Comète Line

Privare Jim CromarAfter the soldiers had lived in Brussels for some months the group of friends must have thought how they could get them back home to Britain. The obvious route as a Channel crossing or air pick-up seemed too difficult was through France, over the Pyreness and into neutral Spain. They could then be taken to Gibraltar the British territory and naval base in the south of the country. Already many Belgians had used this route to escape from occupied Europe and join the British army or the RAF. A young Belgian girl Andree Dejongh (Dedee) who had like Louisa Deloge had also been nursing injured British soldiers became the means of escape for the trapped soldiers. It is interesting that she also worked in the advertising department of the SOFINA company, Baron Donny was a director of the company so probably they knew each other and that's the link to the soldiers from Parike and Dedee the inspiration of the Comete Escape Line.

The identity of the soldier who was the first Comete line escaper has always been a bit of a mystery to Escape & Evasion researchers. Airey Neave calls him Colin Cromar in his book "Little Cyclone" and Professor M.R.D. Foot & J.M. Langley in "MI9 Escape and Evasion 1939-1945" say he was called Colin Cupar and even in the newly published "Home Run" by John Nichol & Tony Rennell he's called Colin Culpar. Colonel Remy in "Reseau Comete" also called him Colin Cromar but Cecile Jouan's "Comete - Histoire d'une ligne d'evasion" named him as Jim Cromar which my research at the National Archives proved to be the correct name. James CROMAR a Private in the 1st Gordon Highlanders from Aberdeen.
In 2005 I was able to trace his family and they kindly sent me the photo you see on this page for which I am very grateful to them. The family told me his surname is pronounced in Aberdeen style as Krr-Mar and he was known in his army days as "Mad Cromar". On the POW's march from St. Valery-en-Caux he tried to escape by diving into a canal, drowning, his life was saved by one of the German guards. With the difficulties with knowing his correct name and finding the family after so many years had passed I was rather proud to obtain this historic piece of Comete Line history and enable us to see the man himself.
If you wish to use the photograph in any publication or website I would ask that you give credit to www.belgiumww2.info
April 2007

In June 1941 Dedee and Arnold Deppe who had also assisted in the hiding of the soldiers, worked out a route through Bayonne where Deppe had once lived. The first intention was to help Belgians wishing to reach Britain but it soon became obvious that the British soldiers could also escape this way.
A contact of Deppe in the Societe Generale Bank. Monsieur APPERT gave him the address of a Madame Elvire DeGreef a Belgian from the Brussels suburb of Etterbeek who had been living with her family in the town of Anglet after fleeing the advancing German army. Appert knew that Madame Degreef would be willing to help as she had already offered her services in any capacity.

Deppe took the first reconnaissance trip down the escape line in June 1941, he was assisted in the crossing by boat the Zone Interdite at the village of Hamelet on the River Somme by Nenette a country woman. Travelling on by train through Paris and Bayonne Arnold Depee arrived at Anglet where Madame DeGreef introduced him to Elisade a Basque who in turn introduced him to the chief of the mountain guides. Arnold returned to Brussels knowing he had the contacts to make the escape line work.

In July 1941 Dedee joined Arnold in taking a party of 10 Belgians an Englishwoman "Miss Richards" or Mlle. Dupuich and another person down the line to Spain. Once they reached Hamelin and the River Somme They used a Basque guide called Tomas ENA to take them over the mountains. Once they arrived in Spain though the Belgians were all arrested by the Spanish police and three of the Belgian officers were taken back across the border and given to the Germans. Dedee thought that in future she would take her charges straight to the British consul at Bilbao.

De Jongh home in Avenue Emile Verhaeren and Frederic De Jongh school in Rue Gaucheret, Schaerbeek, Brussels.


