Gabrielle Petit is commemorated by a statue in the heart of Brussels where a few people gather on 1 April. They lay wreaths to remember the Belgian woman shot at dawn by German soldiers on that day in 1916.
Petit came from a poor Tournai family, and spent her youth working in bars and possibly earning money from prostitution. She fell in love with a young Belgian officer called Maurice Gobert, who escaped to England when war broke out and joined the exiled Belgian army.
Petit travelled to England to find him and was recruited as a spy. Back in Brussels, she assumed the name Mademoiselle Legrand and sent reports to England on German military activity. She was finally arrested on 2 February 1916 and sent to St Gilles prison.
Petit might have survived if she had agreed to sign a letter asking for clemency, but Petit was a tough woman to the end. Her final words are inscribed on the monument in the heart of Brussels. ‘I will show them that a Belgian woman knows how to die,’ it says.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.