Marie – José Villiers: British born Countess working with the Belgium Resistance. (30 April 1916 – 1 February 2015)

After Belgium was occupied Villiers reconnoitred German airfields in Belgium and northern France and passed the intelligence to London. She also worked for an escape line rescuing allied air crews shot down over Belgium and assisted them to reach neutral Spain but after several members of the resistance were arrested Villiers was warned the Gestapo knew her identity and was high on their wanted list. She then obtained forged identity papers, dyed her hair black and escaped to England though Spain and Portugal.

Guy Vivian SOE T Section (Belgium)

Guy Vivian

Guy Vivian was born to a British father and Belgium mother in Antwerp and left Belgium in 1935 to work for the GPO (General Post Office) in Britain as a linguist and switchboard operator. From 1939 to 1940 he served with the Royal Signals and was with the BEF in Cherbourg.

Although he married his Belgium wife at an early age the SOE assessors were concerned about his extra-marital activities especially after Vivian told one of the training staff that whilst living in Cherbourg, he had a flat where he gave English lessons to young girls and his flat was like a brothel.

On 13 April 1943 Vivian was sent to France by Lysander because it was easier to land in France than in Belgium, with instructions to organise a courier network to allow mail to be passed between Belgium and London. There is little information in his personal file and his last contact with London is dated 23 April 1943.  It is known he was arrested by the SD at 43 bis Rue des Belles-Feuilles in Paris where they found a document which blew his cover, but the nature of this document is unknown.

SOE concerns over “his intense interest in women” proved to be his undoing: the SD were investigating the death of a woman who had last been seen in his company and was later described as a spy, but it is not known whether she was a German agent or a paid informant.  As instructed during training, If Vivian discovered she was working for the Germans, he most likely eliminated her, but if this were the case, he failed to leave the area and cover his tracks which he was also instructed to do.

It has been said Vivian was shot by the Germans at the Fort du Mont-Valérien in the Paris suburbs sometime in November 1943, but it has not been explained why he was not buried until 4 December 1943.  

Alan Malcher

Jacques Desoubrie: Belgium double agent working for the Gestapo during WW2

Desoubrie was born in Luingne, Belgium on 22 October 1922 and grew up in Tourcoing on the French border where he trained as an electrician. He is said to have spoken perfect English and unlike other double agents and collaborators working for the Germans he was not motivated by money; he was a dedicated supporter of the Third Reich although he was also well paid for his treachery.

He began working for the Gestapo in 1941 and used various cover names including Jacque Leman, Jean Masson, Pierre Boulain and Captain Jacques.

Sometime in 1941 he infiltrated a resistance group called Vérite Française (French Truth) which printed and distributed an underground newspaper and helped people escape from France and after being responsible for the arrest of 100 people he then infiltrated the Le Gualés Network and 50 people were arrested.

In November 1942 Desoubrie infiltrated the Comet Escape Line which operated in Belgium and France rescuing allied aircrews who were shot down over both countries. Members of the line escorted aircrews, referred to as parcels or packages, to neutral Spain through a network of safe houses and other members at various locations until they reached safety and Desoubrie was responsible for many arrests. Apart from a large loss of life some parts of the network had to be rebuilt with new recruits and replacement safehouses.

Using the name Jean Mason, in January 1943 Desoubrie convinced members of the Comet line he was escorting six airmen from Belgium to Paris and requested they meet him at a Paris railway station to arrange their escape to Spain, the Comet leader agreed and after sending a few members to collect the `parcels’ they were arrested.

By this time Desoubrie had discovered the identity of several members of Comet and their safehouses and further arrests based on his information almost destroyed the network. He was not suspected as a double agent and the only members of the resistance who knew of his involvement were those who had disappeared and sentence to death by the Gestapo.

In January 1944 he was responsible for the arrest of a senior leader of the Comet Line called Jean -Jacques Northomb (code name Franco), a British agent thought to be a member of MI9 Named Jacques Legrelle (code name Jerome) and after these betrayals Desoubrie started using the name Pierre Boulain.

