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A Belgian officer in service with the RAF.

by Gunter Verhoeven

Contributed by 
Gunter Verhoeven
People in story: 
Jaak Maria Franciscus Vanderperren
Location of story: 
Belgium - U.K. - Canada
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 June 2005

Flying Officer Jaak Vanderperren (r.) during the winter of 1944 with fellow pilots.(Location unknown)

Jaak Vanderperren was born in Dendermonde on 16 February 1920. At the age of 17 he joines the Royal Military Academy in Brussels where he graduates in 1939.He was mobilised to resist any German attack.When the Germans finally attacked Belgium his regiment was quickly being forced back into France.He escapes inprisonment by the Germans and fled to Spain.In Spain he spent several months in the camps of Aoîz, Miranda,... but again he manages to escape with the help of a Belgian padre.Jaak then sets course to the UK where he arrives on 5 January 1942 and taken up in the Patriotic School.His goal was to fight the Germans as quickly as possible and hesitates whether to choose the SAS or RAF.Because the chance of being deployed quicklier as a pilot, he volunteers for the RAF.In 1942 he sets sail to Canada where he was trained as a fighter pilot.After two years of intensive training he arrives in England on 22 March 1944 as a Spitfire pilot joining the 349th Belgian Squadron.Approximately a month later he crashes a Spitfire at landing and was sent to 350th Belgian Squadron.With this Squadron he saw action during D-Day, liberation of France, Belgium and also took part during Operation Market Garden.During a patrol over occupied Belgium he breaks from his flight and flighs over the rooftops of the street in Watermaal-Bosvoorde, where he used to live before the war.As he was flying at a very low altitude he swings the wings of his Spitfire.When he was doing so, his mother just arrived at home when she heard a terrible noise of an engine.Immediately she turned her head towards the sky and seeing the aircraft passing above her head, she squeezed her glasses and shouted very loudly "Jaak!!".A few days later his family received a smuggled letter from him in which he stated that it was HIM flying the Spit! He sets foot on Belgian soil for the first time in 4 years time on 23 December 1944.From his CO he receives one evening of leave.That would be his last evening in his own bed.On 24 December he was present with his squadron again.At some point his CO told him he could go on a one night leave on 25th December,but in the meanwhile he had to stay at the base.X-mas eve he spent, together with his mates and a Canadian squadron.During the morning of the 25th some of his mates were not feeling so well.Nevertheless he wouldn't have to fly patrols that day, he volunteered for taking the place of a friend-pilot.In a formation of 3 Spits MkXIV he left Evere.Their target was the Belgian-German border where they had to patrol in search of German forces (The Battle of the Ardennes or Battle of the Bulge had been started on 16th December).At some point his number 1 announced that he saw an enemy line of trucks and halftracks heading for Belgium.The formation started the attack on which number 1 strafed the trucks, Jaak as number 2 following his leader immediately.

In the meanwhile Jaaks mother had prepared a chicken for diner later that evening, where Jaak was espected.When the table was set and the family was ready to commence eating, Jaak should 've been there already."Perhaps the CO changed his mind.", they thought and started eating.One chair stayed empty...

Three weeks passed when Jaaks mother, not knowing what had happened to her son, she was walking in the street where they lived. Suddenly a jeep stopped and several RAF-men stepped towards her asking: "Vous êtes madame Vanderperren?" She nodded and then saw a suitcase in the jeep, on which was written in white paint "Flying Officer J.Vanderperren C.d.G.". When seeing this, she collapsed.

Jaaks fellow pilots, who attacked the trucks with Jaak, told his mother what had happened.When he going in for the attack, he was flying the trucks at such a low altitude that the truck, he was strafing, exploded, killing him instantly.

In 1948 his corps was repatriated to Belgium. A special remembrance was held in the Royal Military Academy in Brussels and a promotion of new officers received his name, 'the Captain Vanderperren promotion'.During this remembrance he was knighted posthumuously as an officer in the Order of king Leopold. His grave, together with the graves of many of his friends and Belgian pilots who fought during the Battle of Britain can now be visited on Evere Cemetary in Brussels.

I am very proud of this man. Why? Is it because my mother wears the same name? I don't know, but all those who risked their lives during war earn our respect and admiration. But above all, what they did must be remembered and honoured througout the future. If someone can tell me more about his stay in the UK during the war, please let me know. Thank you.

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