Dumon-Ugeux, Michou (Aline or Micheline)

Madam Michou (Aline or Micheline) DUMON-UGEUX (Google translation of email message, November 16, 2017 from Brigitte d’Oultremont, Comet Line Remembrance):

One of the very great figures of the network “Comet” during the 40-45 war, MICHOU Dumon-Ugeux has just died, today around noon, in her house next to Uzès (France).

One of the pillars of the Comet Line’s history has been extinguished: Madame Michou (Aline or Micheline) DUMON-UGEUX.  She lived in St Siffret, near Uzès, France and will most likely be buried there next to her husband, Pierre Ugeux.

From the beginning of the war, she was active in the Comète network, keeping the link with among others Jean Ingels (Swedish Canteen), but she remained discreet because she was still studying. And, moreover, she helped her active father in the group “Luc-Marc” as well as her sister Nadine-Andrée who integrated Comète “officially” earlier, while continuing to help Luc-Marc, everywhere doing the guide. Belgium, finally to Paris, until his arrest in August 1942.

Michou then entered into very active and effective action then, organizing all the fliers’ accommodations in Brussels.  Finally she had to leave for Paris 43 where she continued a great work, avoiding by her perspicacity the collapse of the Line by unmasking the traitor De Zitter and his friends. She made contact with Madrid and the British secret service MI9, crossed the Pyrenees several times and resumed the organization after the arrest of Franco Nothomb, who had taken over the direction of the Line after Andrée De Jongh was arrested in January 1943. She save the Comet Line in 1944, in all actions and contacts with MI9 before landing. Then she had to flee with Monique Hanotte (also active from the Belgian-French border “to the Pyrenees) and both reached Great Britain, where they engage in Paras services and secret links.

Michou Dumon-Ugeux was a great figure of the Comet Line and deserves a representation from Belgium at her funeral.

Obituary from The Times, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/obituary-micheline-dumont-8nktdr93v:

Micheline Dumon looked across the restaurant table at her Resistance comrade as he outlined his plans for the “Comet Line”, the network that repatriated stranded Allied servicemen. She knew him as Pierre Boulain, and there were several more noms de guerre, but she suddenly realised that she knew his true identity. He was Jacques Desoubrie, a double agent working for the Gestapo.

She was careful not to let him know that she had recognised him, and in any case she had to leave to escort two servicemen south to the Pyrenees. She was at a safe house in Bayonne near the Spanish border a short while later with another stalwart of the Comet Line, Elvire de Greef — code name “Tante Go” — when she heard that there had been more of the arrests and killings that had so badly hampered their work.

“I am going back to Paris,” she told De Greef. “There is a traitor in the line and I am going to find out who it is.”  Her way of confirming the traitor’s identity was typically direct. The Americans had bombed the railway, and when she phoned her contacts to say that she would be late arriving, a strange voice answered. She had been expecting to hear the voice of her friend and comrade, a dentist named Martine.

Realising that Martine must have been one of those arrested, Dumon went straight to the notorious Fresnes prison on the outskirts of Paris and stood outside the women’s wing, shouting: “Martine! Martine!” Eventually there came a shout. It was the dentist. “Who betrayed you?” asked Dumon. “It was Pierre! Pierre Boulain!” Martine yelled back. As Dumon had feared, Desoubrie had been hard at work.

She told other Comet Line agents, who refused to believe that Boulain could be the traitor, so she decided to follow him to make sure. However, as she tailed him through the city he spotted her. The hunter became the hunted as Desoubrie gave chase. She walked quickly to the nearest station and slipped aboard a train. She was safe — for a while.

Dumon hurried down to Bayonne and warned De Greef that the Line was compromised, saving her comrade’s life and preserving the southern network intact. However, Dumon was compromised, and the Allies wanted her in London. After much debate De Greef persuaded her to cross the Pyrenees for the last time. For Dumon, known as “Michou” and code-named “Lily” , the war was over.

She was 5ft tall, spoke in a soft, childish voice and looked no more than 15

She had personally escorted at least 150 airmen to safety in Spain, and the Comet Line and similar operations were able to get about 5,000 servicemen back to Britain. There were more than 1,000 Comet Line agents in all. The average time between joining up and being arrested was said to be three months. Their exploits inspired the Seventies TV series Secret Army.

Desoubrie fled to Germany, but was eventually executed in 1949, having been denounced by a former lover.

Only 5ft tall, but with a sturdy frame, Dumon “spoke in a soft, childish voice”, according to Airey Neave, an army officer working for British intelligence who debriefed her in London and later wrote a book about the Comet Line. “Her face was round and artless. She looked no more than 15, an advantage that she used to the full.” By then Dumon was 23.

