The Execution Of Miss Cavell

[The Independent; November 1, 1915]

On the morning of October 12, Miss Edith Cavell, an English nurse, was shot in Brussels by a German firing squad in accordance with a sentence of the military court. She had been arrested August 5 with thirty-four others on the charge of aiding British and French soldiers and Belgian young men to escape from Belgium and enter the Allied armies. It appears from the evidence that she used the Medical Institute at Brussels, of which she was principal, to shelter soldiers and recruits until they could be conveyed away by night to the Dutch border. The head of this "underground railroad" was Prince Reginald de Croy, of Bellingnies, who has not been apprehended. But among the prisoners were his wife, Princess Marie de Croix, and a French countess, Jeanne de Belleville, and many prominent Belgians. After the trial of three days eight of the accused were condemned to death. At the solicitation of the Pope, the King of Spain, and the American Ambassador at Berlin the Kaiser pardoned Princess de Belleville and some others, but Miss Cavell was executed the morning after her sentence, altho Brand Whitlock, the American Minister to Belgium, used his utmost efforts to have the sentence suspended long enough for an appeal to the Emperor. The Spanish Minister and Mr. Whitlock interceded for clemency with the German Governor General of Belgium, Baron von der Lancken, but he replied that the military regarded the death penalty imperative.

Miss Cavell's hearing before the court was frank and courageous. She admitted the charges and even added to the evidence by saying the soldiers she had aided to escape had written from England to thank her. When asked by the president of the court if she wished to petition the Kaiser for pardon she contemptuously refused to take advantage of the opportunity. M. Kirsches, advocate of the Belgian Court of Appeals, was assigned to her defense, but the court fund her guilty and according to German military law the penalty was death. Mr. Gahan, the British chaplain, who visited the prison to administer communion, reported her last words before her execution as follows:

I wish all my friends to know that I willingly give my life for my country. I have no fear nor shrinking. I have seen death so often it is not strange or fearful to me. I thank God for this ten weeks of quiet before the end. My life always has been hurried and full of difficulty. This time the rest has been a great mercy to me. They have all been very kind to me here, but this I say, standing as I do in view of God and eternity: I realize that patriotism is not enough; I must have no hatred or bitterness toward any one.

When led out for execution she wore a small Union Jack upon her bodice. She refused to have her eyes bandaged but face the rifles bravely. The execution has aroused an outburst of indignation in Holland and the United States as well as England. Recruiting jumped ten thousand in England because of the news.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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