February 20, 2022 Hello Dear Members and Friends, This Sunday morning, here I am to announce sad news, albeit in the normal of her busy life, as she said herself: Mrs Henriette HANOTTE, wife THOME, known as "Monique" (or Marie) in the Comète network, has just died this Saturday, February 19, 2022 in the evening. She was in her 102nd year of life on earth, born on August 10, 1920, we had celebrated her 100th birthday in Nivelles, where she lived, during a very successful ceremony in collaboration with the R.A.F. and the Commune of Nivelles, surrounded by some members of his family. As soon as I have more details about the celebration of his funeral, I will come back to you. With my best regards and condolences to his family. Brigitte d'Oultremont
Bonjour Chers Membres et Amis,
Death of war heroine Henriette Hanotte: honorary citizen of the city of Nivelles, she was 102 years old (Sudinfo.be website, 20 February 2022)
Décès de l’héroïne de guerre Henriette Hanotte: citoyenne d’honneur de la ville de Nivelles, elle avait 102 ans
Originally from Rumes (Hainaut), Henriette Hanotte and her family helped English soldiers cross the Franco-Belgian border at the start of the war. She then made herself known to MI9: an aid, protection and repatriation organization to English soil of Allied soldiers and resistance fighters. She will also join the Comète network under the pseudonym of Marie, then Monique. This helped British soldiers to return to the United Kingdom. In 1944, Henriette Hanotte was grilled by a collaborator at Rumes and wanted by the Gestapo. She in turn took the path of escape and took shelter in England, where she became an ATS second lieutenant and followed parachute training. She had lived in Nivelles since 1997.
Originaire de Rumes (Hainaut), Henriette Hanotte et sa famille ont aidé des soldats anglais à franchir la frontière franco-belge au début de la guerre. Elle s’est alors fait connaître du MI9 : une organisation d’aide, de protection et de rapatriement sur le sol anglais de militaires et résistants alliés.
Elle rejoindra également le réseau Comète sous le pseudonyme de Marie, puis Monique. Celui-ci aidait les soldats britanniques à retourner au Royaume-Uni.
En 1944, Henriette Hanotte est grillée par un collaborateur à Rumes et recherchée par la Gestapo. Elle emprunte à son tour le chemin de l’évasion et se met à l’abri en Angleterre, où elle devient sous-lieutenant ATS et suit l’entraînement de parachutiste.
Elle habitait Nivelles depuis 1997.
Monique Hanotte obituary. Belgian resistance fighter recruited by MI9 who, with her family, saved the lives of 140 Allied airmen trapped behind enemy lines
Tuesday February 22, 2022, 12.01am, The Times of London
One day in May 1940, shortly after the German invasion of Belgium, two men walked into a small hotel opposite the station in the village of Rumes. The pair, officers from the British Expeditionary Force, had been separated from their comrades during the retreat towards Dunkirk. Could Henriette Hanotte’s family help them to cross the French border a mile away?
“They didn’t want to be taken prisoner,” recalled Hanotte, who was 19 at the time. The family dressed the pair as coal merchants and escorted them into France. “It was mum who took them,” she said, adding that her father, who was president of the local veterans’ association, “was already well known by MI6 from when the British were stationed in France during the phoney war, preceding Dunkirk”.
Soon afterwards they were visited by a representative of MI9, the War Office department assisting Allied personnel trapped or imprisoned behind enemy lines. Over coffee he politely inquired if Henriette, later known by her noms de guerre Marie and Monique, would assist the British.
For the next four years Allied airmen frequently sought refuge with the family, part of the network that became known as the Comet Line. From then on it was “Monique”, a diminutive teenager in a bonnet and skirt, who walked them over the border, about 140 in total. She already crossed it every day to attend school in the French town of Bachy, where she took violin lessons, and was well known to the customs officials who invariably waved her through without question.
One was the father of her friend Marie. “I would ask him where he was on duty and at what time, because I wanted to cross the border that evening or the next day with two Americans,” she said. “Nobody ever said to me, ‘But where are you going?’ ” She also knew every secret path through the fields and hedgerows. “For me, there was no border,” she explained. “I went backwards and forwards across it every day.
Most of the airmen arrived by train. Hanotte’s English-speaking mother went through their pockets, looking for English-language documents that could betray their identities. Even shirt-collar labels were removed. “My mum would give them their new French ID cards and work permits,” Hanotte said. “She taught them how to pronounce their new name, for example ‘Jean Martin’. To start with they would say ‘My name is Jane Martine’. ‘No! That’s not right.’ And she would make them repeat it until they could pronounce it properly.”
Hanotte joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service after escaping to London.
Other family members were involved. Her cousins, Nelly and Raymonde Hoël, helped to forge signatures on fake ID cards. The airmen were trained in what to say if there was an inspection on the train. They were also equipped with German newspapers and magazines, as well as a box of French matches.
After two or three days it was time to move on. “For the journey, mum would make us a sandwich each, wrapped in greaseproof paper,” Hanotte recalled. “I was always worried that mine would get my pocket dirty, and the same for the airmen, and that someone would have noticed. [The airmen] wouldn’t have known what to say.”
