WWI Centennial: Germans Execute Edith Cavell

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 205th installment in the series.

October 12-13, 1915: Germans Execute Edith Cavell, Bomb London

The execution of Edith Louisa Cavell, a British nurse who helped Allied prisoners of war escape Belgium, provided yet more evidence (if any more were needed after Belgian atrocities, Louvain, Notre Dame de Reims, the Lusitania, and gas) that the men in charge of the German war effort had no grasp of the propaganda struggle being waged alongside the shooting conflict, pitting them against the Allies in a battle for the high ground of global public opinion.

A devout Anglican, Cavell had worked in Belgium teaching nursing beginning in 1907, and bravely returned from London after war broke out to continue ministering to wounded soldiers from both sides at her clinic in Brussels. In addition to her life-saving work, Cavell was apparently contacted by British intelligence agents who prevailed on her sense of patriotism to help smuggle around 200 Allied soldiers out of Belgium to the Netherlands, for eventual repatriation; she also passed information to the Allies, concealed on the bodies or in the clothes of the escapees. 

Apprehended on August 15, 1915, along with 34 others Cavell was charged with treason by authorities of the German military occupation force in Belgium (despite the fact that she had neither German nor Belgian citizenship, common conditions for a charge of treason). Because Cavell was already well known for her charitable work, her arrest spurred immediate appeals from clemency.

Pleas from the U.S. and Spanish ambassadors failed to move the German military authorities in Belgium, and Cavell was executed by firing squad at 2 a.m. on October 12, 1915, along with her co-conspirator Philippe Baucq. Her final words to an Anglican chaplain who was allowed to visit her reflected her unwavering idealism and Christian piety: “Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

There was no question of Cavell’s guilt (she confessed) and both sides of the conflict had already shown their determination to take extremely harsh measures against spies (or even suspected spies, probably leading to the deaths of scores of innocent people). Nonetheless executing Cavell was a self-inflicted propaganda defeat, as it played into popular narratives of passive female victimhood and uncomplaining Christian martyrdom dating back to the Victorian era.

The international outcry over Cavell’s death prompted the Germans to commute the death sentences of the 33 surviving conspirators, but the damage was done: the execution of Cavell soon became symbolic shorthand for German brutality and “frightfulness.”

Many ordinary Germans realized that killing Cavell was a mistake, at least according to the German novelist Arnold Zweig. In his novel Young Woman of 1914 one of the characters, Sergeant Brümmer, remarks mournfully to the heroine Lenore Wahl:

We shall have to pay for that girl’s blood, and it will take a great many lives to avenge it. They tell me that the English newspapers are wild about it. Why were these people allowed to shoot a brave young woman because she helped prisoners to escape over the frontier… She wasn’t just an ordinary girl she was a nurse, Fraulein Wahl. And she worked in a hospital where she looked after a great many of our men, both officers and rank and file. I needn’t tell you the story in detail, but it’s the talk of all Belgium, and indeed the whole world just now.

Significantly Zweig’s characters seem to share the same Victorian attitudes toward female virtue that made Cavell the perfect tragic victim in British and French eyes:

Lenore sat with wandering eyes, ready for flight. She remembered the Archduchess, the first victim of this war. Shot in Serajevo; and now another woman too—shot in Brussels. Had not all the thinkers in Germany, and indeed in all the world, conferred on women their charter of humanity? Couldn’t she have been pardoned, or even imprisoned? This was too much…

Conversely sentiment wasn’t necessarily unanimous on the Allied side, as some men objected to the special status accorded her as a female victim. A few weeks after her execution Frederic Keeling, a British soldier on the Western Front, noted that his comrades weren’t much impressed by the self-righteous rhetoric:

I see from the papers that the silly sentimental agitation about Nurse Cavell still goes on at home. A good many soldiers out here don’t think much of it. I have discussed it with many and found them all of my opinion—while admiring the woman immensely, I think the Germans were quite within their rights in shooting her. The agitation reveals the worst side of the English character. I hope some Suffragists who prefer to stand for the principle of women’s equal responsibility for their actions will protest against the rot that is being talked.