On 7 May 1944 a Belgium woman named Michelle Dumon (code name Lily and Michou) who worked for the Comet Line discovered Desoubrie was a double agent and informed MI9 agent Albert Ancia, and he asked the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) to assassinate him. Although MI9 was later informed Desoubrie had been eliminated he was later seen, and it was assumed the FFI assassinated the wrong person.

After Desoubrie became aware the resistance in Belgium and France and MI9 had identified him as a double agent he was undeterred and continued working for the Gestapo.

After three allied airmen: American Roy Allen, New Zealander Phil Lamason and Ken Chapman who was a navigator with the RAF were picked up by members of the French Resistance they were hidden in a safehouse until arrangements could be made for their journey to Spain. In August 1944, Lamason and Chapman were arrested by the Gestapo and Desoubrie was paid 10,000 francs for each man after providing the information which led to their arrests and both airmen were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp.

After the liberation of France, Desoubrie fled to Germany but was later captured by the allies and after being found guilty in a French court was executed by firing squad on 20 December 1949 at the fort of Montrouge near Paris, but some sources claim he was executed in 1945.

The Dumon Sisters and the Belgium Resistance during WW2.

‘Michou’ Dumon with her husband, Pierre Ugeux who served with SOE (Comete line)

Micheline Dumon (code names Lily and Michou) served with the Belgium Resistance and worked on the Comet Escape Line and her surname often appears misspelt as ‘Dumont’.

As a member of Comet, she helped allied aircrews shot down over Belgium and France evade capture and was credited for assisting 250 aircrew by guiding them through Belgium and France to neutral Spain, and is noted for being one of the most experienced and longest serving member of the escape line.

Comet Escape Line

In August 1942 her father who also worked on the Comet Line was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to a concentration camp where he later died.

In 1944 the line was infiltrated by a double agent named Jacques Desoubrie a Belgium working for the Gestapo infiltrating resistance groups in Belgium and France and after finding herself on the Gestpo wanted list was forced to escape to England where she spent the remainder of the war training MI9 agents.

After the war Micheline Dumon said, “I knew a lot of people and I moved around a lot. I never stayed in one place, and so I was always alone. Also, I was lucky.”

Andree Dumon

Andree (code name Nadine), Micheline Dumon’s sister, was in charge of safehouses where aircrews were hidden until they could be moved down the line and she also prepared false identification cards and connected escapers with escorts to take them from Belgium to neutral Spain by bicycle, train and on foot. After a narrow escape from the Gestapo, she went underground and lived in a safehouse for several weeks and obtained false identity papers which said she was 15-years-old and accoding to several airmen she looked about 12 or 13 and dressed accordingly. She also spoke English and interacted with allied airmen who rarely spoke French.

In June 1943 the Comet Line was close to collapse after many arrests by the Abwehr and Gestapo and Andree Dumon took on a leadership position which she described as “A sort of odd-job woman: looking after safehouses, escorting aircrews, recruiting new agents, collecting food coupons and repairing escape routes after waves of arrests.”

By January 1944 it was too dangerous for her to remain in Brussels so she moved to Paris and then to Bayonne in southwestern France to work with Elvire de Geer who was the leader of that end of the line during which she escorted two groups of 10 allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain, and in March 1944 she was one of three Comet Line leaders who attended a meeting in Madrid with senior MI9 officers to plan their activities for D-day.

After the meeting she went to Paris and shortly after arriving was arrested by the French police and spent two nights in jail. From the time she was in police custody she behaved like a young girl and the way she was dressed supported the deception and instead of being handed to the Gestapo the police commandant released her becuase she was a child. After this close escape she found a new safehouse and continued her resistance work until France and Belgium were liberated.

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

Elaine Madden Special Operations Executive T Section (Belgium)

Elaine Madden

This section became operational in December 1940 as an independent offshoot of the French Section and was commanded by Grenadier Guards officer Claude Knight and later by Hardy Amies. When it comes to agent fatalities as a result of wireless deception by the Abwehr (German military intelligence) the methods used in Belgium have many similarities to those experienced by SOE’s N section (Netherland).

