Edith and Espionage

Edith Cavell Part III: It’s Edith week, don’t you know. And I’m participating

A German official gave a mean response (unlike the Kaiser) to Edith Cavell’s death, but one that actually has a point: so many have been killed in the war. Why single this woman out?

It’s said that lady spies were recruited as more fuss would be made of their deaths, which could be useful. Was Edith one? Some are saying she was. It’s what the Germans called her.

I am suspicious that Edith said her sentence was just, and she refused to don her nurse outfit for the trial. Would you normally wear one to court? But did she do things that she knew weren’t under the nurse answer to the Hippocratic oath? And do they make her a spy?

Espionage is about collecting information to pass on, often to use against someone. Spying was a wide definition used when condemning people, but it didn’t always fit. Edith did have a relationship with the resistance and undercover people, and despite her faith and what’s been said about her not lying, she did dissemble by giving disguises and false documents to those she conducted out of occupied Belgium.

Britain’s national left wing broadsheet The Guardian did cover Edith as a spy yesterday, though most of the article was on her earlier life. All it said was that she snuck soldiers out of the country. No news there. They let The Telegraph actually dish the dirt on a ‘shock’ radio programme featuring former M15 chief Stella Rimington. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the suggestion – book about Edith’s spying came out in 1968, by Adele De Leeuw.

I don’t have access to those MI5 files that Stella speaks of. I don’t have the clothes of soldiers with info sewn into them. And I don’t know how we can know who did the sewing, or if Edith was cognizant of it. Even Stella says we’ll not ever know. So why bring it up, then?

Also, The Guardian’s not a religious paper and likes to uncover government secrets – and I admire its work on speaking out and exposing. But it does colour it a little on this matter. The Guardian made a blooper – its picture tag said that Edith’s first grave was in France. Now what country is BRUSSELS in?

At the time, effort was made in keeping Edith and espionage apart. Interesting that martyrs are popular passion and pity raisers, spies aren’t. Angels in either sense – and the Eastern Daily Press just called Edith both – do not go with the image of deceit and betrayal at the heart of spying. Spies may be glamorised in film and book, but her ‘holy and pure’ epitaph wouldn’t have matched if Edith was known to be a spy. It would have dirtied her white and blue wings.

More on Edith soon as I continue to research and attend events at her centenary this week – and continue with my novel campaign

PS Historians Georgette Vale and Catherine Butcher agree that they no of nothing that makes Edith a spy

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