The courage of Henriette Hanotte

In the dark days of war heroes and heroines often emerge who demonstrate outstanding courage. Recently Henriette Hanotte died at the age of 101. During World War II this brave Belgian lady, known by the code name ‘Monique’, assisted 100 Allied airmen to evade capture by the Germans. She escorted them along the Comet Escape Line through France to the Pyrenees and into Spain. Henriette lived in the Belgian village of Rumes, two kilometres from the French Border, where her family ran a small hotel. She attended school in Bachy, a village just inside France, and crossed the border every day. She knew all the local paths, ditches and countryside and habits of the people.

Soon after the Germans invaded the Low Countries and France on 10 May 1940, two British officers, who had been cut off during the retreat from Belgium, called at the family hotel seeking help to evade capture. Henriette, then a slightly built 19-year-old, guided them to safety. In the years that followed she assisted more than 100 Allied airmen to regain their freedom. The family hotel became a key collecting point for crossing the Franco-Belgian border. Evaders were brought from Brussels, sometimes by Henriette, and stayed at the hotel. When it was the right time to cross the border Henriette took them through the local fields before passing them to the next courier. Sometimes, using buses and trains, she took them to Lille and on to Paris.

The 6-mile walk to Bachy was not always straightforward. Henriette said, “You had to think on your feet. There were German soldiers all along the border.” On one occasion, she was taking two airmen to Paris by train when a German officer asked to borrow the newspaper they were pretending to read. “I quickly gave him mine instead so they wouldn’t have to speak,” she recalled. “It was a very scary moment.” On one of her visits to Paris members of the Comet Line were betrayed, placing those who were seeking to avoid capture at great risk. Henriette was spotted in Rumes by the Gestapo, and in January 1944, MI9 decided to extract her. She travelled down the Line to Biarritz, crossed the Pyrenees led by a Basque guide, and went on to Madrid and Gibraltar before being flown to England. After the war she returned to Rumes.

Jesus Christ accomplished the greatest rescue in history. He demonstrated great love and courage in coming from heaven to earth to set people free, at great personal cost. One hymn says, “Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God. He to rescue me from danger interposed his precious blood.”