Elsie Maréchal

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Elsie Maréchal
Born Elsie Mary Bell
(1894-06-21)June 21, 1894
Acton, Middlesex
Died March 25, 1969(1969-03-25) (aged 74)
Uccle, Belgium
Citizenship British
Years active 1941 - 1945
Organization Belgium Resistance (Comet Line)
Known for Belgium Resistance (Comet Line)
Spouse(s) Georges Maréchal
Children Lilian Grace (Deceased), Robert and Elsie
Parent(s) Robert Edward Bell (Father)
Alice Mary (née Gowen) (Mother)

Elsie Maréchal was an English woman who became active in the Belgian Resistance helping Allied airmen to escape from the German forces. Having been betrayed, she was sentenced to death and subjected to the 'Nacht und Nebel' policy designed to make such opponents of the Nazis 'disappear'. She survived to tell her story to her family back in England and to receive awards for her work.

Early life

Elsie Mary Bell was born on 21 June 1894 in Acton, Middlesex, the daughter of Robert Edward Bell and Alice Mary (née Gowen). After attending school in Great Yarmouth, Elsie trained at Norwich Teacher Training College and, on leaving in 1915, was accepted as a teacher by the London County Council.

While working in London during the First World War she met a young Belgian soldier, Georges Maréchal, who had been sent to a hospital in London to recover after contracting pneumonia while serving in the water-logged trenches of South West Belgium.

They were married on 21 June 1920 and started married life in Koblenz, Germany where Georges was working in the High Commission. They had three children: Lilian Grace, who died as a toddler, Elsie and Robert. In 1929 Georges returned with his family to Brussels.

World War II

From early 1941 the family were involved in the Belgian Resistance, the two Elsies being part of the 'Comet' network which helped many Allied airmen who had been shot down over enemy territory to evade capture and reach safety by smuggling them through France to neutral Spain. Like many others involved in such networks, they were eventually betrayed by someone who had been captured and interrogated by the Germans. On 18 November 1942 the whole family was arrested and taken for questioning. Robert, who was only sixteen, was eventually released in January 1943.

The rest of the family were kept in solitary confinement and repeatedly, and often brutally, questioned. They refused to reveal what they knew and on 15 April 1943 they were tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. On 20 October 1943 Georges and several other men were executed by firing squad.

On New Year's Day 1944 the two Elsies left the nl (Saint-Gilles prison) in Brussels and began nearly eighteen months of being moved around between various prisons and concentration camps. This was meant to make them impossible for the Allies to trace, a system known as 'Nacht und Nebel' (Night and Fog). They survived and were eventually rescued from captivity by the Swiss Red Cross.

In due course both the Elsies (and Georges posthumously) received a number of awards and honours from the British, American, and Belgian governments in recognition of their work.[citation needed]

Elsie died on 25 March 1969 in Uccle, Belgium.