Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, October 12, 2015

100 Years Ago: Edith Cavell Executed by the German Military

Account by Reverend H. Stirling Gahan on the Execution of Edith Cavell

On Monday evening, October 11th, I was admitted by special passport from the German authorities to the prison of St. Gilles, where Miss Edith Cavell had been confined for ten weeks. The final sentence had been given early that afternoon. To my astonishment and relief I found my friend perfectly calm and resigned. But this could not lessen the tenderness and intensity of feeling on either part during that last interview of almost an hour.

Her first words to me were upon a matter concerning herself personally, but the solemn asseveration which accompanied them was made expressedly in the light of God and eternity.

She then added that she wished all her friends to know that she willingly gave her life for her country, and said: “I have no fear nor shrinking; I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me.”

The Execution Site:  Formerly a Rifle Range, Now a Memorial Cemetery

She further said: “I thank God for this ten weeks’ quiet before the end.” “Life has always been hurried and full of difficulty.” “This time of rest has been a great mercy.” “They have all been very kind to me here. But 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 any one.”

We partook of the Holy Communion together, and she received the Gospel message of consolation with all her heart. At the close of the little service I began to repeat the words, “Abide with me,” and she joined softly in the end. We sat quietly talking until it was time for me to go. She gave me parting messages for relations and friends. She spoke of her soul’s needs at the moment and she received the assurance of God’s Word as only the Christian can do.

Nurse Cavell Quickly Became a Public Relations Catastrophe for Germany

Then I said “Good-by,” and she smiled and said, “We shall meet again.” The German military chaplain was with her at the end and afterwards gave her Christian burial. He told me: “She was brave and bright to the last. She professed her Christian faith and that she was glad to die for her country. She died like a heroine.”

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. II; Images from Tony Langley and Steve Miller


  1. Much is made of this event. However, Britain, which of course condemned this, executed Boer soldiers and non- combatants, burned to the ground Boer civilian home, and then placed women and children into concentration camps from which 25,000 innocents died. This all happened a mere 12 years earlier during the Boer War. Yet the British criticized Germans for the same type of atrocities that they carried out during the previous war.

  2. Gives force to the saying... One death is a tragedy, but thousands are a statistic.