Thursday, 27 September 2012

Maurice Bricout - 'The Border Policeman' Part One

Maurice Bricout
Photographs For False Identity Cards
George Watt 

Hank Johnson
Edward Johnson

By the middle of 1943 it was no longer possible for the Comete Escape Line to traffic evaders directly to Paris over the Belgium/France border. German control had increased significantly on the trains and border points. Unless the evaders spoke fluent French and were well briefed with information to accompany their false papers they stood little chance of making it through to Paris.


Comete had also been significantly damaged in June by the arrests of key players. New tactics had to be adopted quickly and a plan implemented; evaders were still filtering their way into the line via Holland and Belgium. Main operators Jean-Francois Nothcomb (‘Franco’), Yvon Michiels (‘Jean Serment’) and Antoine d'Ursel (‘Jacques Cartier’) met at Orval on July 15 1943 to discuss the problem.


‘Jean Serment’ took on the responsibility of finding someone to formulate other routes and means of crossing the border into France. Only one suitable alternative was currently known, which was a passage via the village of Sivry, and this was utilised on foot.


Twenty four year old Albert Mattens (‘Jean-Jacques’) (already known to another major Comete operator Jules Dricout) was recruited to find, organise and oversee the implementation plus operation of the new routes. Variation would reduce the risk of arousing suspicion and discovery and if a route was found by the enemy the others could still be used.


The Belgian border town of Rumes became a starting point for one of the six passages. Evaders were escorted on foot under cover of darkness across the border to the sleepy French village of Bachy. Maurice Bricout was a 36 years old Customs Officer living and working in the Bachy area. He had returned to the job from serving in the French artillery after France had surrendered and its army had been demobilised.   


‘Jean Jacques’ had met Maurice and his brother Albert through his own work in Belgian customs. Albert became instrumental in the Sivry-Sars-Pottery route whilst Maurice operated via Rumes-Bachy.


These were dangerous times and the trafficking of evaders required careful structure and planning. Each route had its own system of convoying, which was varied when circumstances dictated.


On the Rumes to Bachy crossings, evaders arrived at Rumes railway station and were usually led to a rendezvous point where they would be met by new guides. They would be taken to a house on the edge of the village and there exchange their Belgian identity documents and money for French equivalents.


Sometimes the initial contact with their new guides was at the end of the station platform as George Watt describes in his book the ‘Comet Connection:


Watt got off the train at Rumes with his guide and another escapee. The ride from Brussels to the French border had taken about an hour and the two fugitives were led to the end of the platform where they stepped into a shadow behind a large structure. Waiting there was Hank ‘Tennessee’ Johnson the Flight Engineer in Watt’s B17 aircraft.


Johnson describes in his debriefing report what happened after Watt’s guide from the train left them:


‘Two girls and a man took us to a house where our Belgian money was changed into French and where we were given French identity papers. A short stocky man took us with the two girls to a French policeman’s house.’


Numerous evading airmen describe either being led into France by a French Policeman or Border Policeman or being taken to his house. The assumption with certain evaders that Bricout was a Policeman occurred because of the similarity (particularly in the darkness) between the uniform of the Customs officer and French Policeman.


Bricout did not always wear his uniform though as RAF Dambuster Edward Johnson observed in his report.


‘We were given new Identity Cards and handed in all our Belgian money. We were escorted by a Border Policeman in civilian clothing and stayed the night at the Policeman’s house.’ be continued next week.


The Comet Connection - George Watt

Comet - Cecile Joan

Network Comet - Remy

US Archives Evaders Reports

National Archives Kew Evader Report

© Keith Morley


  1. This insightful post by Keith shows how adaptable the Allies were in remaining one-step ahead of the German forces. They had formed here their own sort of ‘War Cabinet’ or the modern equivalent would be our own ‘Cobra’ organisation which exists to debate matters of national crisis. Their plan was to change the routes and have official-seeming undercover people who had experience in such roles Enter Maurice Bricout and others.WWII Evasion line work, by its very nature, required co-operation with and trust in many people who hardly knew each other. This made it the most dangerous kind of resistance activity in WWII. It is said that two 'Helpers’ died for every allied airman who was successfully evacuated - this does not count those who were arrested and sent to concentration camps but survived to come home broken in body and in spirit. No 'Helper' could expect to operate, and history was to prove it, for more than six months. Many did not last even half that long. The Comete Line was the Phoenix of the escape line organizations. It endured many betrayals and mass arrests, yet it rose again with new leaders and new members and carried on assisting allied airmen when and wherever they could. In its many re-incarnations it operated from mid 1941 till the Belgian liberation period in early September 1944. We look forward to finding out more in the second part. Bricout certainly with others made a difference..“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
    Mahatma Gandhi

  2. That's my great granddad. George Watt.

    1. Met my father in a safe house in Paris. George was with 'Tennessee' Johnson at the time.