100 years after her execution, Robert Rush remembers east end nurse Edith Cavell

A painting of Edith Cavell's body immediately after her execution in 1915

A painting of Edith Cavell's body immediately after her execution in 1915 - Credit: Archant

Not only does this year mark a hundred years since the First World War, it also marks the centenary of the execution of a “courageous” east end nurse.

Edith Cavell cared for patients in Whitechapel’s Royal London Hospital and an infirmary in Shoreditch but was executed during the war after helping soldiers sneak out of a Belgian hospital.

Member of the Anglo-German family history society, Robert Rush, from Forest gate is giving a talk about the nurse in Trinity Methodist Church Hall in Romford today.

He said: “She dedicated her life to helping others.

“Growing up in a religious family she had strong views of what is right and wrong and believed that the needy needed helping”.

After working in a building named after her in Hackney he was inspired by her life and her dedication to the poor of the east end.

“I decided to study her life and realised what a fascinating nurse she was,” he said.

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“On the hundredth anniversary of her execution it seems like a good time for us to remember her bravery”.

She began her nurse training in the Royal London hospital and worked in the Mellish Ward until a decade before the Great War broke out across Europe.

She went on to be responsible for 250 beds in the Shoreditch infirmary where she became Assistant Matron in 1903. It was here she catered for the impoverished residents of the workhouse which was attached.

“Edith moved to Brussels in an attempt to transform the nursing system in Belgium,” Robert explained.

“She had a school of nursing there and wanted to bring it up to British nursing standards at the time”.

After helping wounded soldiers sneak out of the hospital to avoid the Germans, she was rounded up with others from the escape organisation and kept in a prison cell.

Ten weeks later, on October 12, 1915, she was tied to a stake and shot at dawn by armed men.

“She died with a bullet through her cheek and a bullet that shot a huge hole in her heart,” Robert explained.

The outcry that followed her execution meant that the lives of others in the escape organisation were eventually spared.

To mark her death on October 12 each year, nurses from Royal London hospital travel to Trafalger square to lay wreaths by an effigy of her.

“The statue of her is enormous,” said Robert.

“It shows the amount of respect people have for her and the respect she has got really is unbelievable”.

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