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Edith Cavell was a British nurse who had been working in Belgium for some time before the outbreak of the First World War, remained to help organise the nursing of the wounded, both military and civilians, and was executed by the Germans for helping Allied sodiers and military-age Belgians to escape into neutral Holland. Her network had almost certainly been involved in espionage, but she had treated both Allied and German patients with impartiality. Her execution caused outrage, both because of her profession and because she was a woman. She was not quite 50 years old.
Many of those whose deaths we commemorate on Remembrance Sunday were much younger, with all of their lives before them. Again and again on these occasions, I feel an enormous sadness for the waste of it all. How much potential has been destroyed in the last century, in supposedly “civilised” countries? How many superb surgeons, dedicated politicians, skilled carpenters and mechanics, and caring husbands and fathers (they have, after all, almost all been men) have never come into being because they lost their lives in conflicts that they didn’t really understand and were powerless to prevent? It is salutary to reflect on how much better today’s society might be had we been able to benefit from the mature contributions of those whose lives were cut short.
So we honour those who died in combat, and grieve for the waste of their lives and the devastation inflicted on their families. But let us also remember that those of us who remain have a responsibility to do what we can to make a better place of the world we live in. Edith Cavell was playing her part. What can you do today to live in peace, and to spread peace to those around you?