Nursing Stories

Edith Cavell

Edith was born in Norfolk to a vicar with strong Anglican values. She trained to be a nurse relatively late in life but soon made a considerable contribution to the nursing profession and was praised for her commitment to patient care. After her training in London, she worked in various UK hospitals before being asked to nurse a sick child in Belgium. Her skills were noticed and she was invited to be the first Matron at Belgium’s first nursing school and hospital. 

© IWM q 15064b

At the outbreak of the First World War, Edith was visiting her mother in Norfolk and against her mother’s wishes, returned to Belgium to help those injured during the conflict. Edith remained in Belgium working for the Red Cross and cared for both allied and German injured soldiers and it was during this time that she started giving allied soldiers shelter and helping them escape as part of the resistance movement. After helping over 200 allied troops escape to neutral Holland, Edith was betrayed and arrested. She was tried along with 30 others of assisting the enemy. She was found guilty of treason and despite international pressure, was executed by firing squad on the 12th October 1915. The death sentence was only carried out on Edith and one other and caused international outrage, further shaping public opinion in Canada and the United States about entering the war.

Edith is perhaps most remembered for her last words to her chaplain the night before her execution; “patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness to anyone” the words inscribed on her memorial in St Martins Place, London. After the war, her body was transferred from Belgium to the UK and she was given a state funeral in Westminster Abbey before her body was transferred to her final resting place at Norwich Cathedral. 

Cavell Nurses Trust was established from public donations in response to Edith’s execution in 1917 and exists as her legacy of caring and learning. For full details please visit

Kathleen Adele Brennan 

Kathleen Adele Brennan was born in Sydney on 15 November 1882, the eldest of five children. On the outbreak of the First World War, it was agreed that while all five children wanted to serve, one girl and one boy would need to remain in Australia to look after their elderly parents, Solicitor William Francis Brennan and Elizabeth Mary Brennan.

Kathleen was able to go, and became a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment with the Australian Red Cross.

She left Australia in September 1916 on the SS Osterley and on arrival in England was posted to the 5th Northern General Hospital in Leicester. She served there until November 1918, when she died from Septic Pericarditis following Influenza.

The coffin, which was covered with a Union Jack, was borne to the cemetery on a gun carriage, followed by a large procession of the Royal Army Medical Corps staff and V.A.D. nurses from North Evington and the base hospitals. The body was interred in the soldiers corner of the cemetery.  

A party from Glen Parva Barracks fired three volley's and the 'Last Post', was sounded by R.A.M.C. buglers. 

Agnes Florien Forneri 

Agnes Florien Forneri was born 18 April 1881 in Belleville, Ontario, the third of six children of Richard Sykes Forneri, an Anglican Priest, and Kate McDermott.  She trained at the nursing school at the Lady Stanley Institute in Ottawa, and graduated in 1906.

Forneri volunteered for the Canadian Army Medical Corps in early 1917. Her brother David Alwyn was serving in France but unfortunately was killed in action one month before she reached England.  She served first at the Kitchener Military Hospital as a volunteered in February 1917, and then at No.8 Canadian General Hospital at Saint-Cloud, a suburb of Paris.

In January 1918 Forneri fell ill with bronchitis, and returned to England for convalescence. She recovered, and returned to service at the No.12 Canadian General Hospital in Bramshott. 

On 17 April 1918 she collapsed while on duty in the hospital due to a stomach hemorrhage. She received an operation, but died on 24 April from multiple peptic ulcers.