Royal Air Forces Association Belgian Branch


 IN MEMORIAM 


FLIGHT LIEUTENANT ROBERT 'BOBBY LAUMANS

 Born 4 December 1920 - Passed away a 21 April 2014

 Born on 4th December 1920 at Tervuren Flt Lt Bobby Laumans, an RAF veteran and long-standing Life Member and good friend of the Belgian Branch, passed away after a short illness on 21st April 2014. He was training with the Belgian military Flying School at the outbreak of War and escaped via France and Morocco arriving in Great Britain in August 1940.  He joined the RAFVR and after training as a pilot, flew Spitfires with 74 (Tiger) Sqn and then 350 Sqn.  Flying with them on his 48th sortie on 1st June 1942, he was shot down over the Channel.  

He managed to bale out safely and survived 3 days and 2 nights in his dinghy before being picked up by the Germans and sent as Prisoner of War to Stalag Luft III.  He did not draw a low enough number to take part in the ‘Great Escape’ but as a key member of the Camp Theatre society his skills as an actor, set and costume designer and artist did much to raise the morale of his fellow prisoners.  After repatriation and as the war drew to a close in mid-1945, the Theatre Society got permission from the RAF to put on a series of charity Variety Shows in aid of the Red Cross. They played to packed houses in London’s West End and on tour around the Country. The shows proved to be so popular with Press and Public, that when Bobby married Miss Rosemary Titmus on 21 Aug 1945, their wedding photograph was on the front page of the National Newspaper the Daily Mail. Despite promising offers to take up an acting career, he stayed with flying and retrained on the transport fleet with 525 Sqn and then after the war into SABENA for a full career in civil aviation.

Many Branch friends were at the funeral, where a strong RAF ‘light blue’ presence was led by Air Marshal Stacey. The Branch Standard was paraded, the RAF Flag was draped on the coffin.  Eulogies were given by Gp Capt Whittingham and Léon Rubin offering there remembrances of Bobby and offering their heartfelt sympathy to the family.


Contributions to Belgian Branch Newsletter by Bobby Laumans           

Belgian Armed Forces Report

rtbf reportage

UK Daily Telegraph Obituary for 'Bobby' Laumans



 LIEUTENANT COLONEL ROBERT 'BOBBY' BLADT 

Born 14 May 1919 - Passed away a 18 February 2014


Born at Neder-Over-Heembeek (Brussels) on 14 May 1919, Lieutenant Colonel ‘Bobby’ Bladt, a long-standing Life Member of the Belgian Branch, passed away at Woluwe-Saint-Lambert on 18th February 2014.  He joined the Belgian Royal Military Academy in 1939, was trained as a pilot and was initially posted with his unit to France. Following the fall of Belgium, he set out for England in May 1942, escaping through France and Spain, and reaching England via Gibraltar in October 1942. He joined the RAF and, following flying training, was posted to 350 Sqn in June 1943. He was commissioned in April 1944 and flew a total of some 140 offensive missions (250 operational hours) with the Sqn. 

Post-war, he rejoined the Belgian Air Force and flew with 349 and  350 Sqn (and was Commanding Officer of the latter in 1951/52), and subsequently formed and led the ‘Red Devils’ aerobatic team flying Hunters.  He joined the reserve in the rank of Lt Col on his retirement in 1969.  His private family funeral was held on 22nd February.  We will remember him.

 Né à Neder-Over-Heembeek (Bruxelles) le 14 mai 1919,  membre à vie de longue date de la Belgian Branch., et décédé le 18 février 2014 à Woluwé-Sint-Lambert. 

Il a rejoint l'Académie Royale Militaire belge en 1939, a été formé comme pilote, et au début a été détaché avec son unité en France. Après la chute de la Belgique il est parti pour l'Angleterre en mai 1942, s'échappant à travers la France et l'Espagne, pour atteindre l'Angleterre via Gibraltar en octobre 1942. Il a rejoint la RAF, et après une formation de pilote a été détaché auprès du 350 Sqn en juin 1943. Il a été nommé officier en avril 1944 et a effectué un total 140 missions offensives (250 heures opérationnelles) avec le Sqn. 

