Countess Andree De Jongh
"Dedee - La Petite Cyclone"
"My father told me Belgium had given in to the Germans. I had never seen him cry before - never. I was in despair and furious, enraged at the same time. I said to my father, you'll see what we'll do to them. You'll see, they are going to lose this war. They've started it but they'll lose it." Andree de Jongh.
A great woman and heroine of WW2, Andree de Jongh, died on October 13th 2007. A schoolmaster's daughter she was born in Schaerbeek, a suburb of Brussels, in 1916. As a child Andree was full of energy and zest for life. Her father, Frederic de Jongh, affectionately referred to his young daughter as "La Petite Cyclone" - The Little Tornado. When the Germans swept into Belgium in May 1940 she was working as a commercial artist in Malmedy.
Trained in first aid and anxious to help, she returned at once to her parents' home and went to work as a nurse among wounded British soldiers. As France and the Low Countries fell to the Germans and the British Army was forced from the Continent, she began, on her own initiative, to organise safe houses to hide downed aircrew and soldiers who had found themselves left behind. It was not long before she started to look for ways of getting them home.
From safe houses in and around Brussels, disguised and by different routes, evaders were taken through France to St Jean de Luz, near Biarritz, close to the Spanish border. From there they were taken on foot through the Pyrenees and over to neutral Spain where they were then handed to British officials. Those helping her as trusted couriers and organisers were often close friends and even members of her own family.
Her father did much of the work in Brussels. Her aunt, Elvire de Greef, housed groups bound for the border at her home in the foothills of the Pyrenees and arranged mountain guides to take them across. De Jongh herself accompanied parties into Spain on 16 occasions.
The men whom Comete carried to safety would remember Andree de Jongh with lasting gratitude, fondness and admiration. They knew her only as "Dedee", an affectionate name given in Belgium to girls called Andree, and found her courage, confidence and dedication to her task inspirational. Striking too was her youth and slightness of stature: when her work on the line began, she was barely 24.
Amongst those to evade through Comete were Gordon Mellor, Leonard Pipkin and "Dizzy" Spiller of 103 Sqn in 1942.
The success of the Comete line, however, compelled the Germans to try ever harder to destroy it and other escape organisations. The traitor, Prosper De Zitter, is thought to have been responsible for more than 50 arrests alone.
In January 1943, poised to begin another trek into Spain, de Jongh was arrested with three evaders when the Germans surrounded and raided a Pyrenees farmhouse. She was brutally interrogated and then sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp.
Others rounded up in subsequent months included Andree's father, who was betrayed and arrested at a Paris railway station in June 1943.
The following March, after interrogation and months of imprisonment, he was shot. Despite these heavy blows, Comete survived and continued to operate until the eve of the Allied invasion of Europe. The last men to be passed along were two RAF Sergeants who reached Spain in early June 1944. These were the last of over 800 evaders to pass through Comete to freedom.
In all, of the Comete line helpers who fell into German hands, 23 were executed, while another 133 died in concentration camps or as a result or their incarceration. Seriously ill, but accompanied by her sister, Suzanne, who had worked on Comete until her own arrest in 1942, Andree de Jongh returned home in the summer of 1945.
For her wartime work and achievements she was awarded the George Medal, the American Medal of Freedom and the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palme.
She was also created Chevaliers of the French Legion d'Honneur and the Belgian Order of Leopold. She was also awarded the honourary rank of Lt Col in the Belgian Army and, in 1985, was made a Belgian Countess.
After the war, de Jongh, who never married, continued to devote herself to caring for others. Inspired by the story of Father Damien, a Belgian priest who had worked in the South Seas with leprosy sufferers and died of the disease, she spent years as a nurse in leprosy hospitals in the Belgian Congo and Ethiopia. She returned to Brussels only when her sight and health began to fail.
In later life she was always willing to help historians studying the wartime escape lines and, after moving to a nursing home, continued to welcome visitors.
Note - Obituary courtesy of the Independent with amendments and additions by David Fell.
Many courageous men and women in occupied Europe risked everything to help our airmen evade capture and paid a heavy price for doing so.
One such person was another Belgian lady, Gertrude Moors, who died at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp 5th May 1945.
This lady was party to helping Leonard Pipkin of 103 Sqn escape in 1942. Born in Dilsen in 1902. She was arrested in 1943 having been active within the MARC and LUC intelligence gathering units reporting back to the Special Intelligence Service. She gave direct and personal assistance to Pipkin prior to her eventual arrest in June 43. She was tortured in St Gilles Prison and condemned to death on the 2nd July 1944. Colin Pateman.