Patriotism is not Enough: Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell - Hospital

Edith Cavell

Few people catch the heartfelt thoughts of one so brave, but one-hundred years ago, during the early part of the First World War (1914-1918).  Edith Cavell sacrificed her life for her fellow man, and became an English Martyr for her beliefs.

I don’t think anyone expected that the German Military Prussian officers would actually have her executed.  Yet she was gunned down in a hail of bullets, for assisting allied soldiers out of Belgium, and home to Britain, on 12th October 1915.  Following the end of the war she was moved to her final resting place in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral, and since that day a small Rememberance Service has been held by her graveside, each and every year.

We should not forget the price she paid; her life!

On the 4th December 1865, in the quiet Norfolk village of Swardeston, 4½ miles south of Norwich, an English Martyr was born; Edith Louisa Cavell.  Neither Louisa her mother or her father the Reverend Frederick Cavell, could have imagined as they held their child for the first time, she would be executed during the First World War, for doing her duty as a nurse.

In her early years Edith was tutored by her father, and later educated privately.  At 16 she left home to attend firstly Norwich High School and other schools including Laurel Court, until she was 19, and had become fluent in the French language, this was a factor which would shape her future.

In 1886, the Reverend Powell of Steeple Bumstead in North Essex, appointed Edith as governess to his children.  In 1890, she was forced to seek new employment, when the children reached an age, where they no longer needed a governess.  This led to short term appointments, working for prominent families in the banking industry.  She was remembered for having a good sense of humour and kindness to all children in her care.

In her mid twenties, she was left a small legacy, and for the first time travelled around Europe.  Whilst visiting Austria, she visited a Free Hospital which had impressed her so much, that she endowed part of her legacy to it.

Upon the recommendation of Margaret Gibson, head teacher at Laurel Court, Edith was appointed as governess to the children of Mr & Mrs Paul Francois; a prominent lawyer in Brussels.

Whilst educating Margarite; Georges; Helene and Eveline Francois, so began her association with Belgium. Each summer she returned to Swardeston the family home, and it is here she fell in love with Eddie her second cousin. They were never married, as he’d feared he had inherited a nervous illness.  Her time in Belgium was short lived, for in June 1895, news reached her, that her father was seriously ill, forcing her to resign her post and return home, and nurse him back to good health.  It was during these months, whilst nursing her father, she realised there needed to be a change in her future, no longer a ‘governess’, but a nurse.  In the December of 1895, she started work at the Fountains Fever Hospital in south-west London, and was accepted in April 1896, for nursing training at the London hospital in Whitechapel.  Her early years must have been a gruelling introduction, as both poverty and poor health, were always high on the agenda.  By 1903 she was Assistant Matron at Shoreditch Infirmary.

Edith Cavell Portrait

Dr Antoine Depage a leading surgeon, responsible for Belgium’s first training school for nurses, appointed Edith Cavell to the post of Matron in 1907.  The Belgium people at that time considered it a disgrace for a woman to work. Their views changed when the Queen of Belgium broke her arm, and called upon the training clinic for assistance.  Overnight nursing became an accepted career for women, with an influx of many new nurses.  By the time Europe found itself at war in August 1914, the college and clinic were well established.

Whilst visiting her widowed mother in 1914, news reached her that the Germans had invaded Belgium on route to France, hastily she returned taking charge of the Red Cross Hospital in Brussels.  The invading forces cornered the Belgium population including Edith, and by the autumn of 1914, only the south-east sector remained in Allied hands.

Edith as a protected member of the Red Cross sacrificed her conscience to help some 200 allied soldiers.  Through a network, she secretly nursed and aided their escape via neutral Holland to safety in Britain.  She always knew she risked execution if she was caught.  The network was compromised, and Edith was arrested on the 5th August 1915 along with other members.