Après la guerre il a rejoint la Force Aérienne Belge et a volé avec le 349 Sqn et le 350 Sqn (il a commandé ce dernier  en 1951/1952) ; il a ensuite formé l'équipe acrobatique "Les Diables Rouges" qui volait sur Hunter. Lors de sa retraite il a rejoint la réserve avec le grade de Lt Colonel en 1969. Ses funérailles ont eu lieu dans l'intimité le 22 février. 

Nous nous souviendrons de lui.


 REVEREND CHARLES C MACNEIL OBE MA

Life Member of the Belgian Branch and a great friend and supporter over many years.  Served as Honorary Chaplain 1987 to 1994 before returning to live in UK.

 JOAN GILES

Born on 27 December 1925 in West Ham, London, Passed Away 20 January 2014.  Joined the wartime Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) 4 June 1942 and after training served at 362 Wireless Unit and 13 Operational Training Unit until discharge on 30 April 1945.  Post-war, moved to Ostend and became a Life Member of the Belgian Branch.  

From 1986, remained in regular touch with Belgian Branch, and was a close friend of the Committee.


RENÉ-JEAN GONSETTE

Born  24 June 1923 - Passed Away 22 December 2013 


Born on 24 June 1923 René-Jean Gonsette was a Royal Air Force volunteer and trained as a mechanic and electrician in 1945 and 46. Returning to Belgium he became a long-serving Life Member of the Belgian Branch of the RAFA, being actively involved in the Branch until he suffered serious sight problems and became blind in 1990. Following a long illness, he passed away at his home in Forchies-La-Marche on 22 December.  His funeral at  Courcelles was conducted with military honours and was attended by the Chairman who laid a RAFA Poppy Wreath. 


 LIEUTENANT GENERAL ALBERT DEBECHE

Born 19 May 1919 - Passed Away 1 November 2013

 

Born on 19 May 1919, Lieutenant General Albert Debêche, a long-standing member of the Belgian Branch, passed away at Waremme on 1st November 2013.  He joined the Belgian Royal Military Academy in 1938. In 1940 he was assigned to the Red Cross in France from where he set out to escape to England in Apr 1941. He was interned in Spain for some 8 months and eventually reached England in May 1942.  He joined the 90th Belgian Promotion, was commissioned in the RAF and completed his pilot training in Canada in Aug 1943. He returned to UK and flew ops with a night-fighter squadron until 6 July 1944 when he was badly wounded while on mission.   In Apr 1945 he completed re-training for assignment to Transport Command and in 1946 returned to Belgium to 169 Wing at Evere.  His subsequent long and distinguished career with the Belgian Air Force culminated in his appointment as Chief of Staff. Wing Commander Ross McKenzie the Belgian Branch Vice Chair attended as the RAF and RAFA representative on behalf of Air Marshal Sir Christopher Harper:  a poppy wreath was laid on the coffin.

MARY LADEN

Born 3 October 1923 - Passed Away 17 October 2013 

 Born in Hitchin, England on 3 October 1923, Mary Laden née O’Hannan, passed away at Wezembeek-Oppem on 17 October 2013, just 2 weeks after her 90th birthday.  Mary, widow of Colonel Aviator Eddie Laden, was a firm friend of the Belgian Branch over many years.  Eddie, who sadly passed away in 2008, was an RAF Navigator/Bomb Aimer/ Air Gunner who was commissioned in Nov 1944 before being posted to Transport Command in Cambridgeshire.  It was there at the Cambridge Town Hall Ball in July 1945 that Mary and Eddie met and they married the following May. 

When they returned to Belgium in 1947, Eddie became a founder member of the Branch and served on the Committee for over 20 years, particularly acting as the key driving force behind what became the Barry Horton Memorial Golf Tournament.  In later years, Mary faced the challenges of poor eyesight and ill-health with fortitude and bravery, and, thanks to the help from her family and friends, remained in good form throughout.  The funeral on 26 October was conducted by Father Power in the lovely old church of Saint Pierre in Wezembeek-Oppem:  the Church was crowded and included many old RAFA friends offering sympathy to her sons and grandchildren and their families.  As a mark of respect and in recognition of her long association with RAFA, the Branch Standard was paraded by Jean-Pierre Blanckaert.  

