The Martyrdom of Nurse Edith Cavell

Day 158 of Colourisation Project – October 12

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

On this day, October 12, 1915, 49-year-old British nurse, Edith Cavell was executed by a German firing squad in Brussels, Belgium.

Her crime? Saving the lives of World War I soldiers in Brussels from all sides without favour. Along with her Belgian and French colleagues, Cavell was arrested on 5 August 1915 by local German authorities and charged with having assisted over 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium.

Edith Cavell - Colourised by Loredana Crupi

Edith Cavell – Colourised by Loredana Crupi

She was kept in solitary confinement for nine weeks after which German officers successfully extracted a confession from her.  Tried with 33 others by a German military court, Cavell was found guilty of ‘assisting men to the enemy’, and sentenced to death by firing squad.

Cavell’s execution made her an iconic symbol of martyrdom for the Allied cause and led to a rise in anti-German feeling in the United States as well as in Britain.  “What Jeanne d’Arc has been for centuries to France,” wrote one Allied journalist, “that will Edith Cavell become to the future generations of Britons.” There was such a world-wide wave of protestation that the Germans were compelled to spare the lives of the other 33 accused prisoners.

Edith Cavell, a vicar’s daughter, was an English matron of a teaching hospital and an influential pioneer of modern nursing in Belgium. Her legacy lives on today in the Cavell Nurses Trust. In 1917 funds raised by two national newspapers in memory of Edith Cavell were dedicated to the creation of at least six rest homes for nurses who had suffered in the War and needed ‘time out’ or long term care. Today this work on behalf of nurses continues on under the Nurses Trust.

Cavell’s remains were returned to Britain after the war and a state funeral was held at Westminster Abbey. On 19 May 1919, her body was reburied at the east side of Norwich Cathedral, where a graveside service is still held each October. This year marks the 99th anniversary of her death. Cavell is also commemorated in a statue in St. Martin’s Place, near Trafalgar Square which bears her famous last words ‘Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.’

Cavell is to be commemorated on £5 coin which will form part of a set to be issued by the Royal Mint marking the centenary of the war.

Her life story has been told many times over in films, plays and books. Interestingly, the first film made of her story was the 1916 Australian silent film The Martyrdom of Nurse Cavell, one of the most popular Australian silent movies ever made.


“… this I would 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 towards anyone.”  Edith Cavell – [the night before her execution.]

This entry was posted in Colorization, Colourisation, History, Photography, Women, Women in Medicine, World War 1 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Martyrdom of Nurse Edith Cavell

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