Gabrielle Petit was born February 20, 1893, in Tournai, Belgium.
Born into a working class family, Petit had a difficult childhood. She worked several jobs and had no permanent residence until she was taken in by a benefactor.
World War I
When war broke out, Petit volunteered for the Belgian Red Cross. Later that year, her fiancé was wounded and recovered in hiding; she helped him cross the border into the Netherlands. The engagement later ended.
She provided the British Secret Service with valuable information about the trip and the German Army. Not long after, the service hired her as a spy.
During her service, she helped soldiers cross the border and reported on German troop movements. She also helped with a resistance newspaper.
A German posing as a Dutchman betrayed her, and Petit was arrested and tried. She refused to divulge the name of others involved in espionage despite the fact doing so would have spared her life.
The prosecutor at the trial was the same one who prosecuted Edith Cavell.
Shot by a firing squad, Petit died April 1, 1916. Unlike Cavell, her death received little media attention.
After the war, Petit became a symbol of Belgian martyrdom and wartime resistance. She was memorialized in both public works and the arts as the nation’s heroine.
She was given a state funeral, a statue was erected in her honor and a square also was renamed in her honor.
Updated: 23 October 2020