A ceremony to honor World War I heroine Edith Cavell was held recently in Norwich, England and taking part in the remembrance was American Red Cross Nurse Terri Arthur, author of a book about Cavell.
The British World War I heroine was a nurse in Belgium who served as matron of a nursing school at the Berkendael Medical Institute in Brussels. With the 1914 German occupation of Belgium, Cavell joined the Red Cross and both her school and the Institute were converted into Red Cross hospitals for wounded soldiers of all nationalities.
Many of the captured Allied soldiers treated at Berkendael subsequently escaped to Holland. Some escaped from the hospital but most were soldiers brought to Cavell by members of the underground. Cavell was arrested in 1915 by local German authorities, charged with having aided in the escape of as many as 200 soldiers. Kept in solitary confinement for ten weeks, Cavell was tricked into a confession, pronounced guilty of treason and executed by firing squad on October 12, 1915.
Arthur, author of the book “Fatal Decision: Edith Cavell WWI Nurse,” was invited to join the ceremony honoring Cavell at the Norwich Cathedral, where she is buried. “Edith Cavell’s story started a long way from home in Brussels, Belgium, where she was asked to go to start the first professional school of nursing in 1907,” Arthur explained. “When World War I broke out, everything she built up was lost under the German regime during their occupation of Belgium. Her hospital was turned into a Red Cross hospital where she nursed wounded German and Allied soldiers by day, and worked with the underground to rescue Allied soldiers by night.
“After nine months of risking her own safety, she was arrested for harboring the enemy, tried without legal representation, and executed for treason by firing squad. She admitted to helping 200 soldiers escape out of the country although some historians place that number at closer to a thousand.”
Arthur represented the American Red Cross and was the first from the United States to ever take part in the ceremony to honor the British nurse. “The ceremony is to remind us of Miss Cavell’s extraordinary courage and self-sacrifice in the face of oppression and the brutality of war,” she said.
When Arthur attended the 90th memorial ceremony eight years ago, a British reporter questioned why an American was there. “Since the publication of my book, the Norwich nurses now refer to me as ‘The American Cavellite.’” This year she not only took part in the ceremony, but laid a poppy wreath on Cavell’s grave on behalf of the American Red Cross which read “in remembrance of Edith Cavell and all that she gave.”