Victor Schutters (Comète Line Helper)
The following letter was written by Victor Schutters, grandson of Victor Schutters, to Michael Faley, 100th BG Historian (via email 28 Mar 2006):
--- letter begins ---
Dear Mister Michael Faley,
On 6 February 2005, I wrote a message on the website of the 100th BG to ask information about Robert Nance, Louis Abromowitz and George Bonitz, three airmen who were helped by my grandfather during WWII. A few days later, you gave me the address of Robert Nance who was living in Vacaville (California).
See: E&E 1841 | E&E 1843 | E&E 1844
I wrote to him and I received emails from him. That was for me a great event because Robert Nance told me that he still remembered my grandfather. In his last email, Robert promised me a picture of himself taken at the base of Thorpe Abbot with the crew of Captain Kincannon.
Unfortunately, I never received neither this picture nor an answer to my following letters. So, I thought that Robert has perhaps passed away. However, last week-end, my friend Michael LeBlanc who helped me very much with my researches, said me that I could find a picture of the Kincannon’s crew on your website. I was very glad to find this picture and to discover the faces of Robert Nance and Louis Abromowitz. Now, Michael LeBlanc has sent me this picture with a higher resolution that he received from you. As I was waiting for such a picture for a long time, you can imagine my happiness.
Michael said me that you were interested with the story of my grandfather in relation with the evaded airmen of the 100th BG.
English is not my mother tongue, but I will try to tell you what I leaned about it. In fact, my grandfather, Victor Schutters, was a member of several Belgian underground movements. Concerning his help to the evaded airmen, he belonged to the escape line Comète which was created in 1941 by Andrée De Jongh, a young girl of twenty-five years old.
The purpose of the Comète line was to help the shot downed airmen by sheltering them and by giving them food, civilian clothes and false papers and, if it was possible, by moving them back to England. That was a very long and difficult trip through France, the Pyrenees and Spain where they took a boat in Gibraltar to rejoin England.
The function of my grandfather in the Comète line, was to move the airmen, by car or by truck, from safe place to safe place and to provide them with food.
In the last days of July 1944, my grandfather and his friend Marcel Van Buekenhout, another resistant, had planned to fetch three airmen in Westmalle, at about 85 km from Brussels, between Antwerp and the border with Holland.
Those three airmen were Captain Robert Nance, 1st Lieutenant Louis Abramowitz and 1st Lieutenant George Bonitz.
However, on 1st August 1944, the foreseen day of the evacuation of the airmen, Marcel Van Buekenhout and his wife were arrested at their home by the Germans.
Knowing that Marcel Van Buekenhout possessed the address in Westmalle where the three airmen were hidden, the false identity cards and the false work cards intended to the airmen, my grandfather took the risk to evacuate them, hoping to be there before the Germans.
So, he did it and the same day the three airmen were safely hidden in houses in Brussels. Abromowitz and Bonitz were together in one safe house and Nance was at an other place.
Here is the wonderful and amazing story that Robert Nance told me in his letters :
"I ran straight south and on July 21 met up with Abramowitz and Bonitz.
On July 24 we met a Boy Scout on a farm near Hoogstraten. He led us to another farm where they hid us for three days. There was no organized underground in the countryside so the farmer made contact with a barber in Westmalle.
We were placed in a room above his barber shop while a villager went to Brussels to seek help for us.
He contacted a man named Robert Janssen (spelling of last name may be wrong). He lived on Rue Molaire.
Robert and your grandfather headed an underground unit that specialized in sabotage. They discovered the Brussels "escape and evasion" underground unit had be infiltrated by the Gestapo so they assumed those functions as well.
In late July two men driving an automobile stolen from the Gestapo and carrying Gestapo credentials came to Westmalle. We had our flying suits on and were handcuffed together. We were stopped at a German army roadblock but they accepted the two men to be Gestapo agents escorting prisoners to Brussels and passed us.
