Friday, April 1, 2022

The WWII Comet Escape Line

by Cindy Kay Stewart

Courtesy of the National Museum of the US Air Force
(Comet Line in Red)

On March 1st, I shared how the Comet Escape Line was established during WWII (1941). If you missed that post you can find it here. In the fall of 1941, Dédée escorted a group of Allied airmen (two Polish and one Canadian) on the express train from Paris to Bayonne, near the Spanish border. At the train station, they met up with Tant Go's daughter, Janine, in the refreshment room. When it was time to leave, the airmen went one at a time to the lavatory where there was a door to the outside, allowing them to avoid passing the ticket barrier. Someone in the escape network had made a duplicate key - this door was always locked. Dédée left the station through the main exit. 

Janine de Greef

Janine and the airmen bicycled to St. Jean de Luz, left their bicycles at the station, and walked up the stony road to a farm at Urrugne. During their walk, "a young Basque peasant on a bicycle came down the hill towards them. As he passed, he shook his head significantly and pointed up the road." Janine led the airmen to a hiding place, and then she climbed a wooded slope and observed the road to Urrugne. There she spotted German troops on bicycles at a barricade. Janine led the Allied airmen on a long detour, and they safely arrived at the farm in Urrugne, where their Basque guide, Florentino, awaited them. Florentino and Dédée led the party across the mountains and into the hands of British diplomats in Spain. This was Dédée's third group of servicemen who made the eight-hour hike to freedom. 

Florentino, the Basque Guide for Comet

The Basque guide, Florentino, was a tall man, with a broad back and strong muscles. He wore espadrilles, rope-soled shoes necessary for navigating the Pyrenees safely. He provided these shoes for the airmen. Florentino was most at home in the mountains and knew the paths well. Darkness and fog didn't slow him down. He hated fascism, as did many of the Basques, and he was happy to work for Dédée and Tante Go. He managed to evade the police on both sides of the frontier (France and Spain) who suspected him of smuggling and working for the Allies. In reality, Florentino delivered documents and photos to the British, making constant trips across the mountains from 1941 until France was liberated in the fall of 1944.

Dédée and her father, Paul

Meanwhile, back in Brussels, the Secret Police of the Luftwaffe paid a visit to the De Jongh home, seeking Dédée's whereabouts. They questioned her mother for an hour. Her father, Paul, was in Valenciennes and escaped the interrogation. Upon learning from a neighbor that she had been questioned about Paul, he moved his headquarters to another location. Six weeks later his wife and daughter, Suzanne, were arrested in their home but were released the same day. With a price on his head of a million Belgian francs, Paul's friends convinced him to flee to Paris, and he left Belgium forever on April 30. Just six days later, the two men who had taken charge of the Brussels operation were arrested.

In January of 1943, Dédée was betrayed to the Gestapo. On May 1st, I'll share the continuing story of the Comet Line.

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Resource: Little Cyclone by Airey Neave. Biteback Publishing Ltd, 2013, 2016.

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Cindy Stewart, a high school social studies teacher, church pianist, and 
inspirational historical romance author, writes stories of hope, steeped in faith and love. Her first manuscript finaled in the Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award of Excellence, placed second in the North Texas Romance Writers Great Expectations contest, semi-finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis contest, and won ACFW’s First Impressions contest. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of forty years. Their daughter, son-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren live only an hour away. Cindy’s currently writing two fiction series set in WWII Europe.




5 comments:

  1. Thanks for continuing the story. Amazing!

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    1. Thank you for dropping by and commenting Connie!

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  2. This is a fascinating story, Cindy! I'm looking forward to the next part.

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    1. Thank you, Ane! Many interesting stories to come. :)

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