Returning again to Brussels Arnold and Dedee assembled a party of eight Belgians and a Scottish soldier, an escaper from the prisoners taken at St Valery a large fair-haired man from Albyn place, Aberdeen called Private James Cromar known as "Jim" . Two more Scottish soldiers were due to join the party but they were arrested. Corporal Enoch BETTLEY and Private Samuel SLAVIN were recaptured on the 14 August at the house of Madam Augusta MARIOUX and her daughter in Rue Rogier, Scharbeek and taken to St.Gilles prison. They were kept there for sixteen days, interrogated and beaten daily. They were then sent to POW Camp in Germany. The D'Looge family back in Parike were surprised to receive a letter from them in the camp some time later.
The party left for the South. Arnold took six Belgians and travelled on the train through Lille. Dedee the other two Belgians (called MERCKIERS and Jean STERCKMANS) and Jim Cromar travelled through Valenciennes and there met up with a French soldier, Charles MORELLE who had escaped from Germany and had been hiding in Brussels, and his sister Elvire. Charlie and Elvire agreed to help in the escape line. Arnold failed to arrive at their rendezvous at Hamelet on the Somme so Dedee continued through Bayonne, Anglet and St John de Luz. Crossing the Pyrenees on the 17th August 1941 she took Cromar straight to the British Consul at Bilbao and spoke to the Vice-Consul Arthur Dean. Dedee then waited three weeks in Bilbao while arrangements were made to reimburse her expenses by the consul.
Dedee then returned to Brussels anxious to find out what had happened to Arnold Deppe. The news was bad, Arnold Deppe had been arrested with his group of escapers as they left Brussels on the train south. One of the Belgian officers handed back to the Germans in July had talked. The German also had a description of Dedee from this man, unable to stay in Belgium as the Germans were looking for her, Dedee went to Paris.

Cowan. Greig, Madame Jeanie Wolfe, Louisa and Yvonne Deloge and friends
at the Le Sanglier restaurant Boitsfort Brussels 1941


Marie DARMONT-COLLET and her son Jean DARMONT were arrested on the 3rd September. Francois STRENS and Elise AUSSELOOS on the ninth of September.
On the 13th September  Louisa DELOGE was arrested and taken to the Geheime Feldpolizei (Germany's 'plain clothes' military police) building in the Rue Traversiere in Brussels. On the same day or two days later her sister Yvonne was arrested and also taken to the Rue Traversiere.

Rue Sans Souci in 2001

On the 25th September 1941 the Geheime Feldpolizei raided the house of Madame Duchenne at Rue Sans-Souci Ixelles where McCUBBIN was staying. He tried to get away but as he ran out of the house he was held by a passer-by who thought he was a thief and shot three times by the persuing Germans, he fell and fractured his shoulder. Madame Duchene and her daughter Florence were arrested and taken to St. Gilles prison. McCubbin was taken to the Belgian Military Hospital and then the St.Pierre Hospital and later also to St.Gilles Prison.
Bobby Conville and Allan Cowan were on their way to Rue Sans-Souci from having their passport photos taken at the Bon Marche where Yvonne Deloge worked. As they arrived at the street, neighbours warned them what had happened to their colleague and they were able to get away

On the 28th September or the 1st October a red headed English or Irish infiltrator was spotted outside VANDENHOVE's house in the Rue Washington where LANGLOIS COPLEY and the Scottish soldier AHEARN were hiding. On the morning of the next day there was a terrific thumping on the door, the men looked out and saw three cars, the Geheime Feldpolizei were raiding the house.The evaders leaned out from the 3rd floor right window to see German soldiers lining the street and heard them attacking the front door with rifle butts. The outer door was strongly built, it took quite an effort for the Germans to break through and gave them time to make their escape. As the door was smashed in LANGLOIS, COPLEY and AHEARN grabbed their clothes and rushed down to the basement. Vandenhove had built a tunnel from the kitchen to the main sewer in the street. Two days previously he had checked that the exit from the sewer through a manhole in the street was free but when the three evaders tried to lift the manhole they were unable to move it. They were forced to stay in the sewer. Meanwhile back in the house Vandenhove had already been arrested, their hiding place was given away by the family dog they had befriended. The Germans shot the dog and the airmen and soldier were trapped in the sewer for seven hours before they had to return to the kitchen and give themselves up. On their return to the cellar they were greeted by highly exited German guards who poked them with their bayonets. Richard Copley felt that poor Jean Vandenhove "aged in front of our eyes" as he must have known what his fate would be.
The two airmen and the soldier where taken to St. Gilles Prison and put into solitary confinement, Richard Copley wondered what would happen to him as he had been picked up in civilian clothes. He thought he would be shot as a spy.


