Who was Edith Cavell and what did she do to become a history hero?

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kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Born in Norfolk in 1865, Edith Cavell worked first as a governess in Belgium before returning to England to train as a nurse. When World War One broke out in 1914, Cavell was on holiday in England but promptly returned to Belgium, a country she had grown to love. As she later said, "at a time like this, I am needed more than ever."

In Belgium, her role was to care for sick and injured soldiers and, according to her biographer, Diana Souhami, she did not care about the nationalities of these men. In her opinion, each man was a "father, a husband, a son" and she cared for just as many German soldiers as Allies.

The problem was, however, that Cavell had begun smuggling some of the Allied soldiers across the Belgian border and into neutral Holland. She was arrested for this crime by the Germans in August 1915 and executed by firing squad on October 12.  

According to historian, Laura Clouting, her death was used to "galvanise public opinion against the Germans" and to encourage more men to join the Army. In fact, the number of British recruits doubled, from 5000 to 10000, in the week after her execution. It is, however, important to remember that Cavell was instrumental in saving the lives of many soldiers and this is why she is remembered as a true heroine. 

bowmore34yr | Student

Edith Cavell was an English nurse living in Belgium during the early part of World War 1. Once Belgium was defeated by Germany, who pushed out the Allied armies, Ms. Cavell began harboring Allied prisoners of war and smuggling them out to Holland, which was neutral in the conflict.

She succeeded in helping 75 Allied soldiers to safety, as well as over 100 Belgians of military age. The German police found out about this through an informant and arrested her for treason; she was executed in October 1915.

There are two reasons she is famous today. First, her case became a major part of Allied propaganda; second, she had helped so many wounded soldiers that she became famous for her humanitarianism.