After the British and French divisions withdrew to the Marne, many wounded soldiers remained behind throughout northern France and in the Ardennes in field hospitals, while others remained because they had lost contact with their units. At first, they escaped the attention of the Germans and, with the help of local people, they tried to get back to their army or to escape to England. Edith Cavell’s hospital soon became a reception centre for soldiers who wanted to rejoin their divisions via the Netherlands. Cavell herself became a key link in the escape route that led from northern France via Brussels to the Netherlands. Edith Cavell testified later that she had helped about 200 people.
The network was finally rounded up, probably as a result of betrayal by an informer. The loose tongues of the first people to be arrested led ultimately to the capture of 66 members. Edith Cavell was taken into custody on 15 August 1915 in Sint Gillis/Saint-Gilles.
Edith Cavell seems to have detested lies: at her interrogation, she told the truth. This was held against her later, as it led, among other things, to the arrest of the British Intelligence Corps’s two best Belgian contacts.
Edith Cavell was placed in solitary confinement - as a major criminal - and was allowed no visitors, not even a defence lawyer. Her trial began on 7 October 1915.
Everyone was convinced that the Germans would not sentence a woman to death, but they were quite wrong: for the Germans, this trial was intended to have a deterrent effect. The verdict was announced on 11 October 1915: Edith Cavell was sentenced to death for high treason, for supplying soldiers to an enemy army. A plea for clemency for Edith Cavell, submitted by the secretary of the US embassy, was rejected. She was executed on 12 October 1915, at 7 am.