Gabrielle Petit

Gabrielle Petit (1893-1916) was executed in Belgium by the German Army on suspicion of spying on behalf of the British Government.

Gabrielle Alina Eugenia Maria Petit was born in a simple family in Tournai (Doornik), Belgium in 1893. After her mother’s death she was raised in a catholic boarding school in Brugelette. In 1914 Gabrielle Petit, now 21 years old, was living and working in Bussels. As soon as the war broke out she took part in the medical service of the Belgian Red Cross.

Her fiancée, Maurice Gobert, whom she met in 1912 was – being a professional soldier – sent to the front. After hes was wounded in Hofstade and captivated by the Germans, he managed to escape to his parents in Fontaine – l’Évêque. When he was recovered he crossed the Dutch border to join the Belgian troops. After a short training period in England, Gabrielle Petit joined the Secret Service and soon became a master spy.

She collected information about the movements of the German troops and their railway communications for the Allied Powers. Besides that, she was also active as a distributor for the clandestine newspaper “La libre Belgique” and the underground mail service “Mot du Soldat” and helped several young men crossing the Dutch border.

She was betrayed by a so called Dutchman and arrested by the Germans in February 1916. On the first of March she was sentenced to death. During her trial she refused to betray her co-operators in order to get clemency. She served her time in the prison of Saint-Gilles (Brussels) with stoic patience, proud unassailability and great faith. She was brought before the firing squad on April 1, 1916. Her corpse was buried at the execution field in Schaarbeek.

Only after the war – when her story became widely known – Gabrielle Petit became a martyr and a national heroine. Post mortem she was granted several medals and honorary titles. In May 1919 – after a national funeral in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth, Cardinal Mercier and the Prime Minister Delacroix – her mortal remains (and those of her compatriots A. Bodson and A. Smekens) were transferred to the city cemetary of Schaarbeek. She got a statue in Brussels (as seen on the postcard) and in her city of birth, Tournai, a square was named after her. The story of her life was told in several hagiographic books, theatre plays, patriotic songs, children’s books and movies.