Edith Cavell On Postcards
Today, Edith Cavell is probably the best known female from the Great War. Born in 1865, she was the daughter of a Norfolk clergyman, and in 1895 entered the London Hospital as a probationer and afterwards nursed in England for several years. In 1907, Edith was appointed Matron of the Berkendael Medical Institute in Brussels which she transformed into a teaching hospital of some excellence.
After the outbreak of war in 1914, the hospital came under the auspices of the Red Cross. Cavell and
her staff aided the sick and wounded but she also gave sanctuary to escaping
Allied soldiers. In August 1915, Cavell
was arrested by the Germans for "harbouring aliens and helping them to escape".
In due course she was sentenced to death, and despite efforts to save her by
neutral diplomats, at dawn on 12th October 1915, she was shot by a firing squad.
Just before her death she said "Standing
as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I
have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone".
This black-bordered propaganda postcard, probably went some
way to perpetuate a myth which later sprang up. It said the firing squad had
refused to open fire on the nurse - who had fainted - and according to the text
on the back of the card, "they hesitate to shoot on the prostrate body of a
woman", but nevertheless an officer took out his
revolver, "and leaning over his victim, deliberately blows her brains out. REMEMBER:"
publishers put out patriotic and propaganda cards which featured the
brave and dedicated English nurse. One particular photograph of her became world-famous and
not least, through the medium of the picture postcard and an example is
reproduced below - with its wrapper.
This satin-finish card was sold for the benefit of the "Daily Mirror Nurse Cavell Memorial Fund". It became a well-known photograph and showed Edith Cavell with her dogs Don and Jack and is thought to have been taken in Brussels in 1910. The words below the picture, are those she spoke to the prison chaplain on the morning of her execution.
Following her death, Edith Cavell joined the ranks of good and the famous. And a splendid example of this can be seen in the pages of The Lord Roberts Memorial Fund Stamp Album. Among her contemporaries there, were Kings and Queens, Generals and Vice-admirals, Dukes and Duchesses, Premiers and Presidents, Statesmen and Maharajahs and many other titles.
These postcards were released in conjunction with the publication of the aforementioned, "The Lord Roberts Memorial Fund Stamp Album" in which there were 144 'boxes' (one, two, three or four to a page.) to place a special stamp bearing the portrait of a well-known Great War personality. In addition, sheets of biographies were available to cut up and place next to the relevant stamp in the album or the stamp on the card. The Edith Cavell postcard, stamp and bio are shown above.
The purple folder holding the 12 card mentioned below
The following captions are given as they appeared on the originals. The first depicts an "execution ground" with the caption saying that where "Mr. Colinet, former Directory of the Tir National, is "seen [standing, is where] the firing party was posted". The second card is an oval portrait of Edith Cavell; The third is captioned "The passage to Edith Cavell’s cell [at St-Gilles Prison"; the fourth depicts the "Visit of their Majestie’s, the King and Queen of England to the Edith CAVELL memorial",the fifth shows the "removal of Miss Edith Cavell’s body from the Tir National"; the sixth shows a memorial to "Edith Cavell and Marie DEPAGE". The remaining six cards refer to other civilians executed by the Germans.
"Removal of Miss Edith Cavell’s
the Tir National". The fifth card in the set. On 13th May, a troop of British soldiers escorted the body from the Tir National to Ostend,and from there to Dover on HMS Rowena.
On 15th May, a special railway carriage bore the body of Edith Cavell from Dover to London, where - through streets lined with people - a horse-drawn gun carriage took it to Westminster Abbey. After a funeral service - where among the guests was the King - the body (in accordance with the family's wishes) went by special train to Norfolk.There, it was buried outside the south transept of the cathedral. Later, a number of statues and memorials stones dedicated to Edith Cavell appeared in London and other cities and of course they were featured on picture postcards too.
Edith Cavell Remembered in Verse