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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

Old 11th Jul 2017, 16:54
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The airmen concerned had given their parole not to escape, and were allowed to wander freely in nearby towns. In practice Allied airmen were returned to the Northern Ireland border while Luftwaffe were interned for the duration. As far as I recall, the British authorities did not want to endanger this working relationship with neutral Eire.

Repairable Allied aircraft were also flown out of Eire, including Fortresses, Liberators and Hudsons on ferry flights which sometimes landed on beaches. A couple of Hurricanes and a Lysander (?) were purchased by the Eire government and retained for their own use. At war's end a German crew took the latest Ju88 night fighter and landed near Dublin. The crew were interned and the aircraft flown to Britain by Lt Cdr 'Winkle' Brown.
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Old 12th Jul 2017, 09:00
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Danny:-

Realising what now awaited them, the officers of a nearby Luftwaffe unit went down in a body to the local Gestapo HQ and demanded their release - at pistol point ! They were handed over; their rescuers took them back to camp, fed them, and made sure they were handed over to the proper POW authorites.
Indeed, Danny. A known incident that reflects well on those same Luftwaffe officers and the good fortune of those they saved from a dreadful fate. The irony is that of all three Third Reich armed forces, the Luftwaffe was the one most identified with the regime, the one that was most Nazified, the one whose leader was second only within the regime leadership (of course that was not to last...). There was concern however within the Luftwaffe of the effects of Hitler's infamous Commando Order of October 1942 that no Allied Commandos were to be taken alive, especially as it became interpreted amongst the more zealous that the order extended to Allied Air Force 'terror flyers'. It was feared that revenge for such acts against Allied airmen would be taken against Luftwaffe POWs held by the Allies. So there was method as well in keeping Allied airmen out of the clutches of the SD, the Gestapo, etc....
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Old 13th Jul 2017, 18:48
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Over on Facebook we have George Montague who is now 94. Here's a photo of him at the age of 19 doing his air gunner/wireless operator course at Blackpool in 1941.



I'm trying to persuade him to visit this group on pprune.
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Old 13th Jul 2017, 19:44
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I wonder how many of them survived the war
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Old 13th Jul 2017, 20:06
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Interesting that one of them is a Corporal. Presumably he had already attained that rank before becoming U/T aircrew. Is that an armband that has slipped down to his cuff, with the entry/course number on it? I guess he was the one who had to march them everywhere as a group!
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Old 14th Jul 2017, 10:12
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This is a potted history of the Comet Line and I ask for your understanding for this necessarily abbreviated version of historical events. There are bound to be those who I'll leave out in this and subsequent posts.

The German blitzkreig in May-June 1940 overwhelmed the defences of Holland, Belgium & France and forced the evacuation from Dunkirk of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). Inspired to action by the deeds of Edith Cavell, Andrée De Jongh, a 24 year old Belgian nurse, decided that she had to do something to help the Allied cause. As she herself put it in typically uncompromising fashion:

"When war was declared I knew what needed to be done. There was no hesitation. We could not stop what we had to do although we knew the cost. Even if it was at the expense of our lives, we had to fight until the last breath."

Dédée, as she was better known, decided to created an escape route for stranded British soldiers (of which there were many in Belgium post-Dunkirk).



The situation wasn't promising.. the Channel ports were heavily guarded and it didn't seem possible that she could lead soldiers back to Britain from there. So, undaunted and funded by the sale of her personal jewellery, she set off by train to south west France with a Scottish soldier and two Belgian volunteers.

After crossing the Pyrenees on foot, she presented herself at the British Consulate at Bilbao and requested support for further passages. The consular staff displayed understandable scepticism and disbelief about her story and it was only the intervention of Michael Cresswell, a young diplomat at the Madrid Embassy, that saved the day. He decided that she was 'kosher' and said that Britain would fund the network with one proviso: that only aircrew would be repatriated. Dédée's response was positive but she insisted that the network had to remain under Belgian control. And that's how it remained to the end of the war.

