Today's post continues the story of the Comet Escape Line, the network established during World War II to escort downed Allied Airmen safely out of Europe and back into the fight. If you missed the earlier posts and would like to read them, just click on these links: March, April, May, June, July.
|Comet Line Escape Route in Red|
After Franco returned to Paris and discovered that Paul De Jongh and other Comet agents had been arrested by the Gestapo, Franco worked even harder to facilitate the transfer of airmen out of France. He travelled back and forth from Paris to Bilbao, Spain, with a different group of airmen every two weeks during the summer of 1943. Allied bombings in Europe were increasing and more airmen than ever needed assistance.
It was no longer safe for the airmen to ride the train straight from Paris to Bayonne in the far south of France. Gendarmes and plain-clothes Gestapo agents were watching for escapees taking the routes to the coast from the Gare d'Austerlitz train station in Paris. The airmen now rode a fourteen-hour night train to Bordeaux, then a local train to Dax, near Bayonne.
Franco, Tante Go, and Janine took turns escorting the airmen on bicycles from Dax to Anglet. On one trip, an American airmen didn't know how to ride a bicycle, so Franco had to teach him before they could make the twenty-six-kilometer trip to Bayonne. After falling on the pavement in town a few times, on the outskirts of town, the poor soldier collided with two German officers riding their bicycles toward him. Franco pretended the American was drunk and hollered at him in front of the Germans, saying he deserved to be shot. This satisfied the officers, and they all went on their way.
|Comet Line Route from Southern France to Spain|
Franco was so exhausted by the fall of 1943 that the British Consul at Bilbao sent him by car to Gibraltar to meet with British intelligence. There in the shadow of the Rock, Franco found new courage. Observing the great fortress and its orderly calm gave him confidence that for the first time that Hitler's forces could not win this war. Franco was informed the British were sending someone to replace Paul in Paris. His code name was Jerome.
After three days, Franco left Gibraltar refreshed and within the week had crossed the Pyrenees and returned to Paris. Jerome arrived and set up his headquarters in a flat on the Rue de Longchamps, near the Trocadéro, in Paris.
In December, Franco led a group of American pilots and a Belgian Comet leader to Spain. Their Basque guide, Florentino, was down with the flu and unable to accompany them. Unfortunately, the Bidassoa River on the border between France and Spain was high because of heavy rain the day before. An American pilot and the Belgian leader were carried away in the torrent and drowned.
|Crossing points on the Bidassoa River. Courtesy of Pyrenean Experience.|
By January 1944, the Gestapo was closing in on the Comet Line in Brussels and in Paris. The traitor Jean Masson who had led the Gestapo to arrest so many Comet operatives the previous year had resurfaced. Jerome returned to Paris from a visit to Brussels on the evening of January 17th. His intention was to prepare to return to England. The Gestapo was waiting for him at his flat. He was taken to headquarters and tortured. Franco returned to the same apartment the next day and was also arrested. Franco would survive the war.
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 manuscripts have finaled in the Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award of Excellence and the Oregon Christian Writers Cascade Awards, semi-finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis contest, and won ACFW’s First Impressions contest and the Sandra Robbins Inspirational Writing Award. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of forty-one years. Her daughter, son-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren live only an hour away. Cindy’s currently writing two fiction series set in WWII Europe.