This time I headed to Trafalgar Square via Soho where I had shopped every week for groceries as a young girl, and on the way I passed the Edith Cavell monument which bears the words “Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone”. I recalled that she was a nurse but couldn’t remember her story so I looked it up. She was indeed an English nurse living in Belgium who during the First World War was responsible, with help from others, for the safe escape of English, French and Belgian soldiers.
Eventually she was arrested, tried for treason and sentenced to execution by firing squad. On the eve of her execution, before receiving Holy Communion from an English priest who had compassionately been brought to her by the German pastor, her sentiments were that “patriotism is not the highest thing, and that one should hate no-one, but love all”.
As Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday approaches and wars continue, these are powerful words to contemplate but very hard to take on board for those who have lost friends and family in conflict or live with the seriously injured. Edith Cavell, who was probably also an Intelligence spy, was a deeply patriotic woman but in her final hours her focus rested on the awareness that to love all and hate no-one was far more powerful. Almost a century later I believe there is still so much to be learned from this sentiment.