We have been talking about Edith Cavell, an English nurse who had dedicated her life to the care of the poor, and ended up running a hospital in Belgium, where she found herself in the direct line of danger when Germany attacked France by sending its armies through neutral Belgium to outflank the French army and quickly crush France so that it could turn its attention to defeating Russia.
Edith Cavell was so dedicated to treating anyone who needed care that when German troops invaded Belgium she was quick to notify a German general that his wounded soldiers would be welcomed in her facility because she made no exceptions in treating anyone who needed care. However, when German officials ordered her to make sure that no French or Belgian soldiers left her facility she refused, saying she was there to treat the wounded, not to be their jailor.
Arrested a year after the war began, Edith Cavell was questioned in secret for 10 weeks. She was neither told the charge against her — spying — allowed contact with an adviser or with anyone else, nor told that she was not required to testify against herself. Being an honest and forthright person, she answered all questions asked of her openly and honestly.
In a secret trial, she was falsely found guilty of spying and condemned to death. She was secretly executed at two o’clock in the morning, and the way that execution took place shows how the unprincipled methods adopted by the German General Staff backfired on them.
You should know that this story of how Edith Cavell died for her beliefs is disputed by some people, but whether exaggerated or not, it shows how people on both sides of the war viewed it — at the time!
At two o’clock at night they placed Edith Cavell up against a wall where she faced eight German soldiers armed with rifles. Having refused a blindfold, she faced her executioners, unafraid of death, but it seems that each of the German soldiers facing her had secretly decided to miss, letting the others kill her. The order to fire was given, but no bullet hit the brave woman standing just 50 feet away. However, the strain of facing instant death was too much for her; she fainted, whereupon the officer in charge put a pistol to her head and pulled the trigger.
That story, together with the massacre of non-combatant men, women, and children in neutral Belgium, as well as the execution of soldiers captured there instead of their placement in prison camps, caused such an outcry against Germany around the world that it was said at the time that the tale of the arrest and execution of one woman was worth at least five regiments to the allies in the trenches. In fact, when the story reached England every eligible man in the city where Edith Cavell had lived enlisted in the army.
The fighting in the trenches of France did not end easily or quickly, but when the United States entered the war with its vastly larger quantities of men, material, and weapons, an Allied victory became inevitable. Worse than that for Germany was the fact that when defeat was at last seen as inevitable by the civilian population, the German people themselves rebelled, led by units of the German Navy that had refused to set sail. Then the Kaiser himself abdicated, and the newly founded Republic of Germany surrendered.
When the people lose their belief in their nation’s cause, wars are lost.