked

with her for a time. When Miss O'Reilly was expelled from Belgium, she

begged Miss Cavell to leave that land of horror, but Miss Cavell only

said, "My duty is here."

She and her nurses cared for many a wounded German soldier and this

alone should have insured her fair treatment, if not gratitude, from


She was arrested, kept in solitary confinement for ten weeks without

any charge being made against her; then was tried secretly for having

sheltered French and Belgian soldiers who were seeking to escape to


It is probably true that Miss Cavell did this, but the history of war

in modern times records no case where any one has been put to death for

giving shelter for a short time to a fugitive soldier. Such an act does

not, according to the custom of civilized countries, make one a spy,

nor is it treason.

Those who have investigated the case carefully have come to the

conclusion that the Germans decided to make a terrible example of some

of the women in Brussels who were sympathizing with and perhaps helping

French and Belgian soldiers to escape to Holland, for about the same

time twenty-two other women were arrested on the same charge as that

finally made against Edith Cavell.

When Brand Whitlock, the American minister, learned from an outsider

(he could get no information from the German officials) that Edith

Cavell had been condemned, he sent the following letters, one a

personal one, the other an official one, to the German commandant:



I am too ill to put my request before you in person, but once

more I appeal to the generosity of your heart. Stand by and save

from death this unfortunate woman. Have pity on her.

Your devoted friend,



I have just heard that Miss Cavell, a British subject, and

consequently under the protection of my Legation, was this

morning condemned to death by court-martial.

If my information is correct, the sentence in the present case

is more severe than all the others that have been passed in

similar cases which have been tried by the same Court, and,

without going into the reasons for such a drastic sentence, I

feel that I have the right to appeal to your Excellency's

feelings of humanity and generosity in Miss Cavell's favor, and

to ask that the death penalty passed on Miss Cavell may be

commuted and that this unfortunate woman shall not be executed.

Miss Cavell is the head of the Brussels Surgical Institute. She

has spent her life in alleviating the sufferings of others, and

her school has turned out many nurses who have watched at the

bedside of the sick all the world over, in Germany as in

Belgium. At the beginning of the war Miss Cavell bestowed her

care as freely on the German soldiers as on others. Even in

default of all other reasons, her career as a servant of

humanity is such as to inspire the greatest sympathy and to call

for pardon. If the information in my possession is correct, Miss

Cavell, far from shielding herself, has, with commendable

straightforwardness, admitted the truth of all the charges

against her, and it is the very information which she herself

has furnished, which has aggravated the severity of the sentence

passed on her.

It is then with confidence, and in the hope of its favorable

reception, that I have the honor to present to your Excellency

my request for pardon on Miss Cavell's behalf.


But no real attention was paid to the American notes. Edith Cavell was

sentenced at five o'clock on the afternoon of October 11, and was put

to death that same night.

Permission was refused to take her body for burial outside the prison.

It is doubtless still buried in the prison yard unless the Germans have

removed it for fear a monument may be erected above it. The English are

to erect a monument in her honor in London. Dr. James M. Beck, in

writing about her case, says of her burial in the prison yard, "One can

say of that burial place, as Byron said of the prison cell of Chillon:

'Let none these marks efface, for they appeal from tyranny to God.'"