Leaving at 5am, they followed the railway line, took paths through the fields and stepped over barbed wire and through ditches. Along the route Hanotte had informants who knew if German forces had been seen in the area. If they met an official, her companions were passed off as new boyfriends. “You had to think on your feet,” she said. “There were German soldiers all along the border.” Sometimes they travelled on crowded buses, blending in with local people going to work, or by bicycle. Occasionally the airmen were disguised as farm workers or priests.
The number of airmen being passed along the Comet Line soon rose. “In late 1942, we were bursting at the seams,” she said. “We didn’t know where to put them any more, and my mother said to me, ‘Hurry up’. There were two of them who were leaving and two who were arriving.”
The young Belgian usually accompanied her “packages” to Lille or Paris, “where ‘Jerome’ was waiting for us”. From there, other guides then led them south, across the Pyrenees, through Spain and into Gibraltar. Hanotte always bought the rail tickets for “her men” from one window and her own from another, ensuring that they did not have consecutive numbers. “I always had an old loaf of stale bread in my bag,” she said. “If we were checked, I would say, ‘I went to get bread from the country.’ It was easier to get through as a woman.”
Generally they travelled third class, but once she was with two Allied airmen in a first-class compartment when a Nazi officer entered and asked to borrow the German newspaper that the pair were pretending to read. “I quickly gave him mine instead, so they wouldn’t have to speak,” she recalled. The officer remained with them to Paris, occasionally making small talk that she answered. “It was a very scary moment,” she added.
The statue in Bachy depicting her with Charles Carlson, an American airman, as he fled occupied Belgium.
Some of those she helped were Canadian or American. In 2015 the family of HC Roark, from Jackson, Tennessee, described how their brother had been shot down over a sugar beet field in Belgium and was ushered by local people into a barn. [It appears that the name Roark is a typo and that it should be HC Johnson. Webmaster.] He was passed along the Comet Line until reaching Rumes, where he was escorted to safety by Hanotte. “These were people whose country had been invaded and who wanted freedom,” Roark’s [Johnson’s] niece Anita said. “The people of the Comet Line, like ‘Monique’, were just as heroic as the troops they save
In May 1944 a train carrying Hanotte and her latest pair of airmen arrived in Paris three hours late. “I couldn’t find my contact,” she said, recalling her anxiety. “What’s happening? I had to go and find out. I put my two men in the bathrooms at the Gare du Nord while I went to find help.” At the safe house, a fourth-floor apartment on Rue Rochechouart, the curtains were drawn, a warning sign. Later she learnt that a young Belgian man had switched sides. “He had filmed me at the Gare du Nord,” she said. “I was supposed to have been arrested that day. But luckily for me my train was late. There was probably a change of shift.”
Such had been Hanotte’s skill at evading the Germans that the British now decided to bring her to London. She was instructed to follow the same escape route taken by the airmen she had rescued, travelling to Gibraltar with Aline Micheline Dumon (obituary, November 24, 2017), a fellow resistance agent who was later awarded the George Medal. In Britain she became a second lieutenant in the Auxiliary Territorial Service Special Forces. “They sent me to the ‘full agent’ school and the parachuting school,” she said.
In August 1944 Hanotte fractured her fibula during training, which meant not only missing the chance to jump into Belgium but also the liberation of her village by the Americans on September 2, 1944. Instead, she celebrated VE Day in London. Speaking 75 years later, she told of still receiving letters from the children of the airmen she had helped, adding: “Some came to see me and asked me to show them where I took their father to get to France.”
Henriette Lucie Hanotte was born in 1920 in Sépeaux, south of Paris, the daughter of Clovis Hanotte, a Belgian veteran of the First World War, and his French wife, Georgette (née Lauret). The family home was in Rumes, where as well as the Hôtel du Gare they also ran a coal business and a customs agency. They kept a smallholding, where Henriette and her younger brother, Georges, helped to tend the livestock.
After the war Hanotte returned to her family home and continued working in her parents’ hotel. In 1945 she married Jules Thomé, a Belgian border guard who had been her boyfriend before the war, and they had two children. For many years she received wedding invitations from the servicemen whose lives she had saved. Through one of her Comet Line associates she found work at the Château de la Rocq, a hotel in Arquennes. In June 1997 she retired to the Belgian town of Nivelles.
As her story became known, Hanotte received countless honours. The British appointed her MBE and the Americans awarded her the Medal of Freedom with bronze palm. She continued to use the name Monique. In May 2015 a 10km hiking trail was created, criss-crossing the French-Belgian border and marking one of the routes she used when helping airmen to escape. A statue stands in Bachy depicting her with Charles Carlson, an American airman, as he fled occupied Belgium.
In a Zoom interview to mark her 100th birthday Hanotte insisted that she had not done anything out of the ordinary. “I was trying to protect my family, and they were trying to protect me,” she said, concluding: “It was our natural instinct to help.”
Monique Hanotte MBE, Belgian resistance fighter, was born on August 10, 1920. She died on February 19, 2022, aged 101
Photos of Henriette Hanotte by Margaret Fricke, 2012- 2018
1. With WWII historian, Ed Reniere, in 2013