The network was first known as the "Dédée Line" - only becoming the Comet Line later on in the war. Its aim was to shelter, feed, clothe and provide false papers to shot-down Allied airmen and guide them over the long and hazardous journey from Brussels to the Spanish border. From there, the evaders would be collected by diplomatic car and driven to Madrid and then Gibraltar for return to Britain by sea or air. Comet's motto was "Pugna Quin Percutias" ("Fight without killing").

The Comet Line comprised some 2,000 dedicated volunteer helpers and a chain of safe houses that stretched from Brussels to Paris and on down through occupied France to the Basque country. Having escorted her small groups of evaders on the express train from Paris to Bayonne, she would join up with the legendary Basque guide and former smuggler Florentino Goikoetxea and together they would lead the aviators over the Pyrenees on foot at night and into the hands of British diplomatic staff based in 'neutral' Spain. Hundreds of Allied airmen and others were helped by the Comet Line network to escape the grisly clutches of the Third Reich.

Florentino was a smuggler by trade and when he was presented to the King at Buckingham Palace at the end of the war for the award of the King's Medal, the King asked him through an interpreter what he did for a living? He famously replied that he was 'in the import and export business'.

Map here.

More to follow.
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Old 14th Jul 2017, 11:52
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sidevalve (#10987),

Thank you for your brilliant desciption of the "Comet" escape route, and the maps. I had not realised how extensive and how well organised the system was. I would surmise that, postwar, most people here, if they thought about it at all, imagined it to be small scale "ad hoc" business. This has opened my eyes.

And all honour to the Countess de Jongh ! (RIP). She was well worthy to be ennobled by the Belgian king, and of the award of the George Medal here in 1946. But it is possible for an Honorary Knight or Dame-hood to be awarded to non-British subjects. Most of these have naturally gone to military men, but a more recent civilian example is Spike Milligan (an Irish citizen).

Could we not have stretched as far for her ?

Danny.
 
Old 14th Jul 2017, 15:03
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I couldn't agree more Danny. I think Andrée De Jongh's case would, and should, have attracted much support from service sources.

She was a remarkable woman.. After her wartime achievements, she returned to the Pays Basque to walk again over the same routes she'd walked at night with her airmen evaders (I think she did 32 'out and back' crossings during the war) with Baron Jean-François Nothomb (aka "Franco") who had taken over the leadership of Comet after Dédée's arrest on her 33rd crossing in January 1943. (A graphic account by a B-17 crewman of a parachute jump and an evasion in company with "Franco")

Many members of the Belgian aristocracy were involved with Comet as they all knew each other and so it made penetration of their ranks by German agents more difficult - but sadly, it didn't stop it. Some 280 members of Comet in Belgium died (shot or deported to the camps) - some as a result of English-speaking Germans posing as evading aircrew, fake networks set up by the Germans to entrap the genuine article and by the use of double agents. Prosper Dezitter, Jacques Desoubrie, Maurice Grapin and Englishman Harold Cole were some of the most notorious double agents working for the Germans.

In the Pays Basque, far fewer died (only 7) as the guides were all Basque speakers and, being recruited from the ranks of the cross-border smugglers, they had an instinctive disregard for authority (some were Spanish Basque exiles) and 'getting inside' the organisation proved problematic for the Germans.

Following Dédée's arrest, I believe she was interrogated 19 times by the Germans before she was deported first to Ravensbrück and then to the hellhole that was Mauthausen.

Following this, she went to Africa where she spent 28 years nursing lepers in the Belgian Congo, Cameroon, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and Senegal before returning to Belgium in ill-health where she died in 2007. I spoke to a number of evaders in London in December last who had walked the night-time peaks of the Pyrenees with Dédée and, 70-odd years on, they still speak of her in glowing terms.

