Photographs For False Identity Cards
By the middle of 1943 it was no longer possible for the Comete Escape Line to traffic evaders directly to
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 . 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 . 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
one suitable alternative was currently known, which was a passage via the France , and this was utilised on foot. village of Sivry
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
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 Rumes . 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 village
of Bachy had surrendered and its army
had been demobilised. France
‘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
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. France
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.’
...to 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