Bloodiest Zeppelin Raid of the War

On the night of October 13, 1915 German zeppelins struck Britain yet again, in what turned out to be the bloodiest bombing raid of the war carried out by airships (though not airplanes). This time five zeppelins—L11, L13, L14, L15, and L16—bombed London and several surrounding towns, killing 71, including 15 Canadian soldiers, and wounding 128. Once again the raid rattled British civilians and made an especially big impression on children. One boy, J. McHenry, wrote about the bombing of London the following day for school, describing what were obviously ineffective air defenses: 

I had not been reading more than half an hour when I heard a terrible bang… I dropped the book, rushed to the window opened it and jumped out into the parapet… No sooner had I got out when bang – bang two more bombs followed in quick succession, and then all was silent for a few seconds. Boom—crash—boom, came the answer from our guns, and a hail of lead went sailing skywards, but I am sorry to say that they did not find their destination. I could see gun flashes coming from the British Museum and from the Kingsway, I only just caught a glimpse of the zeppelin in the city direction the search-lights were shining on it, and the shells were bursting underneath it. Whether it was hit I do not know but all of a sudden It disappeared and fled.

See the previous installment or all entries.

Captain Marvel's Goose the Cat Funko Pop! Toy Delivers Cuteness (and Spoilers)

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

Why pay Robert Downey Jr. $50 million to appear in an Avengers movie when you can just hire a cat and get the same buzz? Marvel Studios accountants must be debating this very issue now that Captain Marvel's supporting feline Goose has become the hit film's breakout star. Naturally, she has now been bestowed with an honor in line with her status: She's been immortalized as a Funko Pop! figure. Lots of them, actually.

The Funko Goose vinyl collectible, now available for $8.45, features her distinctive markings along with a “Goose” name tag. The now-famous cat joins a line of several other Captain Marvel Funko Pop! releases, including Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, and a 1990s-era Nick Fury.

But in this case, going down the Funko rabbit hole carries some risks for Captain Marvel fans. /Film reports that two of Funko's pending Goose releases may spoil some key revelations in the film. So you’re better off sticking with a classic Goose until you’ve seen the movie.

If you’re curious about the kind of cat wrangling that went on behind the scenes in the movie, you might be surprised to learn that there are actually three ways Goose performs onscreen. The production used an orange tabby named Reggie to portray Goose, with stand-ins Archie, Gonzo, and Rizzo filling in occasionally to perform specific tricks or to relieve a fatigued Reggie. There was also a CGI Goose and a cat puppet that the filmmakers used in scenes where actress Brie Larson needed to interact with her furry friend—because while Carol Danvers may love cats, Larson herself is allergic to them.

Explore Funko's whole Captain Marvel line on Amazon.

[h/t /Film]

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New Avengers: Endgame Theory Predicts That Four of the Original Heroes Will Die

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios broke the internet last week when they dropped a brand-new trailer for the upcoming Avengers: Endgame.

Unlike the first trailer, which was released in December, this one gave fans much more insight into how the Avengers will attempt to defeat Thanos and restore balance to the world. And since the trailer provided these extra details, there's been even more fan speculation over the past several days about what the new footage could mean for some of our favorite superheroes. And according to at least one fan, the situation could be bleak for some of the original Avengers, as Comicbook.com reports.

After noticing something peculiar in the trailer, Redditor TheRealBrandini97 took to the social media platform to share their prediction that four major deaths could be upon us:

"[T]here was a theory going around that only two of the original six Avengers will survive at the end of Endgame. If you listen to the new trailer, you'll notice four of the original Avengers say the line, 'Whatever it takes.' The four that say this are Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye/Ronin, and lastly Iron Man. Could these be the four original members that sacrifice their lives to save everyone?"

Citing behind-the-scenes reports, the user mentions that Chris Evans is likely leaving the role of Steve Rogers, and Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man is likely about to see his last days as well.

As for the two other heroes, the theory states, "The Russo Brothers said Hawkeye would have a big arc in Avengers: Endgame that all Hawkeye fans would enjoy (what bigger arc than laying down your life, to bring your family and half of all life back?) And as for Black Widow, her movie is guaranteed to be a prequel now."

It's also mentioned that the Russo Brothers said 2016's Captain America: Civil War would play a fundamental part in Endgame.

"The four Avengers that repeated ['Whatever it takes'] in the new trailer happen to all [be featured] in Civil War while the other two original Avengers (Thor and Hulk), [who] didn't repeat the phrase, are not in Civil War," the Redditor adds.

Of all the theories out there right now, this one definitely has some legs. The repetition of "whatever it takes" definitely did stand out in the trailer, so maybe Marvel was hinting at this being the last hurrah for Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Black Widow.

We'll find out for sure when Avengers: Endgame arrives in theaters on April 26, 2019.

[h/t: Comicbook.com]

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