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The Comet Line escape line was a famous resistance network which operated between 1941 and 1944 during World War II. It was the brain child of a 24 year-old Belgium woman, André de Jong (known as Dédée) who ended up nursing Allied soldiers and pilots who had fallen – or been stranded – behind enemy lines.
Its raison de être was to move Allied pilots down through occupied Belgium and France and over the Basque Pyrenees into Spain. Here they were then guided by MI9 to Gibraltar and sent back to re-join the war effort in Great Britain.
A total of about 800 pilots were saved by the Comet Line. Approximately 1200 people were involved in guiding, lodging, feeding and clothing the pilots along the way and some 280 people died because of their actions. Many of the resistance workers were women and children.
The final stretch of the Comet Line escape route crosses the Spanish / French border at the Bidasoa river near Endarlatsa in the Basque Pyrenees – just 30 minutes from where we live. It is an intricate crossing winding along hidden stream valleys and mountain shoulders; through tunnels and past isolated mountain farms but it is not too hard for intermediate-level walkers. Unlike the Freedom Trail in the high Pyrenees, the mountain tops that the pilots climbed were only some 500 m high (albeit that they crossed by night, in the fear of being shot either by the Nazis on the French side of Franco’s henchmen on the Spanish).
The stories of the courage, danger and - at times - the audacity of the Basque people involved in the final crossing of the Comet Line escape line are often terrifying – sometimes even amusing – but always inspiring. For years, the families and children who hid the pilots in their attics in safe houses such as Bidegain Berri or Yaku Baita (Urrugne) or Sarobe (Oiartzun) kept their secrets to themselves. Only now the stories are starting to be told.
GUIDED WALKS OF THE COMET LINE OVER THE BASQUE PYRENEES
If you are interested in visiting stretches of the final Comet crossing and the ravines of the Bidasoa river at Endarlatsa ... of hearing the local stories ... of talking to the local Basque farmers and understanding the code of honour of the Basque smugglers then join one of our Total Basque Mountain Experience Walking Weeks. If you would like to walk the whole 2 day stretch of the Comet Line escape line from Urrugne (France) to Oiartzun (Spain) then I can sometimes organise small, private tours. Contact.
More information on other Comet Line crossings.