BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific North Midlands/East West/South-West London/South North Midlands/East West/South-West London/South
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK: England  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Monday, 21 October, 2002, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
Intelligence role of WWI nurse
Edith Cavell memorial in Norwich
Edith Cavell is buried at Norwich Cathedral
On 12 October, 1915, British Nurse Edith Cavell was taken from her prison cell in Brussels and executed by a German firing squad.

Britain used the death for maximum propaganda value around the world.

Miss Cavell, of Swardeston, Norfolk, was painted as an innocent nurse caring for the sick "murdered" on the trumped-up charge of spying.

But a BBC East documentary Inside Out shows she was not as innocent of espionage as the British made out.

Edith Cavell's coffin
Hundreds came to Edith Cavell's funeral

While working as a nurse in Belgium during World War I she became mixed up in a dangerous game of helping wounded soldiers to escape.

David Jesse Tunmore from King's Lynn was one of those she got out.

Chris Basey, who wrote the book The Tunmores of Norfolk, told the BBC how Mr Tunmore and a fellow soldier found themselves cut off from their battalion.

"They found themselves in the clinic where Edith Cavell was in charge and they were some of the very first that she then helped to escape," he said.

File of Edith Cavell
Secret files show her intelligence role

"She provided papers. She provided false passports.

"I believe she was very well aware of what she was doing. She was prepared to die for it - I am convinced of that."

Historian and expert on the intelligence services, Nigel West, believes that Miss Cavell knew she was involved in espionage.

'Carefully vetted'

"The reality is that Edith Cavell was up to her neck in it," he said.

"The secret intelligence services very carefully vetted Edith Cavell before they decided to trust her.

"Given her sense of character the intelligence services were confident that she would have gone to her death without revealing any secrets."

Recently-released secret files tell us that Cavell, realising her life was in danger, wrote to her mother just days before she was arrested.

If help was to come, however, it would be too late.

Miss Cavell was betrayed by a double agent and tricked into a confession.

But her patriotic duty meant she kept quiet about the rest of the undercover operation, and the British, for propaganda reasons, also hid her role.

'Intelligence role'

So while Miss Cavell's fellow workers were decorated for their bravery, she was never officially honoured for bravery by this country.

Mr West said: "Having presented Cavell as an innocent victim, it must have been very difficult, even in Whitehall, to give her any recognition that she had an intelligence role and an important one at that."

After the war, Norfolk soldier David Jesse Tunmore helped carry the coffin when Miss Cavell's body was returned to Norwich.

He was one of the many men who owed their life to her.


Click here to go to Norfolk

More on Inside Out, the BBC One programme with stories from around England Inside Out
Surprising stories from around England
See also:

09 May 02 | UK
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more England stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more England stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes