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Why you need to know about WWI hero Edith Cavell’s remarkable life

Posted by
Susan Devaney
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Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the remarkable war efforts of nurse, Edith Cavell. 

You only have to look around the UK to see that most of the current statues relating to the war have been dedicated to the men who fought in battle.

But women played a vital role, too. Thankfully, their efforts are finally being recognised which is why today’s Google Doodle has been dedicated to Edith Cavell, a nurse during World War One.

Cavell, who was executed by firing squad during World War One for helping Allied soldiers escape to Belgium, risked her life to help others. Today, marks her 153rd birthday. 

Who was Edith Cavell? 

Cavell was born in Norfolk on 4 December 1865. After caring for her father in her Twenties – who was struck down with an illness – she decided to dedicate her life to nursing.

One of four, Cavell then went onto train under Matron Eva Luckes at, what is now known as Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, before taking up similar positions in Kings Cross, Manchester, Kent and Shoreditch.

In 1907, Cavell made a move to Belgium where she achieved some remarkable successes. After becoming the matron of the newly-founded nursing school L’École Belge d’Infirmières Diplômées in Brussels, she went on to become a training nurse for three hospitals, 24 schools and 13 nurseries. In 1910, she founded the medical journal L’infirmière. 

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What was her role in World War One? 

When the work broke out Cavell was in the UK visiting family. But she swiftly returned to Brussels to help treat the wounded. Cavell ensured that all of her facilities were available to all, as her biographer Diana Souhami wrote in Edith Cavell: Nurse, Martyr, Heroine, “She told her nurses that they must not take sides in the conflict. Their work was for humanity. Any wounded man must be medically treated; each was equal at the point of need.”

But Cavell’s efforts to help British and French soldiers escape were soon noticed by German authorities as a spy posed as a wounded soldier in her hospital. It’s believed she helped around 200 men.

Cavell was then found guilty of treason by a military tribunal; she later spent 10 weeks in solitary confinement. At 7am on 12 October 1915 she was led out and shot by firing squad. She was 49 years old.

To this day, the event is still regarded as one of the most shocking to occur during the war and, at the time, it caused outrage and anger in the UK.

Now, many memorials have been built in her honour – including outside Norwich Cathedral (where she is buried) and at St. Martin’s Place, London.

In 1917, the Nations’ Fund for Nurses was launched and later renamed the Cavell Nurses’ Trust which offers help to nurses and other medical professionals.

You can read more about the lives of some remarkable women here.

Images: Google 

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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for Stylist.co.uk, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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