- (1893-1916)Gabrielle Petit was born in Tournai on 20 February 1893 into an impoverished family. Her mother died when she was young, and her father abandoned the family. As a young woman in Mechelen, she worked as a sales clerk, as a waitress, and, compelled by poverty, quite likely as a prostitute. She met and fell in love with Maurice Gobert, a young noncommissioned officer. When World War I broke out in August 1914 Petit worked collecting funds for the Red Cross in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean. Gobert reached Britain and rejoined the Belgian army. With no news from him (he never answered her letters and later married someone else), Petit traveled to Britain via the Netherlands in July 1915. An English officer recruited her for espionage work, and she returned to settle in Brussels, where, operating under the name Mademoiselle Legrand, she secured agents and sent reports on military activities regularly back to Britain. Her network was discovered by German police following betrayal, likely by a Dutch courier. She was arrested on 2 February 1916 and condemned to death. At Saint-Gilles prison, Petit refused to sign a petition for clemency and heaped abuse on her jailors despite being treated well and earning the sympathy of several guards. She was led out onto the national firing range at Schaerbeek and shot on the morning of 1 April 1916, proclaiming as she fell: "Long live Belgium! Long live the king!" National memorial services were held in May 1919. A statue stands in the place Saint-Jean.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.
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