Group Captain Bill Randle (RAF) MBE, OBE, DFM, AFC. AM


On the night of 16 September 1942 Wellington bomber pilot, Bill Randle, took off on his 19th operation.

Whilst crossing the Dutch coast at 21,000 feet the Wellington was hit by anti-aircraft fire but despite the damage Randle continued to the target where they again came under intense ground fire.

After bombing the target in Essen Germany, the Wellington was hit by flak and the port engine failed and as the aircraft became increasingly difficult to control and was quickly losing height Randle ordered the crew to bailout.

Randle landed in a tree near the German-Belgium border and after freeing himself from the tangled parachute he headed for the coast and travelled by night and hid during the day. After coming across a patriotic farmer, he was warned the coast was heavily defended so decided to make his way south.

During a train journey to Namur, he realised without identity papers he was unlikely to escape so decided to walk towards France.

Randle was then fortunate to come across an elderly man who was also a patriot who arranged for him to be hidden by monks for ten days. It was said Randle was passed to the Belgium Resistance; in fact, he was passed to the Comet Escape line which for security reasons was separate from the Resistance.

After being interrogated to ensure he was not a German infiltrator and his story confirmed by London through their wireless link Randle was given clothes and false identity papers identifying him as a Flemish commercial traveller. Guides then took him to Brussels where he was reunited with two of his crew who were also being helped by members of Comet.

comete andree de jongh

The crew were kept in a safehouse before the escape line organiser 26-year-old Andree de Jongh (cover name Dedee) escorted them to Paris. After two days in a Paris safehouse a young girl escorted them by train to St Jean de Luz where they dressed as Basque farm labourers. Dedee     then re-joined the airmen and with a local guide they quietly walked along narrow forest paths during the night whilst avoiding German patrols. After crossing the river Bidassoa into Spain Dedee briefly left the group and returned with a taxi and took them to the British consul in San Sebastian.

Randle had been on the run for 55 days; Dedee was eventually betrayed but survived Ravensbrûck concentration camp and after the war was awarded the GM (George Medal) for her work on the escape line during which she was responsible for rescuing over 300 allied air crews.

Alan Malcher

Andrée de Jongh: MI9 and the Comet Escape Line in Belgium

Andrée de Jongh

Andrée de Jongh grew up in a suburb of Brussels and after the emergency evacuation of Dunkirk she became aware British soldiers were being hidden by Belgium families and a man named Arnold Deppe was planning to escort them across France to neutral Spain and Andree decided she wanted to help.  Neither were aware their early success would develop into the Comet Escape Line financed and supported by MI9 in London.  

At the age of 24 Andrée escorted her first escapers: a young British woman and 10 Belgians wanted by the Gestapo but when they reached the River Somme, it was discovered six of the Belgians could not swim so Andrée made seven trips across the river swimming with only her legs and pushing the escapers on a rubber tyre. After returning to Brussels she was told Arnold Deppe had been arrested by the Gestapo and she was now in command.

Throughout the war Comet rescued down aircrews, political prisoners and British agents and although it was part of MI9 it was a network of families and friends. Its escape routes consisted of hundreds of Belgium citizens among which were the de Greef family who provided black market supplies and forged papers; 19-year-old Nadine Dumont, a Comet guide who survived ten-weeks of interrogations and two concentration camps and Andree’s father, Frédéric who was arrested at a Paris train station after being betrayed and later executed by firing squad. Around one thousand people worked in some capacity for the Comet Line and roughly 155 were killed and many others deported to concentration camps.

Andrée de Jongh personally escorted 118 escapers across the Spanish border which took over 33 trips. In 1943 part of the line was infiltrated by the Germans and Andree de Jongh was captured at a French safe-house. After being interrogated multiple times she was transported to Ravensbrück and then Mathausen concentration camp where she was liberated in April 1945.

After the war she was awarded the George Medal, the Belgian Croix de Guerre/Oorlogskruis and the US Medal of Freedom and was made a Chevalier in both the Order of Leopold and the Legion d’honneur, she also fulfilled her childhood dream of working as a nurse in Third World Countries.  Andrée de Jongh died in 2007 at the age of 90