Andrée de Jongh
Countess Andrée Eugénie Adrienne de Jongh (30 November 1916 – 13 October 2007) was a member of the Belgian Resistance during the Second World War. She organised the Comet line (Le Réseau Comète) for escaped Allied soldiers and airmen. After the war, she worked in leper hospitals in Africa.
|Andrée de Jongh|
Andrée de Jongh after visiting Buckingham Palace to receive the George Medal in February 1946
Andrée Eugénie Adrienne de Jongh|
November 30, 1916
October 13, 2007 (aged 90)|
|Known for||Belgian Resistance|
|Title||Honorary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Belgian Army.|
|Parent(s)||Frédéric De Jongh and Alice Decarpentrie|
Andrée de Jongh (nicknamed "Dédée") was born in Schaerbeek in Belgium, then under German occupation during the First World War. She was the younger daughter of Frédéric De Jongh, a headmaster and Alice Decarpentrie. Edith Cavell, a British nurse shot in the Tir national in Schaerbeek in 1915 for assisting troops to escape from occupied Belgium to the neutral Netherlands, was a heroine in her youth.
Second World WarEdit
After German troops invaded Belgium in May 1940, De Jongh moved to Brussels, where she became a Red Cross volunteer, ministering to captured Allied troops. In Brussels at that time, hiding in safe houses, were many British soldiers, those left behind at Dunkirk and escapees from those captured at Saint-Valery-en-Caux. De Jongh organized a series of safe houses for these soldiers, while also procuring civilian clothes so they would not be identified as well as false ID papers. Visiting the sick and wounded soldiers enabled her to make links with this network of safe-house keepers who were trying to work out ways to get the soldiers back to Britain.
In the summer of 1941, with the help of her father, she set up an escape network for captured Allied soldiers, which became later known as the Comet Line. Working with Arnold Deppé and Elvire De Greef-Berlemont in the south of France, they established links with the safe houses in Brussels, then a route was found, using trains, through occupied and Vichy France to the border with Spain. The final line was 1,200 miles in total. The first escape attempt was unsuccessful, and all of the escapees were captured by the Spanish, with only two out of eleven reaching England, so De Jongh decided to lead the second attempt, a group of three men, personally.
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 which was granted by MI9 (British Military Intelligence Section 9), under the control of Major Norman Crockatt and Lieutenant James Langley. Langley had been repatriated after losing his left arm in the rearguard defence of Dunkirk in 1940.
Working with MI9 de Jongh helped 400 Allied soldiers escape from Belgium through occupied France to Spain and Gibraltar. Airey 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 made more than 30 double crossings over the Pyrenees herself and escorted 118 evaders, including more than 80 aircrew. After November 1942 the escape lines became more dangerous, after 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 and were executed or deported to German prisons and concentration camps. De Jongh was captured at a farmhouse in Urrugne, in the French Basque country, on 15 January 1943 – the last stop on the escape line before the passage over the Pyrenees – during her 33rd journey to Spain. She was sent first to Fresnes prison in Paris and eventually to Ravensbrück concentration camp and Mauthausen. Even in de Jongh's absence, the Comet Line helped about 700 Allied soldiers reach safety. Although she survived, she had become gravely ill and undernourished by the time she was released by the Allied advance in April 1945. Many of her colleagues died in captivity. Her father Frédéric de Jongh was arrested in Paris on 7 June 1943 and executed on 28 March 1944.
After the war, she moved first to the Belgian Congo, then to Cameroon, next to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, working in leper hospitals and finally to Senegal. In failing health, she eventually retired to Brussels.
For her wartime efforts, she was awarded the United States Medal of Freedom, the British George Medal, and became a Chevalier of the French Légion d'honneur. She also became a Chevalier of the Order of Leopold, received the Belgian Croix de Guerre/Oorlogskruis with palm, and was granted the honorary rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Belgian Army. In 1985, she was made a countess in the Belgian nobility by King Baudouin.
In Spring of 1959, while working at a leper colony in Coquilhatville, she met with English novelist Graham Greene. Greene recorded her candid account of her war experiences in his journal which was published in 1961. In In Search of a Character: Two African Journals, Greene wrote that he asked her why she had come to the Congo. She replied, "Because from the age of fifteen I wanted to cure lepers. If I had delayed any longer it would have been too late."
The Countess de Jongh died on 13 October 2007, aged 90, at the University Clinic, Woluwe-Saint-Lambert/Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe, Brussels. Her funeral service was held at the La Cambre Abbey, Ixelles, Brussels, and she was interred in the crypt of her parents at the Schaarbeek Cemetery.
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