Gabrielle Petit, Belgian resistance fighter
The image of Gabrielle Petit is firmly entrenched in the Belgian collective memory and in the history of Belgium. A nurse and resistance fighter during the First World War, she gave her life for her country.
Through her courage, her love for her country and her faith in freedom, Gabrielle Petit is still to this day considered as an icon of the women's resistance during the First World War.
Gabrielle Petit, born 20 February 1893 in Tournai, studied at the convent of Brugelette and worked as a governess in Brussels for more than two years. While her fiancé, Maurice Gobert, went off to war, she joined the Belgian Red Cross as a nurse in 1914 after the German invasion. After a short training course in espionage, she was quickly recruited by the allied secret services to gather information in Western Hainaut and Northern France. Arrested for a first time by the Germans, she continued her spying activities under another name (Mademoiselle Legrand). She developed her network and sent the information gathered by postcard by inserting a very thin piece of paper in the centre of the card that was invisible to the Germans.
Arrested and imprisoned at the prison in Saint-Gilles in January 1916, she continued to fight and never gave into German pressure. Sentenced to death on 3 March, she was shot on 1 April, leaving a lasting impression through her determination. Gabrielle Petit was just 23. She stood up straight and proud, facing the Germans on the site of the National Shooting Range in Schaerbeek. Head held high in the face of the invader, she kept her love for Belgium until the very end of her life and gave a cry of glory and hope for her country before she died: "Long live the King, Long live...". She had made the ultimate sacrifice for a cause that was so dear to her.
After the war in May 1919, Gabrielle Petit was given a state funeral, attended by Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. Her final resting place is the municipal cemetery in Schaerbeek. A century later, the memory of this heroine of the resistance continues to live on in the minds of the Belgian people. The names of streets and monuments reflect the exceptional value of this young woman.
© Photo: Musée de folklore de la ville de Tournai