Today’s Google Doodle has recognised a Christian nurse in the First World War who treated injured soldiers on both sides at great personal cost.
Edith Cavell was born near Norwich on 4 December 1865, the daughter of an Anglican vicar.
Guided by her strong Christian beliefs, her life embodied the service of others, and the need to love everyone, including her enemies.
Governess to nurse
Cavell started out as a governess, caring for and educating the children of a vicar in Essex. Her fluency in French would eventually see her take up a similar position in Brussels.
After five years, she returned to England to care for her father, which prompted her to change career to become a nurse, and she set out to work in London.
“my soul, as I believe, is safe”
Cavell won an award for her work during a typhoid endemic, and was considered good enough for private nursing, but her faith drove her to work at St Pancras Infirmary – a hospital for the destitute.
In 1907, she was invited to train Belgian nurses at the country’s first nursing school.
It quickly came to the public’s attention when the Queen of Belgium herself requested a nurse from the school to attend to her when she broke her arm.
The Great War
When war broke out, she turned the school – which was now in occupied territory – into a hospital for soldiers, declaring that it would care for patients regardless of their nationality.
Most of the soldiers she treated were German, but she faced a dilemma when two Allied soldiers were brought in.
She did not feel she could treat them and then hand them over to the Germans who would surely execute them, and so she worked with a group of sympathetic Belgians to smuggle the soldiers into the neutral Netherlands.
Arrest and execution
The underground network survived for almost a year before Cavell was betrayed to the Germans by one of her patients.
She was arrested on 3 August 1915, and was sentenced to death for helping 60 British and 15 French soldiers to escape.
Before her execution, she took communion with an Anglican chaplain, Revd Gahan, reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the hymn Abide With Me.
Moments before her death by firing squad, she said: “tell my loved ones later on that my soul, as I believe, is safe, and that I am glad to die for my country.”