Bullets, Bottles, and Gardenias

Author: Pastor Leseur  | Date: April 15, 1928

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The New York Times April 15, 1928

The Shooting of Nurse Edith Cavell


II. The Execution

(By a German Chaplain)

[The New York Times,April 15, 1928]

I shrank into my inmost soul at the thought of such a duty [assisting Miss Cavell at her execution] . . . She took men able to fight into her clinic under the protection of the Red Cross to enable them to reach Holland. She has herself confessed to having helped at least 250 to get over the frontier. That was equivalent to a platoon, which of course would fire on our soldiers . . .

I sat next to Edith Cavell to accompany her to her own burial. She sat quietly at my side, and I did nothing else except repeat a line of Scripture or a verse of an English hymn . . .

She was wonderfully calm. When we reached the place a company of soldiers were drawn up, under the command of an officer. We clergymen led the accused to the front; the soldiers presented arms, and the sentence was read in French and German.

Mr. Baucq [Belgian guide who was sentenced to death along with Miss Cavell] called out, with a clear voice: "Comrades, in the presence of death we are all comrades!" He was not allowed to say more.

The last word was spoken to the accused by us clergymen. I thought it best to make this as short as possible. I took Miss Cavell’s hand and said, in English of course: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with thee now and for ever. Amen."

She returned the clasp of my hand, and answered something to this effect; "Tell Mr. Gahan to tell my loved ones later on that my soul, as I hope, is saved, and that I am glad to die for my country."

Then I led her a few steps to the pillar, to which she was loosely tied. A bandage was put over her eyes; the soldier told me they were full of tears.

Then some seconds passed—they seemed endless.

Then the sharp word of command was heard. Two volleys rang out at once. There were ten men, five paces distant. Without a sound, the accused sank to the ground.

A roar of protest greeted the announcement that Edith Cavell had been executed. It was denounced as "the blackest deed of the war." Herr Zimmerman, then German Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, wired an explanation to the American press:

"I see by the British and American press that the shooting of an Englishwoman and the conviction of several other women in Brussels for treason have created a great impression, and that we are being severely criticized. It is, indeed, hard that a woman has to be executed. . . . No law-book in the world, least of all those dealing with war regulations, makes such a differentiation, and the female sex has but one preference, according to legal usage—namely, that women in a delicate condition may not be executed. . . . No court-martial in the world could have reached any other decision. . . . The sentence has been carried out to frighten those who might presume on their sex to take part in enterprises punishable with death."


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Chicago: Pastor Leseur, "The Shooting of Nurse Edith Cavell—II. The Execution," Bullets, Bottles, and Gardenias in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed December 4, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=7E6E2JAVGT1VTRY.

MLA: Leseur, Pastor. "The Shooting of Nurse Edith Cavell—II. The Execution." Bullets, Bottles, and Gardenias, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 4 Dec. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=7E6E2JAVGT1VTRY.

Harvard: Leseur, P, 'The Shooting of Nurse Edith Cavell—II. The Execution' in Bullets, Bottles, and Gardenias. cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 4 December 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=7E6E2JAVGT1VTRY.