Monday, February 13, 2012

A Hero's Punishment

Baron Jean de Selys Longcamps
Ever heard of Jean De Selys Longchamps? In my novel Gunner's Run, I refer to De Selys Longchamps in a conversation between my escaping airman and the Belgian barber who hides him. My novel is fiction, but De Selys Longchamp was a real man. He was a Belgian patriot who escaped the Nazis and joined the Royal Air Force in England. All by himself, De Selys Longchamps managed to lift the spirits of his countrymen during World War II. Here's how he did it:

In Brussels, the Nazi secret  police (the Gestapo) had taken over the office building at 453 Avenue Louise, and De Selys knew this. Wanting to take special action against the dreaded Gestapo, De Selys Longchamps requested permission to attack the building with his Hawker Typhoon fighter plane. Permission had not been granted by January 20, 1943, when he and another pilot were attacking railroad traffic in Flanders. Unsatisfied with destroying trains, De Selys Longchamps decided to fulfill his dream of dishing out retribution directly to the Gestapo. So, before returning to England, he sped to Brussels, swooped low so his countrymen could recognize the plane, then pummeled the Germans' headquarters with a stream of fire from his 20 mm cannon. Shattered glass and concrete rained onto the sidewalks below. To this day, the exact number of Gestapo men killed in the attack is unknown (one estimate is 30), but De Selys Longchamps definitely lowered their numbers and their prestige. The ecstatic citizens of Brussels crowded near to get personal peeks at the damage while angry guards tried to shoo them away.

Monument on Ave. Louise, Brussels
When De Selys Longchamps returned to his aerodrome in England, he was demoted in rank to Pilot Officer for the unauthorized mission...but then awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the same action!

Eight months later, on August 16, 1943, the Belgian patriot died in a crash while attempting to land his fighter at Manston, England. For his solo deed that day, a monument stands outside the former Gestapo headquarters on Avenue Louise. If you find yourself in Brussels some day, drop by and consider what one individual can accomplish.


  1. My brother in law lives in Brussels. We visited there 2 years ago. I did not know this story of De Selys Longchamps. Next time I visit Brussels, I will go see the monument.

  2. This story is almost a footnote in history, but I tried to sprinkle a variety of such facts into the pages of Gunner's Run to bring alive events in Europe in 1943. One school teacher told me this is why she read the book to her class as part of their history lessons. (I received a fun packet of fan mail from her students!)