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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005, 07:53 GMT 08:53 UK
Officials tried to save war nurse
Edith Cavell
Behind the scenes fight to save nurse Edith Cavell
Diplomats in America and Britain tried to save World War I heroine Edith Cavell from execution, it has been revealed by National Archives papers.

The nurse, born near Norwich, helped about 200 Allied troops to escape from Belgium before she was arrested, tried and executed by firing squad in 1915.

The sentence was carried out less than 10 hours after her trial ended.

Foreign Office hopes of securing imprisonment in Germany were dashed because of the speed of her execution.

The National Archives has released correspondence between the Foreign Office, US diplomats in Brussels and the nurse's family in Norfolk.

Powerless officials

On August 24, 1915, her brother-in-law Dr Longworth Wainwright wrote to the Foreign Office: "I have news through Dutch sources that my wife's sister, a Miss Edith Cavell, has been arrested in Brussels."

Three weeks before she was executed, on 21 September, the US minister to Brussels, Brand Whitlock, confirmed: "The legation will keep this case in view and endeavour to see a fair trial is given Miss Cavell."

Later, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir Horace Rowland, admitted: "I'm afraid it is likely to go hard with Miss Cavell. I'm afraid we are powerless."

On 11 October Mr Whitlock informed the Foreign Office: "Trial has been completed and the German prosecutor has asked for sentence of death penalty against her."

At 2am on the morning of 12 October, Edith Cavell was executed by firing squad.


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