Uncommon Courage by Douglas W. Jacobson–Part 1

Douglas W. Jacobson, author of Night of Flames and a participant in the WWII reading challenge, wanted to share an article he wrote about the Belgian resistance during WWII.  We’ll present it here in three parts.

Uncommon Courage

Belgium’s Comet Line in WW2

by Douglas W. Jacobson

On a dark night during World War Two, American airman, George Watt, a gunner aboard a B-17, was on a mission from England to the Ruhr valley in Germany when his plane was shot down near the Belgian village of Zele. He parachuted to earth and landed in an open field, drawing the immediate attention of local Nazi authorities. Frightened and alone, Watt hid in a ditch while the local townspeople distracted the authorities by pointing off in the wrong direction. Before long, one of the locals approached him and led him to a rural homestead where he was given civilian clothing and warm food. A few days later Watt was taken to Brussels where he was interviewed to make certain he wasn’t a spy and was soon off to Paris and eventually to safety in Spain. Watt didn’t know it at the time but he had been aboard the “Comet Line”.

The Comet Line was Europe’s largest and most successful underground escape line during World War Two. Established in 1941 by a 24 year old Belgian woman, Andrée De Jongh (known to all as Dédée) and her schoolmaster father, the Comet Line transported more than eight hundred Allied aviators to safety during the course of Nazi occupation. Dédée escorted over one hundred of these young soldiers to safety herself, following the secret, intricate route from Holland and Belgium, through occupied France, then overland on foot across the Pyrenees Mountains to Spain. In January of 1943, while attempting yet another crossing of the Pyrenees, Dédée was betrayed by one of the occasional Basque guides and arrested by the Gestapo. She survived the concentration camps and the war, was made a Belgian Countess and received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. She passed away last October in Brussels at the age of 90.

While Dédée was the founder and inspiration behind the Comet Line she was by no means the only hero of this remarkable organization. Hundreds of ordinary Belgian citizens put their lives at risk hiding and escorting Allied aviators to safety during the war. And the risk was enormous as the Germans considered hiding and assisting Allied aviators to be a crime punishable by death. Comet Line agents functioned in a world of secrecy, rarely knowing the identities of more than one or two other agents and then only by code names. Aviators were shuttled from one safe-house to another, never staying long in any one place. Comet Line agents provided the young soldiers with civilian clothing and false identifications, they instructed them how to travel covertly—walking five paces behind the agent, never speaking or making eye contact with other people, pretending to be deaf-mutes—and they never left them until a safe transfer was made to another agent. Even so, most agents were eventually captured and imprisoned. Their sacrifice was so great that by the end of the war almost one Comet Line operative lost their life for every Allied aviator rescued.

American author, Douglas W. Jacobson memorialized Andrée De Jongh and the Comet Line in his new book, NIGHT OF FLAMES: A Novel of World War Two. On December 3, 2007, Mr. Jacobson and his wife, Janie, had the privilege of meeting Andrée Dumon, Denise Claycomb-Villeneuve, Brigitte d’Oultremont, Claire Greindl, Martine le Grelle, and Victor Schutters in Brussels. They are members of Cométe Kinship Belgium, the organization that is keeping alive the memory of the brave young men and women to whom so many Allied soldiers owe their freedom.

Here is a picture of Douglas W. Jacobson with members of the Comet Line.

doug-jacobsonParts 2 & 3 of the article will feature stories of the members of the Comet Line.  We hope you will join us tomorrow and Wednesday for the continuation.


2 Comments

  1. […] the Generations reading challenge, focusing on WWII. Very early on in the challenge, they featured posts from Douglas Jacobson, author of Night of Flames, where he talked about some members of the resistance in Belgium. I […]

  2. […] Anna goes on missions for the Comet Line. Click on these links to read Jacobson’s essay: Part 1, Part 2, Part […]


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