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Old 14th Jul 2017, 19:27
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Wrt British prisoners in the Republic.
A friend of mine's father was CO of the prison camp in the Curragh.
The prisoners had to sign out for their parole. The infamous case was of an officer who signed out then immediately returned as he had forgotten his gloves. On leaving for the second time he wasn't asked to sign out again and returned to the UK as he hadn't technically given his parole.
The Irish complained to the British who returned the offending officer.
There is an interesting site which details all of the aircraft that crashed or landed in the republic, many of which were returned.
Foreign Aircraft in Ireland 1939 - 1945
The first one was on the day hostilities were declared and three seaplanes accidentally landed in the republic. Two were at Skerries in the sea in front of my home and the third was in Howth.
What is very sad from the site is that many of the airman who were repatriated were killed later on in the war.
There are still wreckage on Irelands peaks.
I stayed in Rosslaire Monday and in front of my bedroom window is a plaque to the Viscount that crashed at Tuskar rock...the official line was fatigue, the unofficial was she was shot down by the RN.
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Old 14th Jul 2017, 19:46
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sidevalve, thank you for painting such a vivid picture of the "Dédée Line", which personally I much prefer to the later appellation. What an amazing and inspiring lady she was. No matter her stature, she was a giant among men (and women of course).

She started this service to allied serviceman immediately following Dunkirk, and it soon built up to involving 2000 volunteers and a chain of safe houses en-route via Brussels, Paris, and the Pyrenees. Just thinking about that would have been a remarkable enough achievement in peacetime, but in enemy occupied territory it was incredible. How quickly that happened you will no doubt cover in future posts even if the high-water mark was only just before D-Day and the Liberation of France it is still incredible.

Incidentally, let no-one be fooled by the labelling of Vichy France as being the "Zone Libre". It was as rabidly anti-Semitic as its Northern neighbour, and so collaborationist that its security forces were hand in glove with its Nazi counterparts. Yet this is a human story rather that one of regimes, and I expect that we will be treated to the good and the bad on both sides of the divide.

I agree with Danny, she should have been ennobled by us, along with others who did such vital and dangerous work for us. Perhaps though that would have upset our new friends and allies in the Cold War, in Paris and Bonn.
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Old 14th Jul 2017, 20:00
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Chugalug.
Yes the French were (are) terribly anti Semitic.
The imperial war museum at the elephant and castle has a holocaust exhibition on at the moment. I avoided it on my other visits but today I ventured in.
There is a cine presentation of the Vichy French in all of their glory which is as inhuman as Kristallnacht was.
I knew some of it as my "new" sister in law's family on her mothers side were exterminated. Her mother survived the camps as she was a pretty teenager...

Not very different to the genocide in Algeria and throwing handcuffed demonstrators into the Seine during the 50s.
They learnt well from the Germans and razed whole villages with all of their occupants in North Africa.
Serves them right that the Troika is bankrupting them especially with the French convicted criminal running the IMF.
Makes me ashamed to be a frog.
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Old 15th Jul 2017, 23:28
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OK, War brings out the worst, but can we distinguish between then and now please?
I'm as enthralled by WW2 exploits as the rest of us here, but let's stop at modern "politics" and the IMF.
Personally, I think that, with the UK (that's all of it, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) having decided last year that "enough is enough" to come out of the EU, then anyone talking down the UK from that moment on is as guilty of treason as Guy Fawkes.
The UK voters said "Out" so let's do that with the maximum efficiency and the minimum of animosity.
Back on topic: Prosper de Zitter and the rest were collaborators of the worst kind and deserved their fate. That hundreds of Belgian, Dutch and French resistants paid with their lives for assisting escapers or the downfall of the 3rd Reich should be honoured.
Yes, there was ambiguity with the French in WW2; a proud Nation humbled, having been bled dry of the best in WW1 it had little left, but many continued the fight, tentatively at first but with growing confidence until Sept 1944.
I;m no eloquent speaker, WW2 should not have happened, had the Allies been less punitive with reparations and more punitive against burgeoning Germanic pride and Hitler, but it happened.
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Old 16th Jul 2017, 07:05
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The treaty of Brest-Litovsk was as severe in many ways as was that of Versailles.
When discussing Versailles we must never forget just how the Germans treated that part of France (and Belgium) they occupied for four years. IMHO the real mistake was the total lack of reaction when Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland.
As always giving in to bullying merely encourages the bully.
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Old 16th Jul 2017, 10:32
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Wise words, aa62, and we should never forget the lessons of history lest we be doomed to repeat them again and again.

