very early in the War propaganda was widespread in
Britain. Lurid and exaggerated accounts of German atrocities
were reported from August 1914 to encourage enlistment.
The execution of Edith Cavell was a great propaganda
coup for the British. There was public outrage. A quiet,
good looking British woman, the respectable and devout
daughter of a clergyman, in a profession devoted to
the care of others in the tradition of Florence Nightingale
and who nursed both German and Allied troops alike,
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote
“Everybody must feel disgusted at the barbarous
actions of the German soldiery in murdering this
great and glorious specimen of womanhood.”
Irritated that American diplomacy was ignored, the
American Press was just as angry and horrified over
Edith’s execution and the feeling spread internationally.
It was conveniently overlooked that in this time of
harsh punishments, German women had been executed in
France for spying.
Edith Cavell became a symbol at a time when such imagery
was desperately required to provide impetus to the
war effort. This was done so successfully that she
remains one of the most famous figures of the War and
continues to be commemorated around the world.
It is interesting to note that in all the depictions
of her execution, she is wearing her nurses uniform,
something that one of her co-defendants suggested would
have saved her from the death sentence if she had worn
it at her trial.