On 3rd October 1941 Marceline DELOGE left her home in Rue General Capiaumont and went to enquire with the German authorities about the whereabouts of her two missing daughters. She was arrested at the Rue Traversiere GFP HQ, held for questioning and then taken to the main Brussels' prison of St Gilles where her daughters were already being held.
The arrests continued Alice de WERGIFOSSE on the fifteenth of October,Professor Jean-Marie Derscheid at sometime in October, Welsh Corporal

Bobby Conville and Allan Cowan managed to avoid arrest and left Brussels for Spain on the 14th October 1941 accompanied by Elvire de Greef (Tante Go) as Dedee could no longer go to Brussels. Airey Neave's book "Little Cyclone" describes the crossing of the Franco-Belgian border.
Elvire de Greef (Tante Go)
Andree De Jongh (Dedee)
"At the end of September 1941, Tante Go (Elvire de Greef) arrived in Brussels from Anglet to collect the two men of the Highland Division, Bobby and Allan, from Paul. Her return journey with the Scotsmen to the Belgian frontier was uneventful, but at Quievrain station there was a disturbing incident. The two young Scotsmen had been told to represent themselves as Flemish. They had informed Tante Go that there was nothing in their pockets of interest to the Customs. But on arrival at Quievrain, the presence of a German Feldgendarme made the French officials more alert than usual. To the horror of Tante Go, her companions were taken to an office and searched. Allan had a large quantity of cigarettes. Both were told to wait while the douanier disappeared, leaving them in the office under the stolid gaze of the Feldgendarme. When his back was turned, Bobby began to stuff the cigarettes, taken from Allan, into his own pockets. The German, suddenly observing this, appeared highly amused and began to laugh. To Bobby's intense surprise he was allowed to leave with some of the cigarettes. Allan waited dumbly in the office until the casual Feldgendarme disappeared. Through the open door, he saw Tante Go wave in the distance. He ran for all he was worth to join her. Then the three of them walked hastily away. Suddenly there was a shout behind them. The customs man who had searched Allan was riding towards them on a bicycle, grinning broadly. He stopped and handed over to Allan the remainder of the cigarettes".
In truth the customs man kept a proportion of the cigarettes for himself of course. One of the soldiers also made the mistake at the border crossing of giving his British army identity papers as well as his forged documents to the passport official. Luckily the French official handed them back without comment.
At Valenciennes the two men were met by Andree De Jongh (Dedee), the famous founder of the Comete escape line. They left the Zone Interdite by crossing the Somme river near Villiers in a small boat and then travelled on through Amiens, Paris and Bayonne. They stayed at the "Villa Voisin" the de Greef family house at Anglet.
From Bayonne Cowan and Coville went by bus to St Jean de Luz. They crossed the Pyrenees on foot, most probably guided by the Basque Florentino Goikoetxea and/or "B" Johnson, arriving in San Sebastian on the 16th October 1941.
The two Scotsmen Cowan and Conville were the second and third British soldiers to escape along what has become known as the Comete Line. By the end of the war more than 800 Allied servicemen had successfully reached Spain helped by the line.


Next down the line were the Polish RAF airmen Sgt. Stefan Tomicki and Sgt. Michal Kowalski and the Canadian RAF Sgt John Ives.
Welshman Alfred JONES was arrested while playing cards on the 28th October.

