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Andrée de Jongh

John Simkin

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A great woman, Andrée de Jongh, died a few days ago. The daughter of a headmaster, was born in Schaerbeek, Belgium, on 30th November, 1916. It was a year after the Red Cross matron Edith Cavell had been executed by the Germans for helping some 200 First World War soldiers to escape from Belgium to the neutral Netherlands. According to one report, this story told to her by her father, deeply impressed her. In fact, it would make a good history project to look at the lives of these two women.

After leaving college Andrée de Jongh began working as a commercial artist in Malmédy. However, when the German Army invaded on 10th May, 1940 she decided became a nurse in Brussels. Some of her patients were captured British soldiers, whom she helped to send letters home via the Red Cross.

Andrée de Jongh decided to follow the example of her heroine, Edith Cavell, and with the help of her father, Frederic de Jongh, decided to organize an escape line for soldiers and airmen who wished to return to Britain. This included the creation of a series of safe houses in and around Brussels.

The first escape group comprised 11 men were arrested in Spain. General Francisco Franco had a pro-Nazi foreign policy and he prevented the men getting back to Britain. Andrée de Jongh led the next group made up two Belgian soldiers and a British man. This went from Brussels, through France to the Pyrenees, before arriving at the British consulate in Bilbao.

Andrée de Jongh was able to persuade British officials to provide financial and logistical backing for what became known as the Comet Escape Line. Airey Neave, who had himself escaped back to England from Coldiz Prison, was the member of MI9 (the intelligence branch set up to bring home stranded servicemen from occupied territory), was placed in charge of the operation.

Comet worked alongside PAT, an escape line established by Ian Garrow, a soldier in the British Army, who had missed the Dunkirk evacuation and remained in France where he arranged an escape route over the Pyrenees. In October, 1941 Garrow was captured and imprisoned. Albert Guerisse took over at head of the network and when he was arrested, Mary Louise Dissard became the new leader.

Andrée de Jongh became worried that the French Resistance had been penetrated by Gestapo agents and moved her headquarters from Brussels to Paris. Peter Churchill and Odette Sansom were arrested in April, 1943. It is now believed that Henri Déricourt, who had joined the network in January 1943 was responsible for betraying these agents.

On 7th June 1943, René Hardy was arrested by the Gestapo. His chief interrogator, Klaus Barbie, eventually obtained enough information to arrest Jean Moulin, Pierre Brossolette and Charles Delestraint. Moulin and Brossolette both died while being tortured and Delestraint was sent to Dachau where he was killed near the end of the war. Later that month Frederic de Jongh was arrested at Gare du Nord by the Gestapo and was later executed.

This spy network, coordinated by Hugo Bleicher, led to the arrests of several British agents. Andrée de Jongh continued to evade the Gestapo and on one occasion Comet rescued a seven-man RAF bomber crew and got them back to Britain in a week.

Andrée de Jongh remained free until January, 1944. Sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp she managed to survive until being liberated in April, 1945. During the Second World War the Comet Line helped return about 800 Allied troops to Britain. Over a hundred of those who helped on the escape route were captured and executed. For her wartime heroism she was awarded the George Medal by the British and the Medal of Freedom by the Americans.

After the war Andrée de Jongh went to the Belgian Congo and worked as a nurse in a leper colony. Later she did similar work in Ethiopia at a leper hospital in Addis Ababa.

The reason I have posted this on the conspiracy section is that Andrée de Jongh's escape network was betrayed by Henri Déricourt, an SOE agent sent to France by military intelligence in London.

When France surrendered to Nazi Germany in June 1940, Henri Déricourt went back to civil aviation but in August 1942 he escaped to Britain. After being checked out at the Royal Patriotic School's vetting process, he joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Déricourt was parachuted into France on 22nd January 1943. His main task was to find suitable landing grounds and organize receptions for agents brought by air. He worked mainly for the Prosper Network and over the next few months he arranged the transport by plane of over 67 agents including Noor Inayat Khan, Vera Leigh, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman, Diana Rowden, Jack Agazarian, Francis Suttill, Pearl Witherington and Lise de Baissac.

In the summer of 1943 the Gestapo arrested several British agents working in France. It became clear that a double-agent had infiltrated the Special Operations Executive. Several agents, including Francis Cammaerts, Jack Agazarian and Francis Suttill became convinced that Déricourt was the man responsible. These suspicions increased when it became known that Déricourt was living in Paris in a flat next to one rented by Hugo Bleicher of Abwehr.

Another agent, Henri Frager, told Nicholas Bodington when he visited occupied France in July 1943 that Déricourt was a German spy. Bodington dismissed this theory arguing that as Déricourt arranged his journey to France and he had not been arrested. When Bodington refused to take action some agents began to think that he was also a double agent.

Soon afterwards Georges Pichard, informed Maurice Buckmaster that he had heard from a good source that a "Frenchman in charge of air operations in the Paris and Angers districts" was working for Abwehr. Buckmaster like Bodington before him, dismissed the charges and Déricourt was allowed to continue his work in France until February 1944.

After the Second World War the interrogation of German officials provided evidence that Déricourt was guilty of providing information to Abwehr and the Gestapo that led to the arrest and execution of several agents including Noor Inayat Khan, Vera Leigh, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman, Diana Rowden, Gilbert Norman, Jack Agazarian and Francis Suttill.

In November 1946, Déricourt was arrested by the French authorities but did not appear in court until June 1948. At the trial Nicholas Bodington testified that he had been in charge of all Déricourt's work in the field. He admitted that he was aware that Déricourt was in contact with the Germans but that no important information had been revealed.

During the trial the defence council argued that although the prosecution could bring plenty of suspicious indirect evidence against Déricourt, they could not actually pin any definite act of treachery on him. Largely on the evidence provided by Nicholas Bodington, Déricourt was acquitted.

When Jean Overton Fuller interviewed Déricourt for her book, Double Agent, he told her that leaders of the Special Operations Executive knew the organization had been penetrated by the Gestapo and that men and women were deliberately sacrificed in order to distract their attention from the planned landings in Sicily and Normandy.

Henri Déricourt was reported to have been killed in an air crash while flying over Laos on 20th November, 1962. His body was never found and some writers have claimed that his death was faked in order to allow him to begin a new life under another name.




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Guest David Guyatt

John, it might be of some interest (or not) that a few years ago I was contacted by the grandson of the SOE officer who interrogated Dericourt after he was brought out of France with his girlfriend. Despite not confessing to anything, Dericourt continued to be viewed with suspicion but nothing could be pinned on him.

He later was arrested at Croydon for smuggling a kilo of Platinum and was fined £500 - a huge amount in those days and did not get what might have been an expected sentence to serve time in prison. Someone (unknown it seems) immediately paid his fine and he walked away a free man. It is believed he died working for the CIA smuggling gold in that plane crash in Laos.

Interestingly, I was told that SOE insiders maintain that SOE made a fortune gambling on the Hong Kong stock market during the war and that when it was wound up in 1946, it was in profit.

The grandson in question has a special interest in Dericourt that may be more relevant to your interests than mine, and I can put you in contact with him if you wish (PM me if you do).


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