A la découverte du passé - Le sergent James Burton par Victor Schutters
A la découverte du passé
En tant que petit-fils de résistant, je fus contacté dans le courant de l’année 2004 par Walter Verstraeten, un écrivain belge, passionné par l’histoire de William Grosvenor, un aviateur américain qui s’est échoué sur le sol belge durant la seconde guerre mondiale et qui fut successivement pris en charge par le réseau EVA et par la ligne d’évasion Comète. Lors de notre rencontre, Walter Verstraeten me remit des documents d’archives parmi lesquels il y avait une liste de vingt et un aviateurs qui furent aidés par mon grand-père. Ce fut pour moi le point de départ de recherches qui à mon plus grand étonnement allaient me permettre de retrouver la trace de quelques aviateurs et résistants que mon grand-père avait côtoyé pendant la guerre. Mon grand-père, Victor Schutters, était membre du réseau Comète. Il s’occupait principalement de véhiculer les aviateurs et de les approvisionner en nourriture.
Le sergent James Burton était l’un d’eux. Il était de nationalité anglaise et appartenait au 10ème escadron, 4th BG, de la RAF. Alors qu’il était opérateur radio à bord d’un bombardier Halifax, son avion fut abattu par un chasseur allemand le 1er mai 1944. James Burton parvint à sauter en parachute et tomba à Eppegem tandis que les sept autres membres de l’équipage trouvèrent la mort. Grâce à l’aide de John Clinch, un autre passionné d’histoire, j’ai eu l’occasion de prendre contact avec Christina Burton, la veuve de James. Lors d’un échange de correspondance avec Christina et sa fille Jill, j’ai eu le privilège de recevoir une coupure de presse issue d’un journal britannique paru le 23 septembre 1944. L’article en question relate ce qu’a vécu James Burton pendant son séjour forcé en Belgique. Il témoigne non seulement des stratagèmes utilisés par la résistance pour éviter la capture des aviateurs mais aussi de l’audace et de la détermination dont ont fait preuve de fervents patriotes. Plus de soixante ans après les faits, voici l’article de presse qui m’a été envoyé.
© Comète Kinship Belgium 2006
SAVED BY BELGIAN NURSE
By posing as deaf and dumb gardener, and with forged identity card, and papers in his possession to back up his bluff, James Burton, a Fife airman, mixed with the Nazis in Belgium for over four months without being detected.
They passed him in the street daily, they camped in the
grounds of the house where he was in hiding, they even stopped him once
and inspected his identity card.
But they did not once suspect he was one of the flyers
from a shot-down plane for whom they were searching.
Thanks to one of the bravest women he has ever met, a
Belgian nurse, he was well looked after, and was none the worse of his
experience when the Allies swift advance enabled him to resume his real
identity and to return to his mother’s home, in River Terrace,
Guarbridge, where hopes of his safety were fast diminishing as the days
passed without news of him.
Jim’s adventure began when the plane on which he was a
wireless operator was shot
down as he was returning from his 17th bombing expedition. A
kindly fate guided his parachute into the gardens of a big house, the
owner of which demonstrated his patriotism by hiding the tell-tale
parachute as soon as he spotted it.
“I was hiding in some nearby bushes” Jim told the
“People’s Journal”, and I guessed it would be safe enough to show
myself. And I was right.
The man was a leader of the underground movement, and he
soon had things moving for my safety. He gave me a bit of civilian
clothing, and send for a man who took my photograph. Soon after I was
handed an identity card and forged papers to “prove” that I was a
Their underground movement must have been well organized
to do what they did, and I can assure you I felt very thankful to the
kindly wind that had blown me into this man’s garden”.
Jim dived into the pocket of the American Army uniform
with which he had been issued when it was possible for him to discard
his “gardening togs” with safety, and produced the forged identity
card which he is retaining as a souvenir.
bore that he was Theodore Frix, that he was a gardener to trade, and
that he was deaf and dumb. A head and shoulders photograph no bigger than a postage stamp was
“The deaf and dumb part was, of course, essential”,
he said.” If
I had opened my mouth it would have been a complete give-away. But
it’s not so easy to play the part. Just try .
“If anyone had though of asking me a question in English
I might have given myself away. But as no one talked in a language I
could understand, and as I had no desire to speak, it made things
easier, and I soon gained enough confidence to venture into Brussels.”
Mixed with Germans
“I stayed there for three weeks, modelling my behavior
on the Belgians. I reckoned it would be fatal to try avoiding the
Germans. It might be noticed and lead to awkward questions. So I just
passed by them as if I hadn’t a care in the world, but my heart was in
my mouth all the time. Maybe if I had tried to talk I wouldn’t have
But one day I almost ventured to far. I walked right into
one of the regular check-ups on identity cards before I knew it was in
progress. To have turned back would have begged disaster, so I decided
to face it out, and it took me all my time not to show my relief when my
card was handed back after examination without question.
Later, well outside the capital, I had to go into hiding
as it would have been dangerous to walk about. The Germans were seizing
every fit person they saw and sending them to work in Germany.
The woman who gave me refuge, a nurse, was one of the
bravest women I know.
She knew full well the risks she was running.
Her mother and father were sent to a concentration camp
for helping a British soldier in 1940. She does not know to this day
what has happened to them, but the uncertainty of their fate, which
worried her, did not deter her from giving shelter to anyone on the run
from the Nazis.
There were already a Canadian, an American, and her
brother, a member of the Belgian forces who had escaped from captivity
in Germany, in hiding in the house when I arrived.
A special wall had been built in the cellar and we went
behind this when any unwelcome visitors arrived.
But through the remnants of the Nazis who were routed at
Falaise camped in the
orchard for a time we were little troubled, thanks to the nurse.”
“She didn’t give two hoots for the Huns. When they came near the house to pinch the plums she used to go outside and tell them to get to blazes out of it. And they did. I’ll never forget her. She was wonderful.”
“We remained in hiding till the town was liberated, or
at least until we thought it has been liberated. But when we went out to
celebrate we found we were a bit too previous.
The advancing forces had swept past the town and the
Germans were still about.
A Tiger tank came in and cut short the celebrations by
shooting seven of the civilian police in cold blood and afterwards
mutilating them so that they would not be recognized.
But soon after they were on the run, and it was funny to
see them go. Some were on bikes which had neither tyre nor inner tube,
some were driving old ramshackle carts.
But most of them had to walk, and we had to laugh at those
in the carts, for they were in too big a hurry to save their own skins
to bother stopping to give a lift to those on foot”.
Jim, who is 21 and who worked in the paper mills before he
was called up, said that the joy of the Belgians at being liberated was
terrific, their patriotism before that abnormal, and they hatred of the
“The brother of the nurse who sheltered me grabbed a gun
as soon as the town was freed and was off fighting the Germans again”
he said, “and his spirit is typical of everyone I met. There was no
risk they wouldn’t run to put one across the Nazis, and I’m sorry to
say that many paid for their patriotism with their lives.
A solicitor who was trying to get me through Normandy as a
German worker was shot the very next day after interviewing me. They
certainly are a wonderful people”.