Once in Brussels, at about 5pm, we were in the center of the city and the sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians. They took off our handcuffs, stopped the car at a corner, told me to get out - flying suit ant all - and I would be contacted by a man who would help me. After I walked a few feet, a man walked by me and said, "Follow me."
That was when I first met Victor. We walked down a ramp into a garage located in the basement of a large building. He introduced himself, told me he was taking me to a place where I would be safe.
I could not see from inside the truck but after about 45 minutes we stopped and he told me to get out and go to the door of the nearby residence. He then drove off. As I recall it was three stories, a large beautiful residence.
The owner, Madame Thevenet (not sure of spelling) invited me in. I stayed there until Brussels was liberated.
Victor came to see me the next day just to make sure that I was all right.
When the Brits arrived, Janssen and I went to the Hotel Metropole and made arrangements for the other Americans to be housed there. In addition, announcements were made over the radio stations for evading American airmen to report to me at the hotel and 14 did so, making a total of 36 of us.
We stayed there for four days and then the American 3rd Army sent vehicles to take us to Paris.
Victor came to see us on the day before we left."
So far as I am concerned individuals such as your grandfather were the true, if unsung, heroes of WWII."
After asking to Robert if he didn’t remember if my grandfather was not already in the car which led them to Brussels, he replied :
"It is possible that your grandfather was one of the two men who drove us from Westmalle to Brussels. I did not get a good look at the man in the front passenger seat during the entire trip. I do know it was he who, after I left the car in the Brussels business district, tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Follow me." And it was he who drove me to Madam Thevenet's resident.
I know that Bonitz and Abromowitz were taken to the resident (an apartment, I believe) of a lady whose husband was in a German POW camp. They stayed there until the liberation. Without being certain, I believe she lived in the vicinity of Scorbrook (spelling ?). At any rate, there was a big railroad yard there. I know that for a fact for I was the lead bombardier when we bombed the place in, I believe, May 1944.
I also know your grandfather had some association with a man named Ferdinand who reported to Janssen.
I have no picture of my crew. However, the photo here is one taken on a bomber base at Thorpe Abbots, England in early, 1944. I am the taller person standing on the right. The other man was Chase Kincannon. He has been dead for perhaps 20 years and was the pilot of my crew."
Unfortunately, this picture Robert Nance refers to was not attached to his email.
What Robert Nance didn’t know, was that they were evacuated just in time from Westmalle. Of course, they were nearly passed to the false escape line KLM which was directed by the traitor René Van Muylem and which led 177 in the hands of the Germans.
But, I think that Michael LeBlanc is more qualified as myself to explain you how these false escape line worked.
Among the airmen who were helped by my grandfather and who belonged to the 100th BG, there was also 1st Lieutenant John Brown whose story is already told on your website. In his report, for the period between 03 /06/44 to 18/06/44, John Brown remembers that he was moved with a green truck.
I know that my grandfather was a foreman at the garage of the Belgian Railways and that he had the authorization to use the trucks of the Company. Those trucks were painted in green color.
So, I am practically certain that the truck John Brown is speaking about was one of those that my grandfather used to move the airmen.
--- letter ends ---
From Michael Moores LeBlanc (28 Mar 2006):
- This should complete the Abromowitz, Bonitz & Nance story. -
I've focused so much on them because their story is so intimately connected to the last battle between the evasion lines and the Germans in Brussels and because they got away. I wonder if you are as perplexed as I have been about that hand-over. Nance feels it took place in Brussels but I suspect it must have been in Westerloo. My reasons for this line of thinking (aside from evidence in family oral history) is that 'Anne Brusselmans' confirms the handover took place in Westerloo.
You will also find attached an abstract from the Victor Schutters, Sr. file, including a photo and a card from his Belgian Military Veteran's file. The latter is notable, aside for listing his IS & sabotage activities, because it describes his conduct as being 'exemplaire dans l'action'.