BRIGADIER GENERAL LUCIEN 'LULU' DE MEY

Born 31 July 1921 - Passed Away October 2013 

 Born on 31 Jul 1921, General Lucien ‘Lulu’ De Mey, a long-standing member of the Belgian Branch who moved to France following his retirement in 1975, passed away in October 2013.  He joined the Belgian Royal Military Academy in 1939 and, following the fall of Belgium and a period as a Prisoner of War, he set out for England in Aug 1941.  Escaping through France, where he met his future wife Monette, and following imprisonment in Spain, he eventually reached England in July 1943 where he joined the 100th Belgian Promotion and completed his initial RAF training. 

Following flying training in Canada he was commissioned in the RAF as a Pilot Officer in March 1945.  At the end of the War he returned to Belgium and had a long and distinguished career with the Belgian Air Force, flying Spitfire, Mosquito, Meteor, F-84-G and F-84-F and commanding 9 Sqn at Chièvres, 2 Sqn at Florennes, 29 Sqn at Brustem, 10th Wing at Kleine-Brogel and the 1st All Weather Fighter Wing at Beauvechain.  He served with NATO at 2 Allied Tactical Air Force (ATAF) Rheindahlen as Chief War Plans, at AFCENT Fontainebleau and Brunssum, at Sector Operations Centre UEDEM, at 2ATAF again as Chief of Staff Operations in the rank of Brigadier General, and finally at Casteau as Chief of the Air Defence Branch.   

 LIEUTENANT GENERAL BARON 'MIKE' DONNET CVO DFC

Born 1 April 1917 - Passed Away 31 July 2013


Lieutenant General Donnet born of Belgian parents in Richmond, England on 1 April 1917 (exactly one year before the RAF was ‘born’) passed away on 31 July 2013 at the age of 96. He served during World War II in first the Belgian Air Force and then the RAF. He shot down four enemy aircraft confirmed, and achieved the RAF rank of Wing Commander. After the war, he returned to the Belgian Air Force, and held several important commands. 

Before retiring in 1975 he was appointed as the Belgian Representative on the NATO Military Committee.  He joined the Belgian Branch of RAFA in 1967, and served as the Branch Chairman from 1975 to 1979 and was made Branch Honorary Life Vice-President in 1985.

General Donnet trained as a pilot with the Belgian Air Force and, after the German invasion of the Low Countries on 10 May 1940, he flew reconnaissance missions in support of the retreating armies until he was captured on 1 June following the capitulation of Belgium.  He later escaped from German-occupied Belgium by working with a colleague to repair an old Bi-Plane found in a German depot and flying it to England.  He was commissioned in the RAFVR and trained on Spitfires before joining No 64 Squadron in November 1941. After completing 100 operations, many over enemy territory at low level, attacking trains, armed ships and gun posts, he was awarded the DFC for his ‘great courage and devotion to duty’. After a period as a fighter instructor, he was given command of 350 Squadron, the first all-Belgian squadron to be formed in the RAF. He later commanded the Hawkinge and Bentwaters Wings before completing his final 375th operational sortie on 6 May 1945.  The Branch was strongly represented at his funeral: the Branch Standard was paraded and the RAF Flag was draped on his coffin. Léon Rubin gave a eulogy highlighting his loyal and true support to the RAFA Belgian Branch for over 45 years, and the Branch offered its heartfelt sympathy to Jacqueline and the family.

 COLONEL GUSTAVE RENS

Born 8 January 1917  - Passed away 6 May 2013

Passed away in Leuven 6 May 2013 at the age of 96.  Former RAF wartime fighter pilot and RAFA life member since 1980.  Gustave Rens joined the Belgian Army as a volunteer in 1935 at the age of 18.  Following the invasion of Belgium in 1940 he served with the 1st Cavalry Regiment and was captured but later repatriated to Belgium.  In 1942, with colleagues, he made a spirited escape through occupied France carrying the Standard of his Regiment which was sent for safe custody in London. He continued his escape across the Pyrenees to Spain and Portugal and then to England where he joined the RAF.  

