Hubert Van Hecke
Marthe Janssen-Leyder's son-in-law, Hubert Van Hecke, is well worth a mention. During World War II, he served as a Lieutenant in the 3rd Lancers Regiment of the Belgian Army and was given the post of Intelligence Officer. He was involved in motorcycle reconnaissance and, under his command, his unit was assigned to defend the Zuid Willems Vaart Canal area near Eisden. (This canal had originally been built as a defence line between Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.)
On 10th January 1940, a German Messerschmitt ME-108 crashlanded in the village of Vucht near the river Maas in the Belgian province of Limburg. It appears that due to the icy weather conditions and a very strong wind, the pilot lost his way over the frozen and snow-covered Rhine and flew into Belgium. Shortly after the crash, Lieutenant Hubert Van Hecke, the only officer in the Regiment with clearance to go to the eastern side of the canal, arrived at the scene on his motorcycle and took some photographs¹. This crashed aeroplane was a major discovery as it contained some very important and highly secret documents about the German plans to invade Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. So much so, that the Allied Command took steps to reinforce Belgium's southern border, instead of the eastern border. As a result, a few weeks before the German invasion, Hubert's Regiment was moved to the French border. This chain of events probably saved his life as the Lieutenant who took over from Hubert Van Hecke was subsequently killed when German troops crossed the canal and infiltrated behind Belgian lines. (¹These pictures can be viewed on Jo Vermeulen's Website on Belgian Fronts)
The Belgian Army tried unsuccessfully to stop the Germans and fought very hard for nearly three weeks. They were forced back from the Albert Canal near the German Border all the way through Belgium to the North Sea. Then came the capitulation and Hubert Van Hecke's regiment was forced to surrender along with the rest of the Belgian Forces. All soldiers were taken to camps, where they waited for several weeks before they were allowed to go home. That is, if they promised not to take up arms again against the Germans! However, many of them, including Hubert, soon enrolled in the Underground Resistance. Two main organisations had emerged: the Secret Army and the White Brigade. Both Hubert Van Hecke and his wife, Yvonne Van Hecke-Janssen, joined the Secret Army.
Hubert was a lawyer by profession and, because of all the files he was usually carrying, he proved to be an excellent courier for the Underground newspaper, "Le Soir". In 1942, he was arrested on suspicion for this activity and was jailed for one month in Antwerp. However, the Gestapo did not have absolute proof of his involvement, which was why he got such a light sentence. A copy of the newspaper he carried was found in a manor, about 5 miles from Antwerp, in Aartselaar. The people of the manor, an elderly couple, were sentenced to death for other "terrorist" activities and deported to Germany. Only one came back after the war.
When Hubert was arrested, his house had been searched from top to bottom. But, not thoroughly enough because a radio transmitter hidden under the stairs was not found. His wife, Yvonne, desperately wanted to get a message to her husband to let him know this and that the Gestapo had no proof of his involvement with the Resistance. She knew it was practically impossible to visit anyone in German custody. However, undeterred, Yvonne and her mother, Marthe, went to see the German Commandant in Antwerp. They were stopped by the Sentry on guard who asked their business. 'May we see the Commandant'. Impossible. Nevertheless, somehow they convinced him that he should at least ask the Commandant if he would agree to see them. Wait here... But no - they took the chance and followed him arriving on his heels in the Commandant's office.
The Commandant was furious. Marthe waited a few moments, gave him a sweet smile and then, in her perfect German, meekly asked if he could allow them to sit down as they were ladies, after all. Surprised, he calmed down, got them chairs and listened - and eventually agreed - yes, they could visit Hubert in prison. He assigned a German soldier to drive them there. On the way, they prevailed upon the driver to stop at a shop so that they could buy some fruit for Hubert. The lady in the shop glowered at them because they were accompanied by a German soldier but they didn't care. Finally, they arrived at the prison and Hubert was brought out accompanied by a Prison Guard. Yvonne rushed to him whispering her news. Marthe, slightly alarmed, turned immediately to the Guard and engaged him in lively conversation. Which part of Germany do you come from? Oh, yes! A beautiful area. I know the town of ... very well. You must miss your family....
Now a Deputy Attorney for the King, Hubert also managed to help his mother-in-law out of some awkward situations when the Gestapo got rather too curious about her activities in Eisden. [See the Belgian Newspaper Article]
Yvonne and Hubert kept a 'safe house' and gave shelter to two Russian evaders who spent nearly a year living in their home until the liberation of Belgium in 1944. These two Russians, Boris Komarow and Boris Tiugounov, had escaped from the 'Russian Camp' (Stalag IV H - 1304) in Eisden. They were helped by members of the Local Resistance and, after hiding in a house for several days, were escorted through the woods to the little station of As. Marthe Janssen-Leyder took the train from Eisden, met the Russians at As and escorted them to Antwerp where her daughter and son-in-law where living.
Please note that full details of the escape of these two Russian evaders can be found in the book, "Het Russisch kamp. De kamperen bij de Limburg mijnen. 1942-1965", by the Flemish Author: Jan Kohlbacher. This book is written in Dutch - no English version currently available.
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Copyright © 2001-2005 Tessa Steer (Leyder) / Van Hecke Family - All Rights Reserved Worldwide