One event which struck me as the first real heroic action I ever heard of happened in the winter of 1943. Jean de Selys-Longchamp, a Belgian born in 1911 had, like many others, left the country after the capitulation on May, 28, 1940 (the King, leader of the Army, had decided to avoid unnecessary added bloodshed) to continue the fight. He had reached England and volunteered for military service. He chose the Air Force and earned his wings in a Belgian squadron attached to the Royal Air Force (RAF). On Wednesday, January, 20, 1943, he and another pilot left the airfield of Manston, England, on a strafing mission to Belgium. They attacked locomotives in the vicinity of Ghent, in Northern Belgium. The mission accomplished, only the other pilot flew back to Manston, not knowing that de Selys, flying alone in the direction of Brussels, had other plans.
The young pilot's plan was to strafe a Gestapo (German military police) installation in Brussels, but he had received no answer, neither positive nor negative, from his superiors upon his request to risk such an adventure. So he took it on his own to get on with his daring enterprise. Flying very low to evade German radar, he flew his Typhoon above Brussels and approached his objective, a 12-story building on the Avenue Louise. In a deafening noise, he fired his cannons and saw the shells mounting up the facade of the building, with glass and concrete flying everywhere. He threw two flags, one of Belgium, the other of the United Kingdom, before zooming upwards above the building and taking altitude to get out as soon as possible. Twenty five minutes later, after having flown low over hilly Flemish countryside, the seashore and the sea, escaping detection by radar and anti-aircraft guns, he landed safely in Manston.
Four Germans had been killed in the raid, amongst them one of the highest officers of the Gestapo in Brussels, Muller. A dozen were wounded, and the building was in shambles. The news spread all over Brussels and the people rejoiced at the kick in the butt that raid meant for the Germans who made life harsher and harsher everyday for the hungry, un-free population. The Germans were raving mad and arrested many innocent civilians as a retaliatory measure, but that courageous gesture from one of ours, fighting on despite a seeming German invincibility, lifted the spirits of a whole country.
The citizens of Brussels wanted to know more about this pilot and many listened -in secret-to the BBC that evening and got more details about the pilot and his "forbidden" mission. The following day, hundreds of inhabitants of Brussels, went to take a look at the site, but were pushed back by angry soldiers. All they could see were shattered windows and bullet marks all over the facade.
de Selys saw his rank reduced, but at the same time he was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross for his gallant action! He died on a mission above Ostend in August, 1943. The building he strafed is still standing on n. 453 of the Avenue Louise, and a plaque on the facade recalls the incident, as does a memorial nearby.
This buste was sponsored by the PRIVATE Aero-Club of Belgium. Up untill this monument was dedicated to Jean de Selys , exept for a commemorative plaque on the façade of the building , not even a street was called by Jean de Selys. This is very eloquent for the attitude of Belgian authorities towards what British Prime Minister Churchill called "the few" to which was owed so much by the "many".
The commemorative plaque on the wall of the former Gestapo building along the Avenue Louise in Brussels. It reads : " In broad daylight on january 20th 1943 this building used HQ of the Gestapo during the war 1940-1945 was taken under heavy fire by the guns of Capt. Baron Jean-Michel de Selys Longchamps of the 1st regiment des Guides. Flying Officer of the Royal Air Force".
The building itself, situated 453 Avenue Louise in Brussels.
Close-up of the buildings upper floors.
Some other Belgian heroes of the skies and amongst them third from the left ( leaning against the propellerblade of the Typhoon ) Capt. Jean de Selys Longchamps.
Duxford 1942, Belgian minister Camille Gutt visits the Belgian 609'ers. (L. to R.) Raymond "Cheval" Lallemant, Vicky Ortmans, Jean de Selys, André Blanco, François de Spirlet, C. Gutt, Raymond Roelandt, Remy Van Lierde