There was an evasion service (service d’évasion) that took convoys of 10 to 15 Dutchmen, Belgians, Frenchmen and Allied aviators from Toulouse to Spain every week from November 1942 to December 1943. They smuggled 400 people over the Pyrenees to Spain without mishap until it all ended because of one jumpy Belgian.

On the 19th of December, 1943, a 55 year old woman whom we’ll call Mme Arnaud escorted a group of 11 on the train from Toulouse to the small mountain town of Loures-Barousse as she had done with dozens of other groups. This one consisted of a Yugoslavian, a British aviator, four Dutch persons who had been in Switzerland, and five young Belgians. She passed the group on to the station master and a 14 year old boy.

Very unusually, an agent at the station two stops down the line asked to see the tickets of a Dutch doctor and his wife who were part of the convoy. They showed him their false papers. Two of the young Belgians, however, turned on their flashlight, which drew the attention of some Germans, who demanded their papers. Instead of staying cool and showing their false papers, the two jumped out of the train.

This naturally botched everything because the Germans spent the night searching through the nearby villages for the two fugitives. The guides hid the rest of the group in the mayor’s house for the night. One of the young men who had jumped out of the train somehow joined them. Because the Germans were still on high alert the next morning, the guides took the group away from the Spanish border to a hotel in St-Gaudens. They guarded them with sub-machine guns along the way.

The next morning the man who ran the evasion service in Toulouse and Mme Arnaud went to St-Gaudens with extra ration tickets and food. They decided that the group should wait there for a few days until the Germans calmed down. In the meantime, the Dutch doctor and his wife took themselves off to Narbonne and didn’t return when they’d promised.

The other young Belgian who’d jumped off the train made it back to Toulouse, where he and a young Frenchman convinced the organizer to let them join the convoy. Mme Arnaud met them at the station in Toulouse at 9am on December 23, but they missed the train. They tried again at 2pm, but the Gestapo arrested Mme Arnaud and the Belgian as they entered the station. The Frenchman had gone to the restroom only moments before and so escaped arrest.

The Gestapo beat Mme Arnaud so badly that she lost her teeth. They also stole her money and the contents of her apartment. She was eventually deported to Ravensbruck but returned in April 1945 in bad health. The guides left without the doctor and his wife, escorting the rest of the group to Spain safely. Everyone else in the evasion service went into hiding for fear of the Gestapo.

And that was the end of that route over the Pyrenees.