Crossing the Border

I’ve written about the courage it took for underground helpers to smuggle Allied airmen down through Belgium and France and over the Pyrenees Mountains and across the border into Spain while dodging the Gestapo and German Secret Police, but there was one border crossing that was especially difficult for an underground member. I’m talking about the crossing from Canada to the U.S.

As a child, Anne Brusselmans had suffered the rationing and deprivations of war as German and Allied forces contested every inch of land in tiny Belgium. When she married and had children of her own, German forces invaded once again. During World War II, Anne struggled like every other Belgian mother, trying to shelter her children from the brutalities of the German occupation, worrying for their safety, seeing that they had food to eat and clothing to wear; but she also lived a secret life.

For five long years of war, Anne risked her life time and again to shelter and guide Allied airmen shot down behind enemy lines; she gathered information from Belgian laborers hired to construct German coastal defenses, drew up detailed maps of bunkers and gun emplacements and smuggled them out to British Intelligence; she personally located German anti-aircraft guns that were shooting down British bombers and got that info out to the British; and when a Belgian traitor infiltrated the line and orchestrated the arrest of hundreds of underground members, she worked to restore the line and continued smuggling airmen to safety.

Thirty-five years later, Anne’s widowed daughter, Yvonne, yearned to emigrate to the U.S. to give her son a better life. Anne, concerned that Germany might one day be reunited didn’t want to live out her life in fear that Belgium might be invaded a third time, and decided to emigrate with her daughter. But having no job and no family in the U.S., their application was denied. Yvonne’s late husband had served in the R.A.F. and in June, 1980, the family was allowed to move to Canada. By the end of summer, Yvonne was offered a job in New York. Although Anne was permitted to visit, she was still not allowed to live in the U.S.

Yvonne moved to Florida and Anne continued to visit. But despite a letter writing campaign to senators and congressmen by former evaders, Anne still couldn’t get in. Imagine, a woman who had sent detailed information to help the Allies win the war and who is credited with helping to save 130 airmen, half of which were American, is not allowed to live in the U.S.

On a visit in 1986, Anne suffered a heart attack. Yvonne was distraught. How could she let her poor mother go back to Canada alone? Then, on January 2, 1987, Bill Paul, a writer for the Wall Street Journal and son-in-law of a WWII evader, published an article about Anne’s plight. Four days later, Yvonne received a telephone call from Air Force One. President Ronald Reagan spoke personally to Anne and a few days later she was made a permanent resident of the U.S.


For more on Anne and Yvonne, read Rendez-Vous 127 The Diary of Anne Brusselmans, M.B.E. published by Ernest Benn Limited,1954; and Belgian Rendez-Vous 127 Revisited, by Yvonne Daley-Brusselmans, published by Sunflower University Press,2001.

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