Whilst being interrogated Edith, was alleged to have ‘confessed’ to her part in nursing and assisting the escape of Allied troops, and was detained in solitary confinement prior to her trial.  The German Military Authorities; Prussian officers, found Edith guilty of spying.  Appeals were put forward for clemency by Brand Whitlock, the United States Ambassador to Brussels at that time.  His request for clemency was denied, and the German authorities pronounced the death sentence on the 8th October, and Edith was shot by a firing squad on the 12th October 1915.

Edith said to an English chaplain before her execution.  “I realise patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

A life spent caring for others came to an abrupt halt by a hail of bullets.

The violent execution of such a devoted woman, brought outrage from Britain and the allied countries.

Following her execution in Belgium, she had been hurriedly buried beneath a plain wooden cross, which is now located at St.Mary’s Church in Swardeston, along with a stained glass window in the east dedicated to her.

On the 13th May 1919, her body was exhumed, and brought to St.Paul’s Cathedral where a memorial service was held in her honour.  A special train from Liverpool Street Station to Norwich Station had been laid on, complete with military escort, an honour usually bestowed on royalty.

Edith Cavell - Norwich

Edith carried through Norwich’s streets

Her body was carried through the streets of Norwich, as crowds welcomed home an English Martyr.  She was buried in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral, just outside the south wall, in a spot known as ‘Life’s Green,” on the 15th May 1919.

Edith Cavell GraveThe simple grave is kept bright with colourful and fresh flowers, all year round, as a mark of respect to one so brave… Norfolk’s English Martyr; Edith Cavell.

Images:
Carried Through Norwich: Norfolk Women in History.

Edith Cavell: Wikipedia

Swedish Martyr: Raoul Wallenberg

Raoul Wallenberg

Raoul Wallenberg was born on the 4th August 1912, into a family of bankers, diplomats and politicians in Stockholm, Sweden.  His interests lay in architecture.  He went on to graduate in the Russian language in 1930 and in 1931 studied architecture at the Ann Arbor Michigan University gaining a bachelor’s degree in science and architecture in 1935.

He returned to Sweden in 1935, seeking employment, but the options were limited.  Gustav Wallenberg, his grandfather arranged six months work in Cape Town then onto Hafia, Palenstine working in a Dutch Bank.

It was here, Raoul had his eyes opened for him, with regards to actions taken by Germany, from Jews he had come into contact with, who had fled Hitler’s new Germany.

He travelled through Nazi-occupied France and Germany, for a Swedish based import and export firm, owned by Koloman Lauer, an Hungarian Jew.

In the spring of 1944, the world understood what Hitler’s final solution to the Jewish problem actually meant.  In the May, eyewitness accounts of what was taking place at Auschwitz reached the world.

Germany transported Jews out of Hungary after the country’s occupation by German forces on the 19th March 1944, sending them to Poland and certain death.

Budapest feared what was to come for them.  The Swedish Legation in Budapest, arranged through Hungarian authorities a passport, as issued to Swedish citizens.  What started out as 700 was suddenly running out of control, for thousands of Jews required these passports for survival.

Raoul was recruited by the U.S. War Refugee and in June 1944 appointed Secretary of the Swedish diplomatic mission in Budapest, taking up his post in July 1944.

Raoul Wallenberg struggled against the German authorities, and proved to be a thorn in their side an unwelcome witness to their atrocities.

Wallenberg created so called “Swedish Houses” which hung the flag of Sweden over its door, advertising to all, it is Swedish territory.  It was a place where Jews could seek shelter.  Passports were issued, stating they be under the protection of Sweden’s neutrality, it didn’t take long for other countries to open their houses, offering shelter to the Jews.

When Russian forces arrived in Budapest, they found 120,000 Jews had survived the round-up by German forces.

On the 17th January 1945, Raoul Wallenburg was escorted to the Soviet Headquarters in Debrecen, East of Budapest, never to be seen or heard from again.

