Monday, 4 April 2016

Mathilde remembers a wartime heroine

On the statue that pays tribute to a heroine of World War One in Brussels run the words 'Vive le Roi' so it is appropriate that commemorations for the centenary of her death were led by the Queen of the Belgians. Mathilde placed a wreath on a sunny April Sunday in memory of Gabrielle Petit who was shot by the Germans in the conflict and whose story became world famous after World War One had ended.

Queen Mathilde pays tribute to Gabrielle Petit on the centenary of her execution

Mathilde took part in the ceremony at the Place Saint-Jean in Brussels almost 100 years to the day since Gabrielle Petit was executed. She had been a volunteer with the Belgian Red Cross almost since the start of the war and not long afterwards she began spying on the Germans for the British. She was betrayed in 1916 and after a short trial, condemned to death. Her execution took place on April 1st 1916 at Schaerbeek where she was buried.

Her death, in the middle of the war, took on a new significance once the conflict had ended and in 1919 she was given a State funeral which was attended by Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians. One hundred years on, her successor in that role led tributes to Gabrielle Petit who was 23 when she was executed.

The statue of Gabrielle Petit in Place Saint-Jean in Brussels

The words on the statue that stands in the Place Saint-Jean are those she said as she was shot - her last being 'Vive Le Roi, Vive la Belgique'. A century on from her death, the Belgian Queen bowed her head in remembrance of the bravery of a young woman prepared to die for her country.  There are many commemorations going on across Europe for centenaries linked to World War One and this was amongst the most moving.


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