Andrée de Jongh – November 30, 1917 (Belgium) – October 13, 2007 (Belgium)
As a child of the First World War, and a citizen of the then German occupied Belgium, the young Andrée de Jongh knew what it was to grow up in war and what it was to be a strong woman. When war came once again to the country, Andrée built upon the foundation of her historical heroine, Edith Cavell, a Belgian nurse shot for helping wounded soldiers to escape the country.
Though Belgium was liberated by the Allies in 1918, it was occupied again by the German Third Riech in May of 1940, a month before they took control of Northern France. Wanting to help, de Jongh volunteered as a nurse in the Belgian Red Cross helping British soldiers wounded during the conflict at Dunkirk, who were left behind the advancing front.
In 1941, Andrée and her father established an escape route, known as the Comet Line, for these men reaching from Belgium, through Nazi-occupied northern France, through the Vichy-ruled south, over the treacherous, snow-capped Pyrenees mountains and into Spain where the escapees then made their way back to England, if they were lucky. The first of the family’s missions were unsuccessful, with only two of the original 23 making it to safety. Appealing to the British Consulate in Bilbao, Spain, Andrée was granted a new route and assistance by the British MI9 agency.
Over the years between 1941 and 1943, Andrée and her group of Resistance members lead over 400 Allied soldiers to safety on the Comet Line, 120 of which Andrée lead herself. The group, however, was betrayed in 1943 and Andrée, her father and a significant portion of their group were captured and interrogated by the Gestapo. There are varying accounts that also include her brother as well. Andrée lost her father (and possibly her brother as well) and some of the Comet Line members to the Gestapo while she and the others were sent to prisons and concentration camps. She, herself, was sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp, where they tortured her for information but when she admitted to being the Line’s founder and the group leader, the Gestapo didn’t believe her and let her live. The Comet line continued in her absence bringing another 300- 400 Allies over the Pyrenees to safety. The Allies liberated her, along with much of her group, in April of 1945 though there is not an account of how many members they lost during their incarceration.
After the war, Andrée du Jongh was awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom, the British George Medal, was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and the Order of Leopold. She also received the Belgian Croix de Guerre and was made an honorary Lieutenant- Colonel of the Belgian Army. Finally in the late 1980’s, she was made a Belgian Countess.
Some with the life experiences of Ms. de Jongh might have chosen to pass their post-war years in peace, but Andrée chose to go to Africa where she became a nurse in leper hospitals. In her later years, she retired back to Belgium passing peacefully at the age of 90.