According to Soviet prison officials, he is believed to have died in 1947, yet the exact date and circumstances of his death, remains unknown to this day…

If one travels to Jerusalem, there stands “Yad Vashem” a memorial to murdered Jews of World War Two.  In the “Avenue of the Righteous” stands a line of trees, to non-Jewish individuals who risked their lives to save Jews.  A plaque on one of the trees is dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg.

In 1981, Raoul Wallenberg was declared an honary citizen of the United States, and in 1985 of Canada, and in 1986 of Israel.

Since the end of Second World War, both Sweden and the United States continue to ask the same question, time and time again; what happened to Raoul Wallenberg!

Thomas Becket Slain…

thomas-beckett-by-early-british-kingdoms

Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket was born on the 21st December 1118, which was also the feast day of St.Thomas the Apostle.  The son of Gilbert Becket and his wife Matilda from France, a London Merchant and Sheriff of the city.

Becket was educated at Merton Priory in Surrey, then Paris.  Whilst studying abroad, his father’s fortune took a terrible crumble, and he was forced to return home.  For three years worked as an auditor in the City of London, also served as secretary to Lord Pevensey’s secretary.

By the time he reached his mid-twenties, had moved onwards and upwards, and worked within the Theobald household, for the Archbishop of Canterbury.  It was during this time; he entered the world of power and policy within the church, and then went on to study canon law at Bologna and Auxerre in Italy.

In the year 1154, Henry II was crowned King of England, and Becket was his Lord Chancellor, a post recommended by the then Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops, looking for a protector and defender of their rights.

It wasn’t long before the same Bishops who had recommended

Becket for the post of Lord Chancellor complained that he had forgotten the interests of the church.

His reply to these Bishops: I follow the rules of the church, and in the eyes of God remain a devout believer in a court full of promiscuous behaviour and over indulgence.  I attend mass at dawn and pray late into the night.

In 1162 Thomas Becket was nominated as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, and on the 23rd May 1162 confirmed by the council of bishops and nobleman, and ordained on the 2nd June and consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury on the 3rd June.

Henry had expected Becket would continue his work putting the royal government first, in front of those of the church.  This was not to be for he resigned his post as Lord Chancellor, to become a champion of ecclesiastical claims, which would see a rift grow between King Henry and Thomas Becket.

Henry, who believed in the rights of the justice system, was provoked by several errors, in the church courts, claiming the right to punish clerical criminals, after they have been degraded by the bishop’s court.  Becket felt compelled to oppose the King’s request, this angered him immensely.  Becket carried the full support of the bishops with him; but neither they nor the pope were prepared to go to any lengths in opposing Henry.  Eventually having to concede to Henrys demands, but not willingly.

Following the stand down by myself and the bishop’s, Henry put forward a document known as the ‘Constitutions of Clarendon’ relating to the way the church is run, but contrary to Cannon Law?

Becket was angered by this document, and the quarrel between Becket and Henry erupted once again, over how the church should be run.

Becket forced the King’s hand, which outraged him.

At Northampton Castle a council was held to fine Thomas Becket and charge him with alleged offences in his personal and ministerial life.

Before the King could have Becket formally charged for these offences, he escaped to France taking refuge in the Abbey of Pontigny, where he remained in exile for six years.

Whilst in exile, Becket gathered support from loyal followers for his cause, however, the pope and did not condone his actions.

In 1167, the King’s anger, enraged that the exiled archbishop had found safe refuge, decreed, that all English scholars studying on the continent were to return home.  Many students and teachers alike, gathered at Oxford, here they tried to re-create the scholarly atmosphere they had experienced in Paris and other universities in France.

Britain’s oldest university ‘Oxford’, owes its origin to the quarrel between King Henry II and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.

As the year 1170 drew to a close.  The conflict which had divided England for the past six years, was reaching its climax.  It was in early December that Becket agreed to meet Henry in Normany, and there they reconciled their differences.