Jack Newton had been separated from Langlois and Copley since the 8th of September. He had been taken by car to a Madame DEPORQUE'sHoward Carroll house in Brussels and after that to Waterloo outside Brussels to the EVERARD's house where he stayed for 6 or 7 weeks until the end of October. While he was there he met Australian Sergeant Hilary BIRK RAAF and Canadian Sergeant Albert DAY RCAF. At the end of October Jack was moved to nurse Mlle BECQET's house at Ixelles in Brussels. Then in late November it was arranged that he live in a house in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels where Birk and Day were already staying.
On the 6th of December 1941 Jack Newton and Hilary BIRK met up with Pilot Officer Howard CARROLL (pictured left) and a Belgian Gerard WAUQUEZ at the Brussels railway station for the journey south. Wauquez the nephew of the head of the Belgian government in exile in London was SOE agent "Brichamart". Gerard WAUQUEZ was on his way to London with plans to set up a fully organised escape organisation based in Brussels that would take escaping British servicemen to Spain and Gibraltar. The group was taken to Valenciennes by Elvire Morelle sister of Charles Morelle. Jack had replaced Albert Day in the group as Albert had pneumonia. Surprisingly the officer and men divide still existed on the jouney south so there was little communication between Carroll and Newton. They met Dedee De Jongh at the Franco-Belgian border and she escorted them all the way to Spain.

Then & now.Francoise Usandizaga's farm at Bidegain-Berri, the last safehouse on the route to Spain

Crossing the Pyrenees guided by Florentino and arriving in Bilbao on the 10th December, Howard CARROLL, Hilary Birk and Jack NEWTON were the first RAF men to cross the Pyrennes aided by Comete. They reached Gibraltar on the 4th January 1942.


Antoinette Veronique BURY was arrested on the second of November, Greta Julia THIRY the next day although she was released on the eighteenth of December.
Elise de LOMBAERT and Clara STRENS on the fifth of November, Dr Jacques PENS third of December and Emile TOUSSAINT on the twelfth December. On the twelfth January 1942 Dr Paul JANSSENS was arrested and Greta Julia THIRY was re-arrested.


The next arrest of a was Urbain RUSCART on the twenty-eighth January 1942.

Jimmy Clark surrendered to the Germans in Brussels and in January 1942 Joseph Dixie left for Namur south east of Brussels. In April he left Namur with student Jean Thiry a guide working for Henri Michelli who was one of the chief organiser of the escape line. They travelled by train to Besancon hoping to cross the Swiss border but were caught by the Gestapo. Dixie spent five weeks in jail in Besancon until he was taken back to Brussels and put in St.Gilles Prison when his connection to the city was revealed. Dixie had been living for seven months at Madame Anne Marie Bruycker-Roberts house at 141, Rue Stevin, she had also sheltered Jimmy Clark for 4 months. She was married to an Englishman was was working in Blackpool.

MAY 1942
Rue Stevin Brussels Madame Robert's house (in picture Rue Stevin today) had become a centre of the organisation, meetings were held there, two Belgian agents Marcel Lefevre and Joseph van Hoof, a footballer with F.C.Malinnes, who were radio operators who had parachuted into Belgium kept their transmitter there. Mrs Roberts put Lefevre in touch with Henri Michelli as he was due to return to England. The group though, had been infiltrated by the German agent, Florrie Dings. Dings of Spanish descent but assuming Irish nationality was the mistress of Prosper De Zitter the most notorious traitor in occupied Belgium of the whole war. Through Madame Roberts, Dings was able to infiltrate the group. She had been trusted by Madame Roberts as she had been able to supply neccessary clothing, papers, coupons etc. On the day of Marcel Lefevre's departure 6th May 1942, Roberts took Dings with her on a visit to Henri Michelli house where a meeting was being held, this resulted in the arrest of all of them including Charles Morelle another leader of the group and Gerard WAUQUEZ (Brichamart) who had returned from London with Van Hoof and Lefevre. Luckily Frederic DeJongh, Dedee's father, who had been hiding in the house had left for Paris 6 days earlier.

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© John Clinch 2004