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The Phalange Blanche

From the summer of 1941 onwards the Vion family was implicated in the activities of the “Phalange Blanche,“ a Belgian Resistance group, of which Clery became the rear-base. Operations for this base were organised in Belgium.

Paul Houbar and Robert Lelong were responsible for the base. Paul Houbar, born 28th May, 1922 in Ixelles, was a student at the time of the German offensive in May 1940.

On September 17th, 1941, in Tournai, two operations were decided at the same time by two different groups. (teams):

  1. Under command of Robert Lelong, Paul Gerard, Notary and head of the Tournai circle of Rexistes is killed. Rexism was a political movement of the extreme right and was the Belgian counterpart of Fascism.
  2. A group under command of Henri Talboom is to kill the industrialist, Omer Pieter, a well-known Rexiste and confident of the German S.D.

When arriving at his home and pretending to be some of his friends, the group is asked to wait a while, and told that Pieter would not be late coming in. Pieter’s wife, puzzled by the friends she did not know, was able to inform her husband who came back accompanied by members of the S.D.

To get out of the trap, Henri Talboom had to open fire, killing two of the Germans and wounding another one. In the rush to withdraw, the group left behind a briefcase containing several documents including the name and address of Paul Houbar. From this moment on, the S.D. began to concentrate and accelerate their search for Paul Houbar.

The Sicherheitsdienst (S.D., Security Service) was the intelligence organization for the State as well as for the Nazi Party, supporting the Gestapo and working with the General and Interior Administration. The S.D. was tasked with the detection of actual or potential enemies of the Nazi leadership and the neutralization of this opposition. To fulfil this task, the S.D. created an organization of agents and informants throughout the Reich and later throughout the occupied territories.

After the Tournai operation, Paul Houbar’s parents, who lived in Ixelles had to undergo questioning and searches conducted by German policemen. They told the police that their son Paul had lived and worked in France since 2nd February, 1941, and they did not know where he was. During the first interrogation the S.D. policemen heard that Paul Houbar had a brother named Maurice who did not share Paul’s political opinion, and he was even a member of the pro-German Rexiste organisation.

The S.D. then obliged Maurice Houbar to collaborate in order to get hold of his brother Paul with the intention of neutralising the “Phalange Blanche” and its network in Northern France.

Henri Talboom

Henri Talboom

They did not realise at the time that this network was also running a channel for escaping and infiltration organised through Clery.

During the last two weeks of September 1941, the S.D. and Maurice Houbar, who they closely monitored, tried to locate Paul by visiting the Vion and the Barloy families, pretending to be friends of Maurice from Belgium. Maurice was ordered to ask for his brother under the pretext that “his father is very ill and would like to see his son as soon as possible.” On 3rd October, 1941, Maurice Houbar together with a ‘friend,’ Frans van de Patt, a Belgian agent of the S.D., arrived at the Vion family house in Clery.

As Paul Houbar was in Lille, they only found Henri Talboom in the house under a false name. Maurice Houbar did not know Henri Talboom, but Talboom knew Maurice and that his political views were totally opposite to those of his brother’s and his own. Worried, Henri Talboom went straight to Lille in order to tell Paul of his brother’s visit to Clery.

On the evening of 4th October, 1941, Henri Talboom was back in Clery where Paul Houbar joined him the following afternoon. On that same day, Sunday 5th October, in the early evening, Maurice Houbar and his ‘Belgian friends’ who were actually members of the S.D. appeared again at the Vion’s home in Clery. Paul was put under arrest immediately and bundled in to a waiting car about 100metres from the house. Henri Talboom observing from the rear of the house succeeded in escaping through a window, but in his haste he left behind his coat containing his pocket book.

At the same time in Maurepas, Madeleine Barloy was put under arrest too. Both were immediately taken to Belgium and put in prison in Mons.

Robert Lelong

Robert Lelong

Again, on 8th October, members of the S.D. went back to Clery to search the Vion’s home. They found Henri Talboom’s coat, his pocket-book and also his papers indicating his false identity. They also found some pictures among which was one showing Henri in Clery with Robert Lelong and three young girls. Now the Germans knew that Talboom and Lelong were friends of Paul Houbar and from then on they went on his trail. This why on 22nd October, 1941, they went to search Madeleine Beulaget’s house – where Henri Talboom had been the previous July and where they found a packet of letters from Anne-Marie Vion.

The same day Madeleine Beulaget and Anne-Marie Vion were put under arrest and taken to Rue des Saussaies in Paris (H.Q. of the S.D. and GESTAPO) for interrogation.

After this they were locked up in “La Sante” prison and transferred on 11th November, 1941, to Saint-Gilles prison in Bruxelles.

On 13th November, 1941, by order of General Falkenhausen, posters were put up in Belgium and Northern France carrying the descriptions of Robert Lelong and Henri Talboom and offering French and Belgians, ten thousand ReichMarks as a reward for their capture. On 24th November, Robert Lelong was hiding in a farmhouse near Perommes (a small town in Belgium near Tournai) but the S.D., having been alerted by an informer, despatched around fifty Military Police officers to capture him. Lelong was wounded while trying to escape and rather than be captured, he shot himself in the head. Henri Talboom, with the help of some old comrades in Lille, managed to escape to the Free Zone and eventually found refuge in Switzerland.

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