Friday, 25 February 2011

121. 70th Anniversary of the Comet Line

25th February 2011. Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my interest in the WWII escape network known as the Comet Line (mentioned before here). It was set up in 1941 by Andrée de Jongh, a 24 year old Belgian woman, with the aim of repatriating Allied aircrew shot down in the Low Countries by passing them from Brussels down through occupied France to the Basque country, over the Pyrenees, across into 'neutral' Spain and back to Britain via Gibraltar. They achieved miracles, returning some 290 airmen (out of a total of ~800 others) to Britain. The Comet Line helpers paid a high price for this - over 200 were shot or otherwise killed. 

An annual commemorative weekend (this year it's 9-11th September) is held here in the Basque country (as well as in other locations) and, over 2 days, participants retrace the same route taken by the escapees from Ciboure (set on the bay of St Jean de Luz) up and over the Pyrenees to Renteria in Spain. Last year, I had the honour of meeting Andrée Dumont aka "Nadine" and Bob Frost (story here in English & French) - both of whom appear in the videos below. It's difficult to reconcile the image of the charming, sparkling lady in her eighties of today with the grim reality of what happened to her. As for Bob, he's a very modest hero and a real gentleman with clearly the utmost respect for "Dédée" and the other helpers. As he says, if civilians were caught by the Germans giving aid to shot down airmen, they could expect the severest of punishments. Men were shot, women were sent to concentration camps in Germany - usually under the powers of the infamous Nacht und Nebel decree. Bob says that, in those circumstances, only exceptional people were prepared to take that risk. He then goes on to say that of that group of exceptional people, "Dedée" de Jongh was herself exceptional. That says it all. This year sees the 70th anniversary of the first successful "home run" by an RAF escaper.  

26th February 2011. Did 14km this morning in a coxless quad sculler that felt as though it was crewed by four total strangers. This often happens at the start of a sortie but things generally sort themselves out after a few km. Not this morning though. Made for an uncomfortable few hours. (Running total: 448km)

The general consensus from the rugby fans at the club (which is just about all of them!) about this evening's Le Crunch was that England were going to win by some margin. However, you never quite know with France - if they get the bit between their teeth, they're capable of anything. I'm still going for an England win but it's all set to be a fascinating contest both between the two sets of forwards and the talented backs. Let's just hope we get to watch a great game of rugby.

Just watched the anthems at the beginning of the Italy v Wales, I had to laugh at the singing of the Italian anthem. The crowd, the band and the players all set off at the same time and then it was a straight race to the finish! And I'm not sure who won! Very likeable people the Italians with an enviable way of life.

No comments: