Monday 12 October 2009

12th October 1915

From time to time I like to look back at those 'what happened on this day' pages you find on the internet. Today's date brought a vague connection with me via my daughters. Firstly, the hospital in Peterborough where Shosh was admitted to have grommets put into her ears is named after this particular woman, and secondly Stamford High School, where both Shosh and Olivia spent their secondary education, has her name as one of the four in their house system. Each of their houses is named after famous women renowned for their courage, talent and great determination to succeed - Anderson, Beale, Eliot and Cavell. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917) was the first female doctor in Britain and a committed feminist. Dorothea Beale (1865-1915) was one of the first students at Queen’s College for Women and their first woman Mathematics Tutor - she later became the Vice-President of the Central Society for Women’s Suffrage. George Eliot (1819-1880), born Mary Ann Evans, was a successful author of eight hugely popular novels, and was the highest paid Victorian novelist and an idol of her time. Edith Cavell (1865-1915) trained as a nurse at the London Hospital and became the first Matron of the Berkendael Medical Institute in Brussels.

It is the latter of these four women about whom this posting is written today. Edith Cavell was born on 4th December 1865 near Norwich, and became known as one of those women throughout history who tirelessly helped others without regard for her own safety.

During the First World War, after the German occupation of Brussels, she helped 200 soldiers escape to Holland and was arrested on 3rd August 1915 charged with harbouring Allied soldiers. She was held in St Gilles prison for 10 weeks, the last few weeks in solitary confinement and was court-martialled for treason. She was executed on this day, 12th October, 1915 at the age of 49. After the war, her body brought back to England for a memorial service at Westminster Abbey and then to Norwich, to finally be laid to rest at on May 19, 1919, near the memorial that had been unveiled in October 1918 by Queen Alexandra in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral.

The night before her execution, she told the Reverend Stirling Gahan, the Anglican chaplain who had been allowed to see her, "Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone." Her final words to the German prison chaplain, Paul Le Seur, were recorded as, "Ask Father Gahan to tell my loved ones later on that my soul, as I believe, is safe, and that I am glad to die for my country."

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