Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hortense Daman: Partisan Courier

Hortense had been only 13 when German had invaded Poland in 1939. Her brother, Francois, then 26, was a sergeant in the Belgian army. When Germany invaded and conquered Belgium in May of the following year, Francois began to work for the Red Cross, but that work was just a cover. In reality, he had joined the Belgian Army of Partisans, one of several large militant Resistance organizations in Nazi-occupied Belgium.

Francois asked Hortense to join the Partisans for two reasons. He knew that its work would not be successful without the help of female volunteers. He could also see that if he didn't give her something to do, Hortense might get involved on her own. Francois would rather that Hortense worked closely with him so that he could keep an eye on her.

He asked her to distribute copies of Belgium's most popular underground newspaper, "La libre Belgique" ("Free Belgium"). Then he asked her to deliver a letter to someone she would find sitting on a park bench. Soon, Hortense was doing regular courier work for Francois, delivering important items from place to place. Their mother owned a grocery store in their hometown of Louvain, so Hortense could perform these duties while riding her bike, supposedly delivering groceries. Some of the time she was actually doing just that, but they were black market groceries -- obtained illegally, without ration cards -- used to feed Allied airmen who were being hidden until they could be safetly escorted back to England.

Soon, Hortense's bike basket was filled with more than just groceries: she began delivering explosives for the Partisans . . .

Excerpt from "Hortense Daman: Partisan Courier" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

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