Sunday, May 1, 2022

The WWII Comet Escape Line

by Cindy Kay Stewart

Today's post continues the story of the Comet Escape Line established during World War II to escort downed Allied Airmen safely out of Europe and back into the fight. If you missed the first two posts and would like to read them, they can be found here and here.

Dédée De Jongh - Founder of the Comet Line
Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

In early May of 1942 after Paul De Jongh had fled to France, the two men who had taken charge of the Brussels end of the Comet Line were arrested and imprisoned. Paul's daughter and Dédée De Jongh's sister, Suzanne, worked with Baron Jean Greindl Laan, codenamed "Nemo," to continue operations. Paul stayed in Paris, and Dédée continued her dangerous trips escorting airmen to the south of France, across the Pyrenees into Spain, and into the hands of British consular officials.

A few months earlier, Nemo had become director of a canteen run by the Swedish Red Cross in Brussels. He ran the Comet Line from this location. Madame Scherlinck, a Swedish lady, was the canteen's patron, and through this agency food and clothes were provided for the poor and ailing children of the city. Nemo supplied bags of rice and flour from the Swedish Red Cross to the families sheltering the airmen. 

Peggy van Lier helped with feeding the children at the canteen, and she became Nemo's assistant in the Comet Line. The canteen became a cover for several young people who helped in the secret work. They were adventurous and eager to participate in facilitating the escape of Allied airmen.

Peggy van Lier
Courtesy of the American Air Museum in Britain

In an attempt to penetrate the rescue network, the Germans planted young English-speaking men into the countryside who posed as downed Allied airmen. This led to arrests and imprisonment. To counter the problem, eighteen-year-old Elsie Maréchal, who spoke perfect English, started testing the stories of the supposed airmen before taking them to homes in Brussels. The Belgian guides brought the men to St. Joseph's Church where Elsie asked them about their units, the planes they flew, and where they were stationed. While they waited inside the church, Elsie would report to Nemo at the canteen for further instructions.

St. Joseph's Church in Brussels
Public Domain

One wintry day in November of 1942, two German imposters were brought to St. Joseph's Church. Normal protocols weren't followed, and Elsie didn't know to meet the airmen. The Belgian guide from Namur took them to a house of a friend where he was given the Maréchal's address by people unaware of their underground activities. The two Germans who claimed to be Americans didn't act like Americans. Elsie noticed several red flags but thought she was overreacting. After fixing a meal for the men, Elsie went to the canteen. Nemo sent her back home with instructions not to allow the men to leave the house. In the meantime, the young men asked Elsie's mother if they could go for a walk. They left the house and returned shortly after with guns pointed at Mrs. Maréchal.

One by one the members of the Maréchal family returned home and were arrested along with others who showed up at their house, including Elvire Morelle who arrived from Paris early the next morning. The enemy agents reported on all the guides, shelterers, and helpers they had encountered in the Belgian line "from the Ardennes and Namur to the very center of the organization in Brussels." 

In two days, nearly 100 people were arrested, including innocent relatives thrown into prison as hostages. Many of these never survived to return home. In the previous six months, the Comet Line had rescued sixty airmen, but their operation wasn't over. New leaders reorganized the line and recruited more Belgians to carry on the work.

After Peggy van Lier successfully convinced the Nazis that she was not a participant in the operation, she was released and fled to England with a group of Allied servicemen on the Comet Line. Mr. Maréchal was executed by the Germans. Mrs. Maréchal, her daughter Elsie, and Elvire Morelle were sent to concentration camps in Germany, but they each survived and returned home after the war ended. 

Return on June 1st for the continuing story of the courageous men and women of the Comet Line.


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


Cindy Kay 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.



  1. Thank you for continuing this story. I can't imagine the bravery of the people who participated in this rescue mission.

    1. More stories of brave people to come! Thank you for dropping by, Connie.

  2. Replies
    1. It's truly amazing what these young people were willing to do to bring freedom back to their country.