A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: 'Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness...'

As a British nurse in occupied Belgium, Edith Cavell helped soldiers avoid captivity until she was betrayed and shot by a German firing squad in 1915. This remarkable account is by the Reverend H Stirling T Gahan, British chaplain in Brussels

Reverend H. Stirling T. Gahan
Saturday 10 May 2014 21:46
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Laid to rest: Edith Cavell circa 1905
Laid to rest: Edith Cavell circa 1905

On Monday evening, 11 October, I was admitted by special passport from the German authorities to the prison of Saint-Gilles, where Miss Edith Cavell had been confined for 10 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."

She further said: "I thank God for this 10 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 realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards any one."

Her funeral cortege in London in May 1919

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.

Then I said "Goodbye", and she smiled and said, "We shall meet again." The German military chaplain was with her at the end and afterwards gave her a 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."

Tomorrow: A white feather for a VC Hero

The '100 Moments' already published can be seen at: independent.co.uk/greatwar

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