The Great War, I was there - Part 12

29* October II —19,1915 I PLEADED IN VAIN for NURSE CAVELL by Brand Whitlock U.S. Minister in Belgium, 1915 A FAMOUS American diplomat tells of the dramatic last appeals for mercy made to the Germans on behalf of that brave nurse, Edith Cavell, accused of smuggling British and Belgian soldiers across the frontier, who was to be shot less than twelve hours after she was condemned. As is known, these pleas were ignored, and a crime was committed which sent a wave of horror throughout the English- speaking peoples. Miss Cavell’s last thoughts were embodied in the famous words: “Patriotism is not enough ”HE LEFT N O STONE U N RUT NED Though lying on a sickbed, Mr. Brand Whitlock, above, left no stone unturned to save Nurse Cavell,. and where the representative of the greatest neutral power failed no one could have succeeded. A t nine o'clock that Monday eve­ning [October 11,1915], Maitrc de Leval [a lawyer friend of the author] appeared suddenly at the door of my chamber his face was deathly pallid. He said that lie had just heard from the nurses who were keeping him informed, that the judgement had been confirmed and that the sentence of leath had been pronounced on Miss Cavell at half-past four that afternoon and that she was to be shot at two o’clock the next morning. It seemed impossible, especially the immediate execution of sentence there had always been time at least to prepare and to present a plea for mercy. To condemn a woman in the evening and then to hurry her out to be shot before another dawn !'Preposterous! D UT no Maitre de Leval was certain. That evening he had gone home uul was writing at his table when, about eight o’clock, two nurses were intro­duced. One was Miss Wilkison, “petite et nerveuse, toute en larmcs,” the other "plus grande et plus calme.” Miss Wilkison said that she had just learned that the court had condemned Miss (’avell to death, that the judgement had been read to her in the cell of the prison at four-thirty that afternoon, and that the Germans were going to shoot her that night at two o’clock. Maitre de Leval told her that it was difficult to believe such news since twice he had been told that the judgement had not been rendered and would not be ren­dered before the following day, but heron reiterating that she had this news from a source that was indisputable, de Leval left at once with her and her friend and came to the Legation. And there he stood, pale and shaken. Even then I could not believe—it was too pre­posterous surely a stay of execution would be granted. Already in the afternoon, in some premonition, Maitre de Leval had prepared for my signature a recours en grace to be submitted to the Governor-General, and a letter of transmittal to present to the Baron von der Lancken. I asked Maitre de Leval to bring me these documents, and signed them then at the last minute, on the letter addressed to von der Lancken [Head of the German Political Section in Brussels], I wrote these words :Mon clier Baron,— J e suis trop malado pour vous presenter ma rcquetc moi-meme, mais jo fais appel a votre generosite de coeur pour 1’appuyer et sauver lade mort cette inalhoureuse. A yez pitied ’elle ! V otre bien devoue, BRAND WHIT LOCK .told Maitre de Leval to send Joseph at once to hunt up Gibson [Secretary of the U.S. Legation] to present the plea, and if possible to find the Marquis de Villalobar [the Spanish Minister] and to ask him to support it with the Baron von der Lancken ....The Governor- General was in his chateau at Trois- Fontaines, ten miles away, playing bridge that evening. Maitre de Leval went. ...The nurses from Miss Cavell’s school were waiting in a lower room. Other nurses came for news they too had heard, but could not believe. Then the Reverend Mr. Gahan, pastor of the English church, came. H e had had a note from som eon eat the St. G illes prison— a note written in German ,saying simply :“Com eat once someone is about to die .”He went away to the prison his frail, delicate little wife remained at the Legation, and there my wife and Miss Larner sat with those women all that long evening, trying to comfort, to reassure them. Outside a cold rain was falling. L pinT my chamber I Awaited... stay of execution would be granted, of course they always were granted. There was not in our time, anywhere, a court, even a German court-martial, that would condemn a woman to death at half-past four in the afternoon and hurry her out and shoot her before dawn. Midnight came, and Gibson, with a dark face, and de Leval, paler than ever. There was nothing to be done. De Leval had gone to Gibson and together they went in search of the Marquis, whom they found at Baron Lambert’s [a Belgian banker], where he had been dining he and Baron Lambert H E PROVED A BRO KEN REED The last pleas for the life of Nurse Cavell were made to Baron von der Lancken, above, but as representative only of the Gennan civil power, he declared his in­ability to do more than pass on the plea to the Military Governor. 487
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