After training in Canada he flew Spitfire and Tempest and served with 349 (Belgian) Squadron in Germany.  After the war he continued with the Belgian Air Force until he retired in 1973.  At the funeral, the Belgian Chief of Defence General Van Caelenberge represented King Albert II: the Branch was well represented, and the RAF Ensign and a RAFA poppy wreath were laid on the coffin.  The Branch Standard was proudly paraded, but on this occasion, as a mark of respect, pride of place was left to the ‘liberated’ 1940 Standard of the 1st Cavalry Regiment.

ANDRÉE de NORMAN

Born 26 January 1926  - Passed away 5 April 2013

 Born in London 26 January 1926, passed away in Brussels 5 April 2013 at the age of 87.  A member of the Belgian Branch for 30 years and Honorary Welfare Officer from 1988 to 1996.  At the tender age of 18 she worked in the exciting environment of War-Time London, in Whitehall, at the heart of everything, operating in the inner recesses of government.  These must have been heady and exciting days despite the dangers and the pressures of work.  They were certainly formative ones for Andrée, giving her a deep strength and resilience and leading to her work being recognised by the award of the medal for services during the Battle for Britain.

She met and married Jean-Louis de Norman et d’Audenhove who, following his escape from his occupied Belgium 1941, joined the RAF and flew over 50 wartime missions, before transferring to the post-war Belgian Air Force.  Tragically Captain Jean-Louis was killed in a flying accident in 1954, leaving Andrée with the challenge of bring up 2 young children.  She rose to the challenge, retained her links with the Air Force, rode, played golf, painted, and worked hard and very successfully for many years with the International School of Brussels.  As the Branch HWO for 8 years, it was Andrée’s role to act as the focus for identifying RAF welfare needs in Belgium and to help them to be fulfilled.  Another real challenge, but again she rose to the task magnificently and with great devotion, dedication, patience, compassion and understanding, provided enormous support to many of our members. When she left the Committee in 1996, she retained very close links with the Branch and was a leading supporter of all our social and fund-raising events until close to the end.  The Branch was well represented at the funeral: the Standard was paraded, a RAFA poppy wreath was laid on the coffin, and the Chairman gave a eulogy remembering with joy all that she did for so many and offering heartfelt condolences to the family at their sad loss.

 CHRISTINE WORTHINGTON

Born 6 April 1922 - Passed away 21 February 2013

 Passed away in Le Gibloux de Waterloo on 21 February 2013, at the age of 90.  Born in Belgium 6 April 1922 christened Christiane (Dumont), she escaped to England in 1942 and, without the knowledge of her parents, joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAFs). She began her training in Shropshire and then moved in 1943 to North Yorkshire to work with the Canadian Group flying Wellington bombers. She later worked with the HQ Belgian Air Force in London and then in 1946 in Brussels. These were harsh and dangerous times, but also exciting and fulfilling ones for young Christine. To quote her, this period was: ‘the making of her’ and she ‘loved every minute of it!’

Following the war she trained as a social worker and worked in Brussels and the Congo before returning to UK, to Oldham in Lancashire, in 1961 to take up a post supporting deprived families.  When she retired, she and her English husband returned to Belgium.  Christine became a stalwart member of the 30-strong ex-WAAF group within the Belgian Branch and then in 1999 became our Assistant Honorary Welfare Officer.  Her nature and her training made her ideal for this role. She had an innate intellectual honesty and a sense of fairness and concern which, coupled with her underlying good humour, enabled her to get to the root of social problems and to organise clear and tactful solutions.  Her diligence and terrier-like determination when taking on the authorities, British as well as Belgian, and her intent to do her very best for those who needed support, led to many successes, and significantly improved the conditions of veterans and their families.  What better tribute could anyone have?  Her dedication was such that she continued in this role well into her 80s:  the Branch owes her much and she is greatly missed.  

