Wartime Wednesday: Escape Lines
Chaz Powell is one of two protagonists in my upcoming not-yet-titled novelette. An RAF pilot during WWII, he veers off course during a mission and crash lands in Germany near the French border. He survives the crash but must make his way back to England. He is helped by members of the German Resistance. In researching the Resistance, I discovered there were regular escape lines all over Europe that assisted escaping troops and downed airmen return to Allied countries. Here are just three of the more famous routes:
Pat O'Leary Line: Centered on the Mediterranean Coast, this route was used primarily to bring servicemen from the north of France to Marseille, over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. By crossing the mountains, official checkpoints were bypassed as well as contact with German patrols. The name of the route was taken from the alias of Belgium doctor Albert Guerisse who claimed to be French Canadian Pat O'Leary when he was picked up by the Vichy French Coast Guard during a 1941 mission. Ultimately taking over command of the escape route, Guerisse used the alias for the duration of the war. One report indicates that between 1940 and 1944, over 33,000 successful escapes were made along the Pyrenees (a mountain range over 300 miles long that reaches a height of over 11,000 feet)
The Comete Route: This line started in Brussels went through the south of France into Spain and then
to Gibraltar. Created by a young woman from Belgium named Andree de Jonghe, the line was officially sanctioned by British intelligence in 1940 after Andree showed up at the British consulate with a British soldier. When France came under direct Nazi rule, the line became dangerous to use, and by 1942 it had begun to crumble because of betrayals and arrests.
No matter which escape line was used individuals were given clothes, identity papers, and food before setting off on their journey. Guides took them to a location where the next guide would pick them up. Members who participated did so at great risk to themselves and their families.