________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV . . . . August 31, 2007


Silent in an Evil Time: The Brave War of Edith Cavell.

Jack Batten.
Toronto, ON: Tundra, 2007.
128 pp., pbk., $18.99.
ISBN 978-0-88776-737-1.

Subject Headings:
Cavell, Edith, 1865-1915-Juvenile literature.
Nurses-Great Britain-Biography-Juvenile literature.
World War, 1914-1918-Belgium-Juvenile literature.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Myra Junyk.

*** ½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


Edith Cavell heard the crash of soldiers’ boots at the front door below. The sound could mean only one thing – the Germans had come to the clinic! Looking after a ward of patients on the second floor, Edith knew that she had no more than five minutes to get Arthur Wood out of sight. If the Germans caught an English soldier among the clinic’s patients, Edith would lose her freedom and possibly her life.

It was a February morning in 1915, six months after the Germans occupied Belgium in the invasion that began the First World War. Edith, an English nurse, lived an worked in Belgium’s capital city of Brussels, where she ran the country’s only training clinic for nurses. Unknown to the German occupiers, Edith was using the clinic to smuggle British soldiers back to England.


Born in the tiny English village of Swardeston in 1865, Edith Cavell came from a poor family of the village vicar. She was an intelligent young woman who wanted to accomplish great things in her life. The principal of one of the schools Edith attended, Margaret Gibson, encouraged her to believe that women were equal to men and could accomplish anything they wanted to in society! Edith became a governess to a rich family in order to make a living. When Edith’s cousin and true love, Eddy Cavell, decided he would never marry, Edith applied to nursing school. This decision would change her life forever!

     After a grueling training program, Edith became a nurse. At first, she drifted from one job to another, but one of her former students recommended her for the demanding job of Matron (head nurse) in a new teaching clinic in Brussels, Belgium in 1907. The clinic was a resounding success!  By 1912, 60 nurses were training there from all over Europe. Edith ran a tight ship, but her students and patients loved her.

     But then came 1914. World War I began, and Germany invaded Belgium. Even though Belgium was an occupied country, Edith, a British citizen, remained in her role because the clinic was under the Red Cross. When wounded soldiers started arriving at the clinic for treatment, Edith became involved in smuggling them out of German-held Belgium back to Britain. Soon the Germans became aware of her work, and in 1915, the entire network was arrested. Edith and her fellow organizers were all found guilty. Many were sentenced to jail, but Edith and four others were sentenced to death. Edith was killed by a firing squad on October 12, 1915. The world was shocked by the execution of a woman by the Germans! As a result, the others who were sentenced to death had their sentences changed to jail time. Edith’s sacrifice for her country would live forever in history.

     Edith Cavell was a little-known British heroine of World War I. Her role in protecting soldiers and smuggling them out of German-held territory in the early years of the war was truly courageous. In a March 17, 1919, ceremony in Brussels, Edith’s body was removed and sent back to England to be reburied. The King and Queen of England were both present at the ceremony which recognized Edith’s courage and sacrifice. Since then, Edith’s life has been dramatized several times, and she has had towns, roads and mountains named after her. There is also a memorial to her in Trafalgar Square in London with the inscription “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.”

     Jack Batten has written an interesting and thought-provoking biography of this remarkable and courageous woman. Not only does he give us the history of Edith’s life and accomplishments, but he also gives the reader lots of background information about the history of nursing, Florence Nightingale, and the causes and events of the First World War. The drawings and photographs add interest and visual appeal to a somewhat dry text. However, Edith’s life and works are given life in small anecdotes.  The story of her brief love affair with her cousin, Eddy, who had a “nervous disorder” and couldn’t bring himself to marry her is poignant. Particularly devastating is the fact that, although Edith was never married to Eddy, she never stopped loving him. As she goes to her death in front of a firing squad, she leaves her favourite book, The Imitation of Christ, to her beloved Eddy. “Among the others who gave their lives were men and women who never picked up a gun. Edith Cavell was one of them.”

Highly Recommended.

Myra Junyk is the former Program Co-ordinator of Language Arts and Library Services at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Currently, she is working as a literacy advocate and author.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.