The Branch was well represented at the funeral: the Standard was paraded, a RAFA poppy wreath was laid on the coffin and the Chairman gave a eulogy covering her long association with the RAF.

  JOSETTE DEMEY-BENS

Born 13 January 1923 - Passed away 5 February 2013

Born in Belgium 13 January 1923 and passed away in Ostend on 5 February 2013, at the age of 90.  Following the invasion of Belgium on 10 May 1940, she escaped to England on 19 May with her parents aboard the ‘Prince Albert’ the last mailboat to leave Ostend. At the age of 19 in April 1942 she volunteered to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and, following training at Innsworth, served at RAF Pershore, White Waltham and Chigwell before joining the Inspectorate General of the Belgian Air Force in London.  At the end of 1944 she became the first Belgian WAAF at the Belgian Recruiting Mission in Brussels where she served until demobbed at RAF Wythall 5 June 1946.

Josette was one of that rather special group of ladies from Belgium or with Belgian connections, who joined the WAAF in the early 40s and who in later years formed a strong bond, sustained and supported by the Belgian Branch.  Whilst with the Recruiting Mission in Brussels, Josette worked with Jessie Van Antwerpen and Dorothy Luchie as well as with Christine Worthington (Dumont) who also passed away in February this year.  Thanks to the thoughtfulness of her family, the Branch now has a copy of Josette’s memoire of her time in the WAAF – ‘Down Memory Lane’ which may be borrowed by members:  please contact the Editor.  After the War, Josette married George Demey in 1946, and then devoted much time to gaining official recognition for the status of Belgian WAAFs.  This she finally achieved in 1965.  She was a life member of the Belgian Branch of RAFA from 1963, and from 1969 took over as Secretary-Treasurer of the Belgian Royal Federation of Veterans of the RAF and SAAF 1940-1945.  To quote from the last page of her memoire, written at RAF Chigwell in 1944:  when the name that I write grows dim on this page, and the leaves of your book are yellow with age, remember me kindly and never forget, that wherever I am, I remember you yet.

JEAN-PIERRE CORNET

Passed Away  January 2013

 Uccle, Bruxelles, died January 2013.  Branch life member since 1979.  Joined the RAF in April 1942 and became Warrant Officer Observer (Navigator/ Bomber) before being demobilized in Jul 1946.


AMANDA 'MOUCHKA' STASSART-DESIR

Born 17 February 1923 - Passed Away 4 January 2013


 

Passed away in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre on 4 January 2013, in her ninetieth year.  ‘Mouchka’,  a Comet Line guide and old friend and keen supporter of the Belgian Branch, was married to Marcel Désir a Belgian RAF Navigator and Life Member of RAFA who died in Apr 2000.   ‘Mouchka’ was born in Switzerland of Belgian parents and was living in Paris at the start of the World War II.  As a 17 year old student she and her friends quickly became involved with the Resistance. 

As she said herself: ‘ we were young, we realised that it was up to us to seek freedom, to fight and to act’.  After a period as a courier, she and her family started to assist escaping aircrew, providing them with safe houses and guiding them towards freedom via Spain as part of what became the Comet Line.  From 1941 to early 1944 ‘Mouchka’ was able to guide over 50 downed airmen on stretches of their ‘Home Runs’.  In 1944 she was arrested and deported to the concentration camps at Ravensbruck and Mauthausen. She survived, but both her parents, who had also been arrested, did not come back.

After the War, she joined SABENA as one of the very first Stewardesses and rose to be ‘Stewardess in Chief’, doing tremendous work to enhance the role and reputation of women in what was very much a ‘men’s world’.  She maintained close contact with the RAFA Belgian Branch and was often the leading light orchestrating social events and fund-raising activities.  Her personality and energy added much to the Branch spirit of ‘comradeship’.

The funeral service on 11 January filled L’Eglise Saint-Lambert to over-flowing and included many old Comet Line and RAFA friends. The RAFA Belgian Branch and Comet Line Standards were paraded:  a RAFA poppy wreath was laid by the coffin.