In Chapter Eight of Sixty-One Nails, my protagonist, Niall, is sitting at the corner of St Martin’s Lane in London. The Chapter opens with the lines:
I sat for an hour or more before people started walking across the square, heading towards work or some other rendezvous, and it lost its privacy. I was getting chilled so I wandered back the way I had come to find the coffee shop had opened. I ordered black coffee and added sugar before taking it outside. I sat among the deserted tables in the damp air and waited for Blackbird. On the war memorial across the pavement from me I could read the words ‘Humanity’ and ‘Sacrifice’. I hoped it wasn’t an omen.
The memorial Niall refers to is a stone monument to Edith Cavell, and on each side it reads, Humanity, Devotion, Fortitude and Sacrifice. There is a stone statue of Edith at the fore with an inscription that reads:
Brussels – Dawn
October 12th 1915
Patriotism is not enough
I must have no hatred or
bitterness for anyone.
These are her words to an Anglican priest on the night before her execution.
Edith was a nurse, born in Swardeston in Norfolk, she served in Belgium in the Great War, treating allies and enemies alike because they were wounded and needed help. She did not judge people for what they did, or how they saw the world, but only offered them comfort and compassion. She helped some 200 allied soldiers, French, British and Belgian, escape from German-occupied Belgium into the Netherlands and thence to Britain where they were welcomed as refugees.
For helping people escape, she was arrested, imprisoned, court-martialled, and shot by a firing squad on 12th October 1915, 100 years ago today. She was 49. Her remains were recovered and re-interred in Norwich Cathedral, where she is still honoured today.
She was a great woman. Even today as a country we could learn from her example.
Rest in Peace.