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Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 20:43 GMT 21:43 UK
Airmen remember Comet Line to freedom
Belgian farmhouse
Airmen were hidden in farmhouses throughout Belgium
British World War II veterans are gathering in Belgium this week with former members of the resistance there to remember the Comet Line, a shadowy network to which hundreds of allied servicemen owe their lives.

The Comet Line was formed in May 1940 with the aim of helping downed allied airmen return home so they could keep bombing the enemy.

The escape line started in Brussels, where the men were fed, clothed and given false identity papers, before being hidden in attics and cellars of private houses.

A network of 1,000 people then guided the airmen south through occupied France into neutral Spain and home via British-controlled Gibraltar.

The movement was created by a young Belgian woman who resolved to fight back against the German occupation of her country.

'Little cyclone'

Andree de Jongh was 24 in 1940, and today lives in a townhouse in the centre of Brussels. She is frail, but has lost none of the passion that earned her the nickname "Little Cyclone".

Andree de Jongh
Andree de Jongh formed the movement to fight back
"My father told me Belgium had given in to the Germans. I had never seen him cry before - never. I was in despair and furious, enraged at the same time," she says.

"I said to my father, you'll see what we'll do to them. You'll see, they are going to lose this war. They've started it but they'll lose it."

The Comet Line members and the families who sheltered them took huge risks, with Ms De Jongh escorting 118 airmen over the Pyrenees mountains into freedom herself.

"I loved them like they were my brothers, my children even. We would have done anything for them - even given up our lives - that wasn't too high a price," she says.

Rescued airmen

Bob Frost was a 19-year-old gunner in 1942 when his Wellington bomber was crippled by anti-aircraft fire returning home from a raid on an arms factory in Germany.

Bob Frost
Bob Frost revisits the scene of his landing
Under a full moon, the plane started to drop, so Frost put on his parachute and bailed out.

"I came through a cloud, it was cold and wet. I was actually livid. Only a week to go, two more missions before my tour was over. Then the ground came up and hit me," he recalls.

He landed in a field just outside the village of Kapellen in Flemish speaking Brabant - alone in German-occupied Belgium.

'We were very frightened'

Surrounded on all sides by flat countryside, he decided his best option was to throw caution to the wind and head for a nearby farmhouse.

"I saw that house and my guardian angel said to me go for it Bob," he remembers. It was the right choice.

Bob Frost was looked after by the Vangilbergen family for three days before being handed over to the Comet Line, who returned him to London six weeks later.

Bob Frost
Bob Frost has remained in touch with his rescuers
Today, Angele Vangilbergen is a great grandmother, and close friends with Bob Frost - despite being extremely unsure about him that autumn morning 60 years ago.

"We were very frightened - wondering who this airman was. But what could we do? We couldn't give him up to the Germans."

Huge risks

The Comet Line members took huge risks in their mission to help the stranded airmen, which for some ended in capture and death at the hands of the Germans.

Angele Dumon
Angele Dumon was arrested and imprisoned for her involvement
Andree Dumont, 19, was one of the youngest members of the Comet Line - and one of those arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp.

Despite losing her father, who died in captivity, she has never doubted the sacrifice was worth it, and has organised this week's reunion.

"The airmen feel they can't thank us enough," she says. "We say if it wasn't for the English, we might be German now. It's only the English that didn't capitulate."

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