Gabrielle Petit
Gabrielle Alina Eugenia Maria Petit (20 February 1893, Tournai
Tournai is a Walloon city and municipality of Belgium located 85 kilometres southwest of Brussels, on the river Scheldt, in the province of Hainaut....

, Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 − 1 April 1916, Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

) was a Belgium woman who spied for the British Secret Service during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. Executed in 1916, she became a Belgian national heroine after the war's end.


Gabrielle Petit was born to working class parents and was raised in a Catholic boarding school in Brugelette
Brugelette is a Walloon municipality located in the Belgian province of Hainaut. On January 1, 2006 Brugelette had a total population of 3,284. The total area is 28.40 km² which gives a population density of 116 inhabitants per km².- External links :*...

 following her mother's early death. At the outbreak of the First World War, she was living and working in Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

 as a saleswoman. She immediately enrolled in the medical service of the Belgian Red Cross
Belgian Red Cross
The Belgian Red Cross was established in 1864 by Doctor Andrea Wegner and has its headquarters in Brussels.-External links:***...


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
La Libre Belgique
La Libre Belgique is a Belgian newspaper in French. In Belgium, it can be roughly seen as an equivalent of Flemish De Standaard. The paper is widely perceived as pro-catholic...

and assisted the underground mail service "Mot du Soldat". She helped several young men across the Dutch border.

Petit was denounced and arrested by German military prosecutors in February 1916.

During her trial, Petit refused to reveal the identities of her fellow agents, despite offers of full amnesty
Amnesty is a legislative or executive act by which a state restores those who may have been guilty of an offense against it to the positions of innocent people, without changing the laws defining the offense. It includes more than pardon, in as much as it obliterates all legal remembrance of the...

. She was imprisoned at St. Gilles Prison in Brussels. Gabrielle Petit was executed by firing squad on April 1, 1916. Her body was buried at the execution field in Schaarbeek
Schaerbeek or Schaarbeek is one of the nineteen municipalities located in the Brussels-Capital Region of Belgium. The first mention of the name was Scarenbecca, recorded in a document from the Bishop of Cambrai in 1120...



Unlike Edith Cavell
Edith Cavell
Edith Louisa Cavell was a British nurse and spy. She is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from all sides without distinction and in helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium during World War I, for which she was arrested...

, who was also convicted of espionage and executed in occupied Belgium, Petit's story remained unknown until after the war. Then, she began to be regarded as a martyr of Belgian nationalism. In May 1919, after a funeral in the presence of the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, Cardinal Mercier
Désiré-Joseph Mercier
-Early life and ordination:Désiré Mercier was born at the château du Castegier in Braine-l'Alleud, as the fifth of the seven children of Paul-Léon Mercier and his wife Anne-Marie Barbe Croquet....

 and the Prime Minister Léon Delacroix
Léon Delacroix
Léon Frédéric Gustave Delacroix was a Belgian statesman. Before entering politics, he was a renowned lawyer, and served as president of the Belgian Court of Cassation from 1917 to 1918. In the context of reconstruction after World War I, he was appointed the 22nd Prime Minister and served from...

, Petit's remains (and those of fellow agents A. Bodson and A. Smekens) were buried with full military honors at the city cemetery of Schaarbeek.

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