“I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”
Today is the 98th anniversary of the judicial murder by the german army of British Nurse Edith Cavell, who was shot at dawn by for "treason" because she had helped a number of British and French soldiers to escape.
She said the above words the night before her execution to the Reverend Stirling Gahan, who had been allowed to see her and give her holy communion.
The idea that a British nurse in Belgium could commit "treason" against Germany avoids being funny only because the consequences were so terrible: her actions were in breach of contemporary German law, but the imposition of the death penalty was rightly seen as barbarism in most of the civilised world.
The german civil governor of occupied Belgium, Baron von der Lancken, is known to have argued that Cavell should be pardoned because of her complete honesty and because her nursing had helped save many lives, German as well as Allied.
However, he was over-ruled by the german military governor of Brussels, Traugott von Sauberzweig, who ordered that "in the interests of the State" Nurse Cavell should be shot immediately, which denied higher authorities an opportunity to consider clemency. It is that decision which I regard as judicial murder.
Her final words, 98 years ago this morning, are recorded as having been a request to the german Lutheran prison chaplain, Reverend Paul Le Seur, to "Ask Father Gahan to tell my loved ones later on that my soul, as I believe, is safe, and that I am glad to die for my country."
The measure of Edith Cavell's greatness is that when I read the story of how she was treated I am tempted to feel extreme anger towards her german contemporaries in general and General von Sauberzweig in particular, but then I think of her words quoted at the head of this article and realise that she would have wanted her life to be remembered as a symbil of compassion, courage and reconciliation, and absolutely not as a cause of hatred.
In response to Councillor Charles Fifield, @charlesfifield, who had tweeted that quote this morning, Lord Ashcroft described it here as a "Great line from a great woman"
In the spirit of reconciliation advocated by Edith Cavell herself, perhaps the last word should be given to the german military chaplain, Le Seur, who was present at her execution:
"I do not believe that Miss Cavell wanted to be a martyr…but she was ready to die for her country… Miss Cavell was a very brave woman and a faithful Christian".