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Canadian History for Kids: Edith Louisa Cavell

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One and Canadian History for Kids have assembled 31 remarkable stories about incredible people, places and events which helped shape our amazing nation.

There are many significant stories to be told about the ‘war to end all wars’.

A grateful nation never forgets a hero.

Edith Louisa Cavell was a British nurse and an influential pioneer of modern nursing in Belgium. During the First World War she saved the lives of many soldiers, both allies and enemy. She also helped almost 200 allied soldiers escape from German occupied Belgium. By helping them escape she was arrested, court-martialled, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. She was shot by a German firing squad on October 12, 1915. She was 49 years old at the time.

Before the War she was the matron of a nurse’s training school in Brussels for many years. When the War broke out she was visiting her mother in England but returned to Belgium because she felt she was needed there.

The nursing school and hospital had become a Red Cross hospital, and wounded soldiers of all nationalities were treated there. Her religious beliefs compelled her to help all those in need, both German and Allied soldiers. She also felt it her duty to help those allied soldier who would be shot escape and agreed to join the Belgian underground movement in helping more than 200 Allied soldiers to escape to neutral territory. Eventually the network was betrayed and she was arrested, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.

The night before her execution, she told the English minister that “Standing as I do, in view of God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or resentment towards anyone”. Her death caused a worldwide protest and she became a martyr.

Her remains were returned to Britain after the war and a state funeral was held at Westminster Abbey. On May 19, 1919, her body was reburied at the east side of Norwich Cathedral where a graveside service is still held each October.

Many memorials have been created around the world to remember her. In Canada, a wing of the Toronto Western Hospital has been named in her honour, there is the Cavell Building, Quinte Children’s Treatment Centre as well as the Cavell Regional School of Nursing in Belleville, Ontario, the Cavell Gardens Care Home in Vancouver, and the Edith Cavell Care Centre in Lethbridge, Alberta.

Mount Edith Cavell, a peak in Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies, named for her in 1931.

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