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Gabrielle Petit
The statue of Gabrielle Petit in Place Saint-Jean, Brussels
Born (1893-02-20)20 February 1893
Died 1 April 1916(1916-04-01) (aged 23)
Place of birth Tournai, Hainaut, Belgium
Place of death Schaerbeek, Brussels, Belgium
Buried at Schaerbeek Cemetery
Battles/wars World War I

Gabrielle Alina Eugenia Maria Petit (20 February 1893 – 1 April 1916) was a Belgian woman who spied for the British Secret Service during World War I. Executed in 1916, she became a Belgian national heroine after the war's end.

Life

Petit was born on 20 February 1893 in Tournai to working class parents. She was raised in a Catholic boarding school in Brugelette following her mother's early death. At the outbreak of the First World War, she was living Brussels as a saleswoman. She immediately volunteered to serve with the Belgian Red Cross.[1]

Petit's espionage activities began in 1914, when she helped her wounded soldier fiancé, Maurice Gobert, cross the border into the Netherlands to be reunited with his regiment. She passed along to British Intelligence information about the German army acquired during the trip. They soon hired her, gave her brief training, and sent her to spy on the Imperial German Army. She proceeded to collect information about enemy troop movements using a number of false identities. She was also an active distributor of the clandestine newspaper La Libre Belgique and assisted the underground mail service "Mot du Soldat". She helped several young men across the Dutch border.[1]

Petit was betrayed by a German who presented himself as Dutch and arrested by the German military in February 1916. She was tried and convicted for espionage, with a death sentence imposed on the following 1 March. During her trial, Petit refused to reveal the identities of her fellow agents, despite offers of full amnesty.[1]

Petit was imprisoned at St. Gilles Prison in Brussels. On 1 April 1916 she was shot by a firing squad at the execution field in Schaerbeek. Her body was buried on the grounds there.[1]

Legacy

Petit's story remained unknown until after the war, when she began to be seen as a martyr for the nation. In May 1919 a state funeral was held for her, attended by Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, Cardinal Mercier of Brussels and Prime Minister Léon Delacroix, after which her remains (and those of fellow agents A. Bodson and A. Smekens) were buried with full military honors at Schaerbeek Cemetery.

A statue of Petit was erected in Brussels. In her native Tournai, a square was named after her.[1] Several books were written and films were made about her life after the war.[1]

Notes

References

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