Thomas Becket had remained in exile over the King’s demands to have control over the church.  These demands were limitless.  Henry, had forbidden  the clergy to exercise their given rights, to appeal to Rome as the final authority in matters relating to the church.  Furthermore, he had ordered the priests of England to take an oath, against the pope.

When Becket returned to Canterbury he publicly excommunicated his enemies from the pulpit of the cathedral on Christmas Day 1170, to the utter disgust of Henry.

This was the final straw, Henry could take no more, he had met Becket in Normandy to discuss their differences and this is what he does in return.  In a moment of anger, Henry said, “idle cowards of my court, who stand by while this miserable priest insults me to my face”.  These hasty words were enough to inspire a deed, which shocked the whole of Christendom.

Four knights, Reginald FitzUrse, William de Tracy, Hugh de Morville and Richard le Breton took the King at his word.  To get rid of him, would surely be of great service to the realm.  They left the royal court and made their way to Canterbury.  There they had planned to arrest the archbishop Thomas Becket, imprison him to await the King’s pleasure, if this was not possible, they would take it upon themselves to kill him.

By the time the knights had reached Canterbury on December 29, 1170, crowds had gathered outside the cathedral, amid rumours of violence and murder.  FitzUrse ordered his men to stand guard at the cathedral gates, whilst he and his three loyal followers sought out Thomas Becket.

Upon hearing the commotion outside, Becket was escorted into the cathedral by the monks, fearing for his safety.

Moments later, the knights burst through the cathedral doors.  “Where is Thomas Becket, traitor to his king and kingdom? demanded FitzUrse.

“I am here, no traitor but a priest of God and an archbishop, “Becket replied from the steps leading to the High Altar.

It was here Becket was slain on the steps leading to the  High Altar by Reginal FitzUrse and his trusted followers, from King Henry II’s court.

But Thomas Becket had the final word, an eyewitness to the tragedy wrote that “the sun’s gaze was averted, its ray’s hidden from the earth and the day veiled in darkness…a terrible storm cloud overhung the firmament, the rain fell suddenly and swiftly and the thunder rolled around the heavens.  After this, the sky turned a deep red in token of the blood which had been shed in horror at the outrage.”

shrine-of-thomas-becket

Shrine dedicated to Thomas Becket

Within three years of this brutal murder, Thomas Becket, had been canonised by Pope Alexander III, and his tomb had become a shrine, for pilgrims from all over Europe.

It was one of those symbolic acts which colour and fortify the convictions of the many.  The few who were closely involved had to extricate themselves.

The penance of the four knights was fourteen years’ service with the Knights Templar in the Holy Land.

The King had to provide 200 knights for a year for the defence of Jerusalem.

In 1174, King Henry II himself was forced into doing a public penance – being whipped in Canterbury Cathedral on the site of Becket’s murder.

But this did not stop him in his purpose.  He succeeded in bringing the English Church, under royal control – a position which his successors, never lost.

Becket had failed in his ongoing struggle, by opposing the King, at every turn, as the rightful head of the Church.  He was slain in his own cathedral for his actions, and became a martyr to his cause.

For the next 360 yrs, his memory lived on in the shrine dedicated to him, and became one of the greatest centres of pilgrimages in the Christian world.

Becket’s fame spread further.  In the Holy Land, an order of Christian Knights was founded in his memory.

In the 1530’s, England broke with the Roman Catholic Church, and in 1536 an act of Parliament by order of Henry VIII saw the dissolution of the smaller monasteries, and this act was followed by the dissolution of Abbey’s in 1539.  Henry VIII ordered the shrine to be destroyed, and all the rich gifts, which had been lavished upon it over the centuries-confiscated.

But even this action could not destroy the legend, of a man of God, who perished for his beliefs.

Today, a plaque marks the spot in Canterbury Cathedral, where Archbishop Thomas Becket paid with his life in 1170 for his opposition to King Henry II’s demands.

Wikipedia Images