Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
In honor of the 70th anniversary of the “Great Escape” on March 24, I’ll tell you Dutch-Paris’s part of the story. If you’ve seen the old movie, you know that the “Great Escape” happened when several dozen Allied POW’s tunneled out of a maximum security fortress in Sagan. Only three of those men made it to freedom.
One of the three was a Dutchman named Bram van der Stok who had been shot down on an RAF mission in April 1942. After he got through the tunnel, he made straight for home in the Netherlands. Not long after, he headed south towards Spain and eventually England.
Like so many evading aviators, van der Stok crossed into Belgium by Maastricht and came into the care of Dutch-Paris in Brussels. The line had been devastated by arrests in late February and early March, but was still functioning in a much reduced capacity. One of the leaders, whom we’ll call Moen, escorted van der Stok to Paris on his own personal winding route that involved various trams and climbing along the outside of a pedestrian fence between Belgium and France. In Paris, Moen passed the aviator to an unidentified woman. She took him to Toulouse on the night train and passed him back to Moen.
Van der Stok spent about a couple of weeks in Moen’s personal safe house in Toulouse while Moen arranged passage for him over the Pyrenees. He travelled with two other Dutchmen, a priest who played an important role in the Dutch social Resistance and a Dutch secret agent from the Bureau Inlichtingdienst. The priest and the secret agent had made their own way to Switzerland, where they came into the care of Dutch-Paris.
Moen paid for these three to cross into Spain with a very reliable French line that was nonetheless having difficulties of its own. The Dutchmen took a train to a small town south of Toulouse to stay in a hotel that was mostly full of Germans. The next day French partisans armed with sten guns drove them into the foothills. They settled into a rat infested farm house with a number of other evaders including several Jews, a Russian officer and more airmen. A couple days later the convoy started out on their trek across the Pyrenees, guarded by more armed partisans. Unlike so many other evaders, they enjoyed beautiful weather in the mountains and made the trip without incident in only three days.
Van der Stok arrived in Spain on June 19, 1944, almost three months after the “Great Escape” and just over two years after being shot down. Once in Spain, the British authorities claimed van der Stok and whisked him off to England, or in what counted for whisking during the war, which meant a few days.