Night of Flames: A Novel of World War II
by Douglas W. Jacobson
List Price: $16.95
Published in 2008
A STORY OF COURAGE
Lessons from 70 years ago
American airman, George Watt, was a gunner aboard a B-17 flying a mission from England to the Ruhr valley in Germany on November 5, 1943, when his plane was shot down near the Belgian village of Zele. He parachuted to earth and landed in an open field, drawing the immediate attention of local Nazi authorities. While Watt hid in a ditch the local townspeople distracted the authorities pointing off in the wrong direction. Before long, one of the locals approached him and led him to a rural homestead where he was given civilian clothing and warm food. A few days later Watt was taken to Brussels where he was interviewed to make certain he wasn’t a spy and was soon off to Paris and on to safety in Spain. Watt didn’t know it at the time but he had been aboard the “Comet Line”.
The Comet Line was Europe’s largest and most successful underground escape line during World War Two. Established in 1941 by 24 year old Andree de Jongh and her schoolmaster father, the Comet Line transported more than a thousand Allied aviators and other soldiers to safety during the course of Nazi occupation. Andree escorted over one hundred of these soldiers to safety herself, following the secret, intricate route from Holland and Belgium, through occupied France, then overland on foot over the Pyrenees Mountains to Spain.
Traveling by trains, bicycles, horse-drawn carts and on foot, with falsified documents and borrowed clothing, Allied soldiers would be passed from one set of Comet Line operatives to another in the perilous route to freedom. The dangers were equally acute to the operatives themselves as capture by the SS or Gestapo meant imprisonment, torture and, in most cases, death. Indeed, the danger was so real that by the end of the war almost one Comet Line operative was captured and executed for every Allied soldier rescued. Yet hundreds of common people, farmers, merchants, housewives, young and old, put themselves at risk to aid the war effort by bringing these young soldiers to safety.
They say that every good novel must come from the heart, an inspiration that captivates the soul and drives the author to tell the story. Such was my inspiration in writing NIGHT OF FLAMES: A Novel of World War Two. I have been reading about and studying World war two for most of my adult life. When I encountered the story about the Comet Line, I was captivated, inspired and compelled to pay tribute to this very real story of human courage, a story of Unlikely Heroes.
But the real beginning of NIGHT OF FLAMES goes back a few more years. In 1993, my daughter married a young man from Belgium and moved to Europe, setting our family on a course that has forever changed our lives. Over time, while traveling to Europe two or three times a year, we became very close friends with my son-in-law’s parents. They are wonderful, caring people who are several years older than we are. They were young children during the German occupation of Belgium—young, but old enough to remember. They didn’t talk about it at first, in fact they still don’t, its over, it happened a long time ago, and they survived. End of story. But gradually, as they realized I really wanted to know, they began to tell me the stories. They told me about living in the cellar while their city was being bombed, about not having anything to eat for months on end and German snipers shooting at them while they scavenged in the streets for food, about my son-in-law’s grandfather being dragged away from the family home by the Gestapo in 1941. . . then returning five years later when he walked home from Germany.
Like the stories of the Comet Line, the experiences of my Belgian in-laws inspired me. It made it real.
And I spent the next five years writing Night of Flames: A Novel of World War Two.
In 2008, shortly after the publication of NIGHT OF FLAMES, I was contacted by an organization in Brussels that endeavors to keep alive the memory of the Comet Line. Shortly thereafter I was privileged to meet with this group and especially to meet three surviving agents of the Comet Line. They are all delightful, energetic women in their mid-eighties who were kind enough to share their memories with me and were delighted to have their story told by an American author so many years after the war. When asked why they did it, why they took such an enormous risk for young men they didn’t know, their answer was simple: “We did it for freedom.”
Douglas W. Jacobson is an engineer, business owner and World War Two history enthusiast. Doug has traveled extensively in Europe researching stories of the courage of common people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. His debut novel, Night of Flames: A Novel of World War Two was published in 2007 by McBooks Press, and was released in paperback in 2008. Night of Flames won the “2007 Outstanding Achievement Award” from the Wisconsin Library association. Doug has also published articles on Belgium’s WW2 escape organization, the Comet Line and other European resistance organizations. Doug is finishing up his second historical novel set in Europe during WW2, focusing on one of history’s most notorious war crimes.
One winner on October 30.
How to win? It’s easy. On October 30, I am going to check who has left the most comment. That person will be the winner.