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* Unveiling of the National Memorial to the Soviet Armed Partisans in Belgium - 1944 - 2019 *

The Belgian Resistance and the RAF Airmen

Ligne Comète - Comete Line
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Soviet Armed Partisans in Belgium - 1944
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Ligne Comète - Comete Line

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The Comet line (French: Réseau Comète) was a resistance group in Belgium and France that helped Allied soldiers and airmen return to Britain during the Second World War. The line started in Brussels where the men were fed, clothed and given false identity papers, before being hidden in attics or cellars. A network of people then guided them south through occupied France into neutral Spain and home via British-controlled Gibraltar.

A typical route was from Brussels or Lille to Paris and then via Tours, Bordeaux, Bayonne, over the Pyrenees to San Sebastián in Spain. From there evaders travelled to Bilbao, Madrid and Gibraltar. There were three other main routes. The Pat line (after founder Albert Guérisse (code name: Pat O'Leary) ran from Paris to Toulouse via Limoges and then over the Pyrenees via Esterri d'Aneu to Barcelona. Another Pat line ran from Paris to Dijon, Lyons, Avignon to Marseille, then Nîmes, Perpignan and Barcelona, from where they were transported to Gibraltar. The third route from Paris (the Shelburne Line) ran to Rennes and then St Brieuc in Brittany, where men were shipped to Dartmouth.

Creation and exploits The Comet line was created by a young Belgian woman who joined the Belgian Resistance. Andrée de Jongh (nickname "Dédée") was 24 in 1940 and lived in Brussels. She was the younger daughter of Frédéric de Jongh, a headmaster, and Alice Decarpentrie. A heroine of Dédée's in her youth had been Edith Cavell, a British nurse who was shot in 1915 in the Tir National in Schaerbeek for helping troops escape from occupied Belgium to neutral Netherlands.

In August 1941 Andrée de Jongh appeared in the British consulate in Bilbao with a British soldier (James Cromar from Aberdeen) and two Belgian volunteers (Merchiers and Sterckmans), having travelled by train from Paris to Bayonne and then on foot over the Pyrenees through the Basque Country. She requested British support for her escape network (later named 'Comet line'), which was granted by MI9 (British Military Intelligence Section 9), under the control of the ex-infantry Major Norman Crockatt and Lieutenant James Langley, who had been repatriated after losing his left arm in the rearguard at Dunkirk in 1940.

Working with MI9 de Jongh helped 400 Allied soldiers escape from Belgium through occupied France to Spain and Gibraltar. Neave described her as "one of our greatest agents”. Later Neave organised gunboats from Dartmouth to run agents and supplies across the Channel to the French resistance in Brittany and return with escaped POWs and evaders. Comet Line members and their families took great risks. De Jongh escorted 118 airmen over the Pyrenees herself.

After November 1942 the escape lines became more dangerous, when southern France was occupied by the Germans and the whole of France came under direct Nazi rule. Many members of the Comet line were betrayed; hundreds were arrested by the Geheime Feldpolizei and the Abwehr; after weeks of interrogation and torture at places such as Fresnes Prison in Paris, they were executed or labelled Nacht und Nebel (NN) prisoners. NN prisoners were deported to German prisons and many later to concentration camps such as Ravensbrück concentration camp for women, Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, Buchenwald concentration camp, Flossenbürg concentration camp. Prisoners sent to these camps included Andrée de Jongh, Elsie Maréchal (Belgian Resistance), Nadine Dumon (Belgian Resistance), Mary Lindell (Comtesse de Milleville) and Virginia d'Albert-Lake (American).

The authors of the official history of MI9 cite 2,373 British and Commonwealth servicemen and 2,700 Americans taken to Britain by such escape lines during the Second World War. The Royal Air Forces Escaping Society estimated that there were 14,000 helpers by 1945. Comet line inspired the 1970s BBC television series, Secret Army (1977–79).

Web site of Comete-Line: http://www.cometeline.org/
Source: Wikipedia

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