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Nurse Edith Cavell, the life giver was known as the second Florence Nightingale of the world. The renowned nurse of Belgium held Florence Nightingale as an ideal, inspiration and followed her footsteps in many ways during WWI.

As a young girl, she had the capabilities to show unusual concern for the suffering. It was only natural and seemed inevitable that she would devote her entire life to nursing. Edith Cavell became a nurse and later ran a clinic cum nursing school in a quite suburb of Brussels.

By 1910, the name Edith Cavell was already well known in Belgium. She had earned a reputation for kindness and devotion to duty working in the squalor of the London slums. A Belgian surgeon on learning about her reputation, immediately sought her help and requested to open a nursing school in Brussels. He wanted her to raise the standard of scientific nursing in Belgium. Until then, the country?s medical standards were substandard.

Nurse Edith Cavell gracefully accepted the offer. Starting with 4 young students, she built a trained staff of more than 50 nurses from Belgium and nearby countries. There had never been a nursing school in Belgium until Nurse Edith Cavell opened this one.

She was a brilliant nurse and knew anatomy as well as a surgeon and illustrated her lectures on a large blackboard. She gave more than the required knowledge as she also imparted lessons in humanity and care giving. She dutifully followed the rules laid down by Florence Nightingale.

She was a kind soul who cared for the welfare of the nurses. The splendid progress of the school/clinic was soon to be tragically disrupted when in the summer of 1914, WWI broke out. There was panic in the school with many of the nurses insisting on leaving to their homelands. The school was almost bare only with a handful of loyal nurses left behind. Nurse Edith Cavell not for a moment thought of retaining the departing nurses. Instead she willingly bade them good bye at the station. She was large hearted and selfless to the core, a prerequisite of any nurse.

She carried on with her job in Brussels and stayed put at the school. Then one day, there appeared an ominous reddish glow on the the unmistakable rumble of cannon and the dreaded sound of war.The soldiers arrived and asked Nurse Edith Cavell to vacate the school and take refuge in neutral Holland. But the brave nurse refused. She stayed back with her loyal nurses.

Brussels was filling up with battle casualties and Nurse Edith Cavell felt that it was her prime concern to nurse the wounded soldiers.

It was war time, supplies were scarce and edibles were rationed. There was scarcity everywhere. Yet she found great satisfaction in her service and sustained herself through these difficult times with her unflagging spirit. She sent her loyal nurses to France to care for soldiers and willingly parted with them.

Amidst all these activities, her nursing school/clinic had become a haven for escaping Allied soldiers. There was a warning in the city against such activity.

The German army swept across Belgium into France. A school teacher named Louise Thuliez searched the abandoned battle fields for lost and wounded Allied soldiers. She would carry them to a chateau in a deep forest and an Engineer named Hermann Capian would provide them with forged identification papers. Both of them would then bring the wounded soldiers to Nurse Edith Cavell?s to be hidden and treated. Then under the cover of darkness, she would take them to guides who would smuggle them to the border of Holland for escape. It was a tiny but effective underground operation and Philip Baucq an architect was one of the leaders.

Soon the Germans became suspicious of the school and its clandestine activities. The soldiers ransacked Nurse Edith Cavell?s office and interrogated her and the loyal nurses endlessly. Not satisfied with their replies, they arrested Edith Cavell and put her in ancient St. Gilles prison. Almost all the underground leaders who helped the nurse were rounded up and put in prison. They were later placed on trial for their lives.

Madame Edith Cavell was placed in a small cell with a single high barred window. She regretted nothing and was always found calm and quite. She said, she did her duty of saving lives and if she was put to death for serving mankind, she was prepared for it.

At her trial, Nurse Edith Cavell refused to lie. In a calm clear voice, she admitted that she indeed tended, nursed, cared and helped soldiers to escape. Over 200 English, French and Belgium soldiers escaped with the help of Edith Cavell. She also added that it was her duty to save lives. She was sentenced to death. Madame Edith Cavell was to be executed the morning after the verdict was announced. The United States Embassy, as influential neutrals tried to intervene and save Edith Cavell from the death penalty. The Spanish ambassador joined them to plead her case with the German ministry. Alas, they failed in their endeavours.

The next morning around 4 a.m. the great Nurse Edith Cavell was taken to the rifle range in a military car. It was said she did not show a single sign of nervousness or helplessness before her execution by the firing squad.

Madame Edith Cavell laid down her life for humanity.

We salute the spirit of Edith Cavell.


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