A Tribute to a
Jeanne, my Father and Marthe
In November 1946, Marthe came to England to visit her brother Marcel Leyder and his family. Her youngest sister, Jeanne, who lived in the United States of America, was also visiting. Marthe was particularly looking forward to a special reunion meeting with some of the men she had helped to save. This meeting was being organised by Major Biddlecombe, who had met my aunt while he was serving as Staff Officer of Passive Air Defence in Antwerp. Sadly, before this reunion could take place, Marthe was taken ill and collapsed whilst visiting his home in South Croydon on 10th November 1946 (Remembrance Sunday). She died on the way to hospital. The strain she had undergone during the war had taken its toll and was without doubt a contributing factor to her premature death at the age of forty-six.
Marthe a week before her death
Marthe's funeral was held on Saturday, 16th November 1946, at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Wellesley Road, Croydon. I was considered too young to go but it must have been an impressive affair as it was attended by representatives of the War Office, the Royal Air Force Association, the British Legion*, the Women's Voluntary Service*, the Belgian Air Force, the Belgian Army and the Belgian Embassy, as well as family and friends. The Mayor and Mayoress of Croydon were also present. On the coffin, draped with the Union Jack and the Belgian Flag, was a wreath of Flanders poppies from the Air Ministry together with a wreath of chrysanthemums from the War Office.
[View full list of Floral Tributes - return link provided]
* Please note that Her Majesty the Queen awarded the honour of adding "Royal" to the title of the Women's Voluntary Service in 1966 and to the title of the British Legion in 1971.
The following week, an article appeared in the "Croydon Times" for the week ending 23rd November 1946 (see small picture below). This mentions that Marthe belonged to the "White Brigade". I believe that this resistance organisation operated mainly in the Antwerp area and, as Marthe's daughter and son-in-law lived in Antwerp at this time (and were also members' of the Resistance), it is most likely that she was also involved with the "Brigade Blanche", possibly acting as a liaison officer. Certainly, the White Brigade and the Secret Army were both actively involved in the decision to commemorate her memory with a plaque on the wall of her house in Eisden.
The newspaper article also reports that, after the war ended, Marthe, (together with many other resistance workers who had helped bomber crews escape or evade throughout Western Europe), was presented with certificates signed by Lord Tedder and by General Eisenhower as an acknowledgement of her services. She also received letters of thanks from the Soviet Government and from the Russian underground movement. Unfortunately, I do not have copies of these documents and my cousin, Yvonne, did not remember what had happened to them. I hope that they will be found one day.
N.B. The Author, Alan W. Cooper, states in the Epilogue to his book, "Free to Fight Again: RAF Escapes and Evasions 1940-1945" (William Kimber, London 1988) that: "On 24 July 1946 at the Palais des Sports, Brussels, some 14,000 citizens were presented with the Tedder and Eisenhower Certificates for helping British and United States escapers and evaders."
At this time, I was nearly five years old. I knew this lady as "Tante Marthe". Because our families had been separated by the war, I met her only this once. I remember a very warm loving person, full of life and so happy to see us. I looked forward to seeing Tante Marthe again but she never came... and everyone was so sad.
Links to Some of My Pages
|Floral Tributes at Marthe's Funeral
| Commemorative Plaque in her Honour
The "Croydon Times" Article of 23rd November 1946
Marthe's True Stories
How I Met Billie Boxton | The Escape of Four Russian Officers | A Traitor Amongst Us
|A Belgian Newspaper Article of 31st October 1950
One of the Airmen Helped by Marthe
Douglas Jennings' Story
Complete Site Map | My Home Page