Friday, 5 October 2012

Maurice Bricout - 'The Border Policeman' Part Two

The Customs Control Point in 2011 - Keith Morley

Maurice Bricout's House in 2011 - Keith Morley

Evader USAAF Charles Carlson pictured in the winter of 1943 with frontier guide Henriette Hanotte 'Monique' (left) and Raymonde HOËL (right). The latter operated in Comete with her sister Nellie. The evaders changed identity papers and money from Belgian to French at their home on the edge of Rumes before the border crossing. - 'Monique' Hanotte

Maurice Bricout was also described by Anne Jacobson Robertson in her book ‘The Road Home’ as wearing the uniform of the French artillery, yet in November 1943 F/O Robert Clements RAF 57 Squadron said in his evasion report:

‘We got off (the train) and walked across the border being guided by a Belgian Policeman who was very proud of the fact that he wore RAF battle dress.’

One of the guides in that sector, Odile de Vasselot recounted that:

 ‘Maurice Bricout arrived superb to see in his Customs Officer uniform.’ 

Despite conflicting information, Lieutenant Bricout is likely to have worn the uniform of a Customs Officer, or on rare occasions donned civilian clothes.  (see also last week’s post)

Working for the Germans as a Customs Officer, Bricout would have been able to use his inside knowledge of border activities to help the Comete Escape Line decide when and how to traffic the evaders out of the town of Rumes, over fields, past one of the Customs control points and on to his farmhouse in Bachy.

Evader reports indicate that Bricout did not always lead them over the border himself. On occasions the airmen followed their guides (usually one guide to two evaders), arriving at Bricout’s home via the back garden and farmhouse rear door. They would all stay in the kitchen and upon arrival, his wife Rachel would take over, ensuring that the evaders and their guides were given food and drink. Maurice and their son Rene would help in the traditional style of French hosts and the airmen reported their experiences favourably.  

P/O George Ward said

 ‘A few of us were there; I seem to remember there was quite a party.’

George Watt described in his book The Comet Connection how he was one of four escapees with a woman and a man as their guides. They came to a large farmhouse; the guides went in first before beckoning the evaders inside a large kitchen. Half a dozen people were already there; a woman, three or four men and a twelve year old boy. Food and wine appeared and there were toasts to the evaders, their guides, the Resistance and the death of Hitler. They laughed and ate, the wine flowed freely and everyone got pleasantly high.

Evaders and their guides would stay in the farmhouse kitchen for most of the night. There were no sleeping arrangements, as the house was not equipped to support these numbers. Enough time existed after the meal for a catnap before the guides left with their charges around 4.00am, each airman being given a baguette in greaseproof paper. The party moved across fields to Cysoing railway station where they boarded the early workmen’s train to Lille and subsequently caught the afternoon train to Paris.

The Comete Escape Line operated this route from August 1943 until the end of December. In early January 1944 the line collapsed again as the Abewehr and Gestapo moved in. Many key operators and helpers were arrested. Comete was decimated and would never fully recover, although it did bravely regroup. 

Maurice Bricout alleged that he continued to shelter and pass on various evaders to nearby houses as late as 27 July 1944, providing meat and butter for them costing 2,000 francs a month. On 10 July his house had been searched by the Gestapo and he disappeared afterwards to join the Maquis. On 27 July Bricout returned to the house to pick up some linen. The Gestapo were waiting. He managed to jump out of a back window and escape to the woods but his wife Rachel was arrested. The Gestapo completely ransacked and robbed the house, leaving nothing. Despite being tortured, Rachel never revealed information about her activities, the Organisation or Bricout’s whereabouts, and he never gave himself up. She was liberated in very poor health on 3 September 1944 by the Allies from the prison infirmary after the Germans had abandoned it in retreat.

 In claims to the Allies for compensation and reimbursement of expenses in connection with his work, Bricout alleged he had worked with ‘Jean Jacques’ in setting up a number of the six lines in that sector, had assisted soldiers to evade capture in 1940, guided or provided shelter/ food for over 300 evaders during 1943 and part of 1944 and had been left with nothing.

On 26 December 1946 Maurice Bricout was rightly awarded the US Medal of Freedom with Bronze Palm ‘for exceptionally meritorious achievement which aided the United States in the prosecution of the war against the enemy in Continental Europe from April 1943 to September 1944.’ A fitting reward in the author’s view, but that was only one side of the story.

Next week the final part. Why were there doubts expressed by the Allies around some of Bricout’s claims? Why in the US files did Lieutenant Sarant of the US Forces European Theatre of Operations give instructions that no compensatory payments were to be made to Bricout?   

© Keith Morley



  1. Looking forward to next week's installment. Whether all his claims were true or not he and his wife and fellow colleagues are all brave and heroic.

  2. Thanks Sally. I have a copy of Maurice Bricout's file, which provides a real snapshot of just how things were after the Allies liberated Belgium and France. Looking forward to putting the record straight.

  3. The subjects of this latest post by Keith were certainly brave and good hosts to the evading airmen. Sounds as if the latter enjoyed a few riotous evenings chez Bricout and who would blame them being as they were under constant and extreme pressure of discovery and punishment. His wife Rachel also proved to be made of ‘stern stuff’. They drank to the ‘death of Hitler’ by the crackling fire.This was quite common in those days. There were some allies who took this further too. Over 42 documented plots existed to try to assassinate Hitler. There were failed assassination attempts by disaffected individuals in the early days of Hitler's reign, such as radical university student Maurice Bavaud, whose three easily thwarted tries in November 1938 got him guillotined; the efforts of a British group of James Bond–like spies armed with, among other things, "exploding rats"; and the well-known attempts of German officers, such as Hitler's architect Albert Speer. Also would-be-assassins, such as members of the Polish underground. Most of the assassination attempts failed because of poor planning; others fell victim to circumstance, while some may simply have been rumours. In the event Hitler took his own life. According to reports he ‘committed suicide by gunshot on 30 April 1945 in his bunker in Berlin. His wife Eva committed suicide with him by ingesting cyanide. That afternoon, in accordance with Hitler's prior instructions, their remains were carried up the stairs through the bunker's emergency exit, doused in petrol and set alight in the Reich Chancellery garden outside the bunker.’ After the War Bricout, we are told here, applied for compensation with some difficulty. We shall follow this in Part three as this is intriguing. Churchill said, “ We have, I believe, within us the life-strength and guiding light by which the tormented world around us may find the harbour of safety, after a storm-beaten voyage.” Let’s hope that Bricout’s journey through the War was rightly recognised. On to the next part…....