Belgium under occupation and the Special Operations Executive

Emile Tromme, thought to be the first T Section agent to arrive in Belgium.

Emile Tromme is widely said to be the first agent to arrive by parachute: some writers claim in May 1941 he landed inside a prisoner of war camp and it took him four months to escape and after escaping he continued his resistance work; It has also been claimed on 13 May 1941 he arrived safely by parachute north of Vielsalm and formed a group of saboteurs around Verviers. The only reliable record confirms he was executed by the Germans sometime in February 1942.

According to former T Section agent Jacques Doneux who arrived in Belgium by parachute in 1943, in October 1942 his headquarters in London were unaware out of the 45 agents and 18 wireless operators sent to Belgium only 13 had not been captured, most of their wirelesses and codes were in German hands and being ‘played back’ to London. This deception is sometimes referred to as the ‘wireless war’ which was also being successfully employed in the Netherlands and both sections found themselves dropping agents and weapons to the Germans, but for various reasons this ploy was less successful in France.   

  Due to the politics of the period not least the political rivalries between various groups of Belgium resisters, apart from published war memoirs of a non-political nature written by former T Section agents such as ‘They Arrived by Moonlight’, by Captain Jacques Doneux, and Elaine Madden’s ‘I heard my country Calling’, reliable information and official accounts on SOE operations in Belgium are difficult to find.

Elaine Madden

Elaine Madden was only 16 (some claim she was 17) when Belgium, France and the Netherland was invaded by Germany and Elaine and her aunt Simone Duponselle were making their way to the coast in the hope of avoiding the German advance and were later found by British troops hiding in a barn, another source said the soldiers passed them in a car and offered them a lift, Irrespective of which version is correct, the soldiers said they would attempt to get them on a boat leaving Dunkirk for England.    

When they arrived in Dunkirk British troops gave Elaine and her aunt greatcoats, helmets and gas masks to disguise them as soldiers and whilst climbing a rope ladder onto a trawler the captain noticed the two women but decided to turn a blind eye to his two stowaways.  After reaching England they were questioned by MI5 before being allowed to stay with an aunt living in Streatham London.    

On 7 May 1944 Elaine was twenty and apart from being of recruitment age MI5 had already marked her file as a potential agent and this information had been passed to SOE.   Elaine was discretely approach by an SOE recruiter and asked whether she was willing to volunteer for hazardous missions in Belgium and after being warned of the great risks she would face Elaine volunteered.

  Madden successfully passed the Students’ Assessment Board (SAB) in Cranleigh, Surrey before passing the comprehensive course on subversive warfare in Scotland and the mandatory trade craft at the Beaulieu finishing school on the edge of the New Forrest in Hampshire. She was then formally a member of SOE and given the cover name Elaine Meeus and provided with forged identity papers. She also had to remember back stories to support her fictitious life.

Sometime in 1944 she arrived in Belgium by parachute with instructions to act as a courier for circuit leader André Wendelen who was running a group of saboteurs and their wireless operator Jacques Van de Spiegel. As a courier Elaine Madden was responsible for the difficult and dangerous task of liaising and passing orders to scattered members of the resistance to ensure their activities supported the allied strategy: some targets such as bridges, railways and communications had to be destroyed whilst others were only disrupted and could easily be repaired and used by the allies.   

During her resistance work Madden was given a lift in a vehicle by a German officer whilst carrying a wireless transmitter in her suitcase and on several occasions was forced to use various counter-surveillance drills to lose members of the Abwehr and Gestapo she noticed following her.  

After the war Madden worked for an organisation responsible for tracing missing T Section agents and political prisoners during which she conducted investigations at Buchenwald, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Flossenberg Concentration Camps and after a long investigation she only found two survivors the remainder had been executed.

Although Madden was almost captured several times she always said, “I wasn’t a heroine… Just young and excited…  but I can still look in the mirror and feel proud.”