Having said that, this thread is about the past. It is about WWII and its immediate aftermath, not withstanding the even more restrictive setting of the OP from which we have strayed, but within generally agreed bounds. It is certainly not about modern social and political mores as Ic9 gently reminds us. I would merely, and just as gently, include in that the EU, Brexit, and comparing dyed in the wool opposers of Brexit with Guy Fawkes!

Let us leave all such thoughts to other forums and other threads and stick to the matter in hand; the Dédée Line", the duty and sacrifice that entailed, and the terrible attitudes and forces that it was confronted with.

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Old 16th Jul 2017, 10:44
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chug,
now regaining track. Several years ago I met a chap whilst I was on holiday in Malaysia. He was in a wheelchair having lost both legs. We got to talking and it transpired that he had been in the RAF in WW2 as a Sgt pilot. He said he had been shot down during the Dunkirk evacuation but he was not a fighter pilot.
He had been flying a Coastal Command Anson and never saw the a/c that shot him down. He was picked up by a destroyer and by the time he got to hospital amputation was the only option. He was the life and soul of the party and still traveling wherever he wanted.
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Old 16th Jul 2017, 10:58
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aa62, such moral courage (for how else can one describe it?) is humbling. Such are the extraordinary people that are simply ordinary people until a life changing event (personally physical or political) threatens to shatter their previous existence. It happened far more frequently to far more people in WWII than these days thankfully, though there are remarkable exceptions of course and visible every day on our TV News. Andrée Eugénie Adrienne de Jongh was such a person, and should be remembered and celebrated by all those who care for our freedom.
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Old 16th Jul 2017, 15:42
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The Germans adopted the carrot and stick approach to the problem of downed aircrew or parachutists. This was their starting position:

Eng translation:
Landing of Aviators or parachutists.
Very important warning to the population.
The Field Commander reminds the French population for the last time that the sheltering, hiding, aiding or assisting in any manner, the passing of aviators or parachutists, English or American, is done so under the penalty of death.
On the other hand, the Field Commander will compensate for information leading to the arrest of these fugitives by releasing prisoners of war from this region.


Downed aircrew landing in the Low Countries suddenly found themselves in the dark (in more ways than one). As the drone of the bomber stream overhead faded, they quickly had to start making the first of a series of good decisions. Ditch the parachute, get as far away as possible from the crash site, find a hiding place to lie up as dawn approached.
Making that first contact with local people was always a nerve-racking hit and miss business. Local priests were thought to be a safe bet.. along with school teachers.
Despite the above warning, resistance groups in the Low Countries were organised to collect downed airmen and pass them on to known Comet contacts. However, the Germans also mounted patrols with dogs at the same time to try and capture airmen before they vanished.
If the airman was lucky enough to make contact with a genuine resistance group (such as Service EVA or Front de l’independence (FI)) they had to be convinced that the dishevelled figure was who he purported to be. Some of the questions used in interrogations of RAF airmen have survived. Examples are, “What do you write on the back of the leave-form?” “Are the Houses of Parliament blacked out?” “Are officers in the RAF allowed to have WAAFs for house servants?” “What railway station is nearest to the Grosvenor Hotel, London?” “Did you ever see ‘Waltzing Mathilda’?” “If you know your way in London, where is Swan and Edgar?” Most questions, however, involved technical terms.
If he passed the interview, he would be given civilian clothes and a guide would take him to Brussels where the Comet organisation would take over. He'd have his photo taken in his newly acquired civvies for his false papers, a cover story, accommodation and food. If he had been injured, a doctor would be found to patch him up - without morphine - before he could start down the line.
Robert Grimes, a B-17 aircraft commander, had part of a 13mm bullet in his upper leg. His guide, Micheline Dumon, (aka "Lily") found a doctor in Brussels who was prepared to operate without anaesthetic and remove it. Full story here. (A couple of years ago I was privileged to have the opportunity to walk with Bob Grimes' daughters over the exact same route their father took through the Pays Basque and over the Pyrenees into Spain.)
The aim was always to minimise the time that an evader spent in one location (to reduce the risk) and so he would soon find himself under the charge of a guide (usually a young woman), on a train to Paris, together with two or three other evaders. They would be told to follow the guide in single file, no closer than 15ft apart and to talk to no-one. They'd be given newspapers to read (or to pretend to read!).