Her US Intelligence file was a testament to her resourcefulness. At least 50 times, the file records, she “outwitted the German agents by suddenly enacting a tender, tearful love scene in a streetcar or on a station platform with some airman she had only known for an hour or two. Encountering such a scene, the embarrassed German agent would pass on and ask no questions.”

The Gestapo worked out her identity, but still she evaded capture. On one occasion, her file notes, “she suddenly became suspicious of an aviator she had gone to pick up. To test him before revealing herself, she used the latest slang she had learnt from other aviators . . . his bewilderment in the face of the slang word convinced her that she was dealing with a German agent.”

She was lucky to escape capture, she said, but as George Watt, the author of The Comet Connection: Escape from Hitler’s Europe, observed, she “added to her luck with cleverness, cool-headedness, self-discipline and total dedication”. She was, in fact, arrested on one occasion, but was held for only two days. “The commandant thought I was too young [to be Dumon], so he let me go before the Gestapo came to take me.”

The “Réseau Comète”, or Comet Line, had been set up in 1941 by Andrée de Jongh, a young woman whose heroine was Edith Cavell, the nurse shot for helping Allied soldiers escape from Belgium during the First World War. Comet Line agents combed the country looking for airmen who had been shot down or forced to land. They would be taken from one safe house to another to stay one step ahead of the Gestapo.

It was too dangerous to stay in my nursing job, so I went underground

The whole Dumon family became involved in the operation. Micheline and her younger sister had been raised in the Belgian Congo, where their father, Eugene, was a doctor. The family had returned to Belgium so Micheline could train as a nurse.

Eugene agreed to hide two airmen, and from then on the girls’ mother, Françoise, as well as Micheline’s sister, Andrée, whose code name was “Nadine”, became involved. “Nadine” smuggled more than 20 airmen out of Belgium, but in August 1942 she and her parents were betrayed and arrested.

The Gestapo thought they had the whole family, but by a stroke of luck Micheline was not included on their ration-stamp list and was not at home when the German agents called. She asked for permission to write to and visit her parents. “These are not your parents,” she was told. “We arrested the entire family.”

Undaunted, she offered her services to De Jongh. She helped photographers putting together false documents, organised safe houses and ferried food and clothing between them.

She went around Brussels on her bicycle, delivering messages, doling out money to the owners of safe houses and checking on the progress of operations, all the while looking and acting like a 15-year-old.

The Comet Line suffered repeated infiltrations and in January 1943 De Jongh was arrested. Dumon stepped up. Four months later two German spies posing as US pilots penetrated the organisation and there were more arrests. “It was too dangerous for me to remain in my nursing job,” Dumon recalled. “I went underground and worked full-time for the airmen.”

When she got to London in 1944 she was debriefed and earmarked to join the “Retrievers”, a unit working to repatriate airmen left behind. As the Allies were advancing towards Berlin, her services were not needed.

A paratrooper, Pierre Ugeux, had been designated as her “minder”. They fell in love and later married, settling in Avignon in the south of France. The couple had three children: Guy, who went on to work in the car industry, Nicole and Brigitte. They also had an adopted son called Stefan, who predeceased them.

Pierre, who died in 2009, became an important figure in Belgium’s power industries. He also rose to become the head of CSI, the forerunner of the FIA as the governing body of Formula One motor racing in the Seventies. The couple would often stand lunch for the then impoverished team owner Bernie Ecclestone.

According to Pamela Pearch, a friend of Dumon, the former Resistance leader was just settling down to watch a motor race when she last spoke to her in October.

As for Dumon’s family, her mother was released after 13 months, but her father died in Silesia towards the end of the war. Her sister, Andrée, was freed in poor health, but had survived the Ravensbrück and Mauthausen concentration camps.

Micheline settled into married life and became an active fundraiser for the families of Comet Line agents who had died during the war. She was also a member of the RAF Escaping Society, and with her sister opened an extension to its museum in East Kirkby, Lincolnshire, in 1996.

Britain awarded her the George Medal. She also received the Golden Medal of Freedom from the US.

Interviewed late in her life, she still had a “straight-backed dignity — hair, greying; face, youthful . . . she talked of the most traumatic experiences in a soft, gentle voice”.

Aline Micheline Dumon GM, Resistance agent, was born on May 20, 1921. She died of undisclosed causes on November 16, 2017, aged 96

For the obituary which appeared in the Washington Post, click here.