October 12, 2011 - Honoring Edith Cavell

This summer I went to Canada, and I was delighted to see something I'd never seen before: icebergs floating in a bright green lake! The lake is green because nearby glaciers have ground rocks into such tiny particles, they become rock “flour”—and these particles are suspended in the lake water, where they scatter sunlight in a way that is similar to gas molecules in our air scattering sunlight and making our skies blue. (Some of the glacial lakes in Canada are bright blue or turquoise instead of green.)

Above this gorgeous lake was a beautiful mountain with rock layers that made diagonal stripes across the mountain's face. Several glaciers lived in pockets around this mountain, and the meltwater from the glaciers, of course, fed the lake. Although I was there during a pleasant warm-and-sunny, yet-cool-breeze kind of day, I found out that, no matter the temperature, there are icebergs in that lake every day of the year!

Why am I telling you all this? The mountain, one of the glaciers, and the lake were all named for a woman I'd never heard of: Edith Cavell. This is the anniversary of Cavell's death, in 1915, and since she was a genuine heroine, I thought I would share a little bit about her.

Nurse – and Spy?

Edith Cavell was a British nurse who went to Belgium to work and ended up running a nursing school in Brussels, Belgium. During World War I, however, Brussels was occupied by the German army, and her clinic and nursing school were taken over by the Red Cross. Cavell treated and saved soldiers from both sides, but she worked hard to smuggle British, French, and Belgian soldiers—the newly healed or prisoners of war—out of Belgium and into the Netherlands. The Netherlands was neutral in the war, and the soldiers could go from there back to their homes, or they could rejoin the fighting against the Germans.

The Germans who occupied Belgium became suspicious of Cavell. It was against their military law for her to help British soldiers escape—even though she was British herself! She was arrested, placed in prison and even solitary confinement, and sentenced to death as a spy.

She bravely told friends that she was so used to death, after working with so many soldiers from all sides, that she was not scared to die. If she had to die, she said, she was happy to lose her life for her country.

Some German officers thought it was a very bad idea to execute Cavell. They pointed out that she had saved a lot of German lives, as well as Allied soldiers. They said that the Germans would look like monsters if they executed a woman and a nurse. However, a German named Count Harrach said that his only regret was that the Germans didn't have “three or four English old women to shoot.”


Anyway, the Germans did execute Edith Cavell. She became a heroine to the Allied side, and her execution—some called it murder—damaged Germany's reputation even more. There are many memorials, medical facilities, streets, schools, gardens, parks, and bridges named for Cavell. Including the incredibly beautiful Mount Edith Cavell in Canada's Rocky Mountains, and a nearby glacier and iceberg-filled lake!

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