At 7am on 12 October 1915 a slight, upright Englishwoman, neatly dressed in a coat and skirt and wearing a hat, was tied to a stake in a field outside Brussels, blindfolded, and shot by a German firing squad. The woman was Edith Cavell, a 49-year-old hospital matron in Brussels. She had been found guilty by a German court martial on a charge of treason. Cavell’s crime was to aid the escape of Allied soldiers who had become separated from their regiments and stranded in German-occupied Belgium. She helped hundreds of soldiers to cross the border to neutral Holland. Her execution was one of the iconic atrocities of the First World War. It was hugely damaging to the Germans. Diana Souhami’s concern in this compelling biography is to show how it was that Cavell, a devoted, dutiful nurse, became involved in such dangerous and duplicitous work, and why she died.

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