22 October 2007

RIP: Andrée de Jongh

Andrée de Jongh
30 Nov 1916 - 13 Oct 2007

ZUI this article from the Washington Post:
Andrée de Jongh, 90, a Belgian resistance fighter who established the most successful escape route in Europe for downed Allied airmen during World War II -- a 1,000-mile trek across occupied France, over the Pyrenees into Spain and down to the British colony of Gibraltar -- died Oct. 13 in Brussels. No cause of death was reported.

Ms. de Jongh, known as "Dédée" and the "Petit Cyclone," began her resistance work in May 1940 after the Nazi advance into Brussels. At the time, she was a 24-year-old commercial artist and Belgian Red Cross volunteer.

And this from The Telegraph:
The youngest daughter of a schoolmaster, Andrée de Jongh was born at Schaerbeek in German-occupied Belgium on November 30 1916. She trained as a nurse after being inspired by the work of Edith Cavell, the nurse who had been shot in 1915 for assisting British troops to escape. At the outbreak of the war she was working at Malmédy, but immediately moved to Brussels when the Germans invaded her country.

Once the Comet Line (so called because of the speed at which it operated) was established there was a constant stream of shot-down aircrew escorted to the "last house" in the French-Basque village of Urrugne.

Whichever route the evaders took through France, they always ended up at this house, where they were sheltered before meeting Basque guides organised and led by a giant of a man known as Florentino. He constantly drove the evaders to move quickly as he helped them across the rivers and mountains, with Dédée encouraging them from behind.

Dédée de Jongh made more than 30 double crossings and escorted 116 evaders, including more than 80 aircrew. But on the night of January 15 1943 she was sheltering at Urrugne with three RAF evaders when she was betrayed. The house was stormed and she was captured. When interrogated under torture by the Gestapo, in order to save others she admitted being the leader of Le Reseau Comète.

The Gestapo, however, refused to believe that such a young and innocent girl could be in charge of an underground movement whose compass stretched from from Belgium to Spain.


After recovering her health Dédée de Jongh went to Buckingham Palace, in 1946, to receive the George Medal — the highest civilian award for bravery available to a foreigner. After the ceremony the RAF Escaping Society gave a dinner in her honour hosted by Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry. The Americans awarded her the Medal of Freedom and the French appointed her a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur. The Belgians appointed her a Chevalier of the Order of Leopold and awarded her the Croix de Guerre with palm. In 1985 she was created a countess by King Baudouin.

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