To Care for the Leper and the Foreigner: Andrée Eugénie Adrienne de Jongh (1916-2007)
The History Channel ran a program recently concerning a Belgian nurse who, during the Second World War, organized and ran an underground railroad that allowed Allied soldiers and airmen behind Nazi lines to escape to neutral Spain. After the war, she devoted her life to caring for lepers in Ethiopia and in what is now Congo and Cameroon. This amazing woman is surely one of the Tattered Remnant, both for her wartime service and her postwar devotion to the most wreched, and takes her place withEileen Nearne, Andree Peel, and Jeannie Rousseau, the Vicomtesse de Clarens.
Note: I do not yet have time to do a full independent essay on this remarkable lady; instead, I offer this Wikipedia biography.
Countess Andrée de Jongh (November 30, 1916 — October 13, 2007) was a member of the Belgian Resistance during World War II. She organized the Comet Line (Le Réseau Comète) for escaped Allied soldiers. After the war, she worked in leper hospitals in Africa.
Andrée Eugénie Adrienne de Jongh (nicknamed "Dédée") was born in Schaerbeek in Belgium, then under German occupation during the First World War. She was the younger daughter of Frédéric de Jongh, a headmaster and Alice Decarpentrie. Edith Cavell, a British nurse shot in the Tir National in Schaerbeek in 1915 for assisting troops to escape from occupied Belgium to the neutral Netherlands, was a heroine in her youth. She trained as a nurse, and became a commercial artist in Malmédy.
Second World War
After German troops invaded Belgium in May 1940, de Jongh moved to Brussels, where she became a Red Cross volunteer, ministering to captured Allied troops. In Brussels at that time, hiding in safe houses, were many British soldiers, those left behind at Dunkirk and escapers from those captured at St. Valery-en-Caux. Visiting the sick and wounded soldiers enabled her to make links with this network of safe-house keepers who were trying to work out ways to get the soldiers back to Britain.
In the summer of 1941, with the help of her father, she set up an escape network for captured Allied soldiers, which became later known as the Comet Line. Working with Arnold Deppé and Elvire De Greef-Berlemont ("Tante Go") in the south of France, they established links with the safe houses in Brussels, then a route was found, using trains, through occupied and Vichy France to the border with Spain. The first escape attempt was unsuccessful, and all of the escapees were captured by the Spanish, with only two out of eleven reaching England, so de Jongh decided to lead the second attempt, a group of three men, personally.
In August 1941, she appeared in the British consulate in Bilbao with a British soldier, James Cromar from Aberdeen, and two Belgian volunteers, Merchiers and Sterckmans, having travelled by train through Paris to Bayonne, and then on foot over the Pyrenees. She requested support for her escape network, which was granted by MI9. She helped around 400 Allied soldiers to escape from Belgium, through occupied France to the British consulate in Madrid and on to Gibraltar. Andrée accompanied 118 of them herself. Airey Neave described her as "one of our greatest agents".
The Gestapo, using a traitor, captured her father, Frédéric de Jongh, in Paris in June 1943 and later executed him. De Jongh herself was betrayed and captured at a farmhouse in Urrugne, in the French Basque country, in January 1943 - the last stop on the escape line before the passage over the Pyrenees - during her 33rd journey to Spain.
She was interrogated by the Gestapo and tortured, and admitted that she was the organiser of the escape network. Unwilling to believe her, the Gestapo let her live. She was sent first to Fresnes prison in Paris and eventually to Ravensbrück concentration camp and Mauthausen. She was released by the advancing Allied troops in April 1945. Many other members of the Comet Line were also captured. 23 were executed and hundreds of helpers were sent to concentration camps, where an unknown number died. Meanwhile, the line continued in their absence: in all, it returned 800 Allied soldiers and airmen, continuing until Belgium was liberated in 1944.
For her wartime efforts, she was awarded the United States Medal of Freedom, the British George Medal, and became a Chevalier of the French Légion d'honneur. She also became a Chevalier of the Order of Leopold, received the Belgian Croix de Guerre/Oorlogskruis with palm, and was granted the honorary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Belgian Army. In 1985, she was made a countess.
After the war, she moved first to the pre-independence Belgian Congo, then to Cameroon, next to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, working in leper hospitals and finally to Senegal. In failing health, she eventually retired to Brussels.
The Countess De Jongh died on Saturday, 13 October 2007, aged 90, at the University Clinic Woluwe-Saint-Lambert/Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe, Brussels Her funeral service was held at the Abbaye de la Cambre/Abdij Ter Kameren, Ixelles/Elsene Brussels, six days later. She was interred in the crypt of her parents at the Schaarbeek Cemetery at Evere the same day.