Thursday, October 24, 2013

Florentino Goikoetxe and the Comet Line

 The Comet line (French: Réseau Comète) was a resistance group in Belgium and France that helped Allied soldiers and airmen return to Britain during the Second World War. The line started in Brussels where the men were fed, clothed and given false identity papers, before being hidden in attics or cellars. A network of people then guided them south through occupied France into neutral Spain and home via British-controlled Gibraltar.
A typical route was from Brussels or Lille to Paris and then via Tours, Bordeaux, Bayonne, over the Pyrenees to San Sebastián in Spain. From there evaders travelled to Bilbao, Madrid and Gibraltar. There were three other main routes. The Pat line (after founder Pat O'Leary) ran from Paris to Toulouse via Limoges and then over the Pyrenees via Esterri d'Aneu to Barcelona. Another Pat line ran from Paris to Dijon, Lyons, Avignon to Marseille, then Nîmes, Perpignan and Barcelona, from where they were transported to Gibraltar. The third route from Paris (the Shelburne line) ran to Rennes and then St Brieuc in Brittany, where men were shipped to Dartmouth.
Florentino Goikoetxea was a Basque guide who had a life "befitting a James Bond of the 1940s,".
During the Spanish Civil War he went into exile in France, where he was a smuggler and collaborated with some small French Resistance groups taking photographs and plans. Thanks to his knowledge of the area, he was chosen to guide the pilots to Spain. He got at least 300 Allied pass the border and save their lives.
Florentino Goikoetxea in the event in which she was given the Legion of Honor in Biarritz,
 on June 2, 1977, surrounded by some Australian and Canadian airmen.
The authors of the official history of MI9 cite 2,373 British and Commonwealth servicemen and 2,700 Americans taken to Britain by such escape lines during World War II. The RAF Escaping Society estimated that there were 14,000 helpers by 1945. The Comet line inspired the 1970s BBC television series, Secret Army (1977–79).

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