More to follow.
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Old 16th Jul 2017, 17:42
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sidevalve, so we are now full square back into the Bombing Campaign, to the many doomed flights that entailed, and to the fate of those who managed successfully to survive the death throws of their stricken aircraft and were now having to seek help to evade capture and the life (or death) of a POW.

Interesting that the Germans saw fit to publish their "very important warnings to the population" both in French and in English. No doubt this was as much to dissuade evading aircrew from compromising civilians in occupied countries as it was to dissuade the corresponding civilians themselves. That it was so notably unsuccessful in either regard is tribute to the duty and training of allied aircrew to escape and evade, and to the moral courage of civilians facing certain death and reprisal against loved ones in assisting them to do so. We in the UK must give special thanks that we were not faced with such agonising decisions, or with such stark warnings from the "Field Commander".

Bob Grimes is another who exudes moral courage. Any pilot will relate to his constant revisiting of that last flight, over 60 years before the Washington Post story of 2004 that you link us to. Should he have turned back once the fault was seen and diagnosed, knowing that it would only worsen its effect with further climb? Did he not do so faced with a hard line command policy equivalent to Bomber Command's label of LMF? Did he do enough to ensure that everyone (including those injured in the attack on the aircraft) could abandon it before he did? The ball turret gunner survived though, and that alone is of some solace to him (being the most vulnerable position of all). There is no easy answer to any of these questions, certainly not from a generation spared such daily dilemmas. I imagine the constant anguish that gave Bob Grimes throughout his life was far more telling than the bullet lodged in his leg and extracted surreptitiously and without anaesthetic. Brave people all. Respect!

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Old 17th Jul 2017, 12:18
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I'm putting together a post that describes how Comet was set up..
In the meantime, here's George Duffee's story in his own words about 22nd June 1943, the day that changed his life.
George is described in many places as a veteran but he and his dear wife Janet are anything but! He was shot down while returning from his first bombing raid in his Halifax bomber on the night of 22/23 June '43.
It was his flight as "second dickey" - in other words, as supernumerary pilot before he commenced operational flying with his own crew.
After the eventful saga he described above, he finally found his way down to the Pays Basque, courtesy of "Franco" and Comète. He and a small party of other evaders were led over the Pyrenees via the Bidassoa route by the legendary Basque guide Florentino Goikoetxea on a night march in the rain that lasted 14 hours.
He can laugh about it now! (just about!) This experience marked him for life.
Here he is in the photo taken by Comet for his false papers.

On his return to Britain, he went back to operational flying and went on to fly 39 more operational sorties. He was honoured with the award of a well-deserved DFC. After the war, he flew some 236 sorties during the Berlin Airlift after which he became a civil airline pilot for British Airways where he had a distinguished career. A charismatic gentleman with a permanent twinkle in his eye, he exudes the indefatigable spirit that saw him through all that life could throw at him. George and Janet inspire respect and great affection from all who meet them. They now live in happy retirement at Aberaeron, Ceredigion.

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Old 17th Jul 2017, 19:08
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Originally Posted by ricardian
Over on Facebook we have George Montague who is now 94.

On Facebook Edna Hilditch said
We had 2 Cpl Air Gunner's at Linton on Ouse when I arrived there in 1972, George Smith and George Moore, fantastic guys who were our permanent runway caravan controllers
Would this be in your time Danny?
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