When you hear a Second World War story about the German occupation, which involves a Café, British Airmen, René and Yvette, only one thing could possibly spring to mind. The hit comedy TV series, Allo Allo. But when Lucie Wilkinson visited the Nuneaton based Air Cadets to talk to them about her own real life experiences as a member of the Belgian resistance, the true story of how she helped to save ten British airmen was far from being funny, apart from the bit where she couldn't resist the temptation to say, “Listen carefully I will only say this once”
Yes, Lucie 's family ran a Café in Brussels during the German occupation and they were part of an elaborate resistance network, which fought to rescue downed allied airmen and after the war Lucie also named two of her children René and Yvette. You could almost be forgiven for thinking that they were the inspiration for the TV show but that's where the coincidental link ends and the true story of the undercover life of this Belgian Resistance heroine really starts.
During her talk to the cadets, Lucie described how at the age of fifteen she followed other members of her family into the Belgian resistance movement. How her first relatively simple missions although fraught with immense danger involved taking packages containing messages through German lines on her bicycle. Things became even more dangerous on the day she was sent to collect yet another package, only to discover that the package was in fact a British airman.
Lucie Van-Resseghem as she was then, was given the code name ‘Wendy' by the resistance network known as the ‘ Comet Line'. The Comet line (Le Réseau Comète) was a resistance group that operated accross Belgium and France which helped Allied airmen return to Britain. 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 houses. A network of people guided them south through occupied France into neutral Spain and home via British-controlled Gibraltar. The Comet line story inspired the 1970s BBC television series, ‘Secret Army'.
Lucie described how she had been personally involved in helping ten airmen to evade capture by moving them across a network of safe houses. She went on to tell the cadets all about her families cafe which was a typical street corner cafe selling coffee, beers wines and food when it was available. She explained how her family lived on the first floor with another family above them and on one occasion, how she sheltered an allied Airman in the attic unbeknown to this other family.
The Comet Line members and the families who sheltered the stranded airmen took huge risks. On One occasion twelve of Lucie's network were captured by the Germans and executed and many others were sent the concentration camps on the mere suspicion of any connection with the resistance movement.
In July 2007 Lucie attended a Comet Line commemorative reunion in Brussels attended by escapers and former members of the resistance. Her son René Wilkinson who is a Lecturer with the RAF was also part of a team of personnel from RAF Shawbury and Cosford who took part in a cycle ride which retraced the 700 mile route of the Comet Line.
Flt Lt Paul Hincks of 121 ( Nuneaton ) Squadron said, “Lucie's story is truly fascinating and it stimulated so many questions from the cadets about the dangers she faced and life in Belgium under the German occupation. When you consider that she was only fifteen when she joined the resistance, younger than some of the cadets she was talking to tonight. It just goes to show how thankful we should all be to people like her, who faced the constant threat of detection to help save the lives of so many allied airmen”.