Tributes paid to former Belgian Resistance fighter

Ron and Denise

Ron and Denise - Credit: Archant

Tributes have been paid to Denise Edwards, who as a 14-year-old in the Second World War was part of the Belgium Resistance and was later awarded the Order of Leopold.

Denise, 87, from Cornish Hall End, near Great Sampford, died in Addenbrooke’s Hospital on Saturday, May 2, a week after being admitted with stomach pains.

She was born in 1927, as Denise Franck into a wealthy family in the village of Edegem near Antwerp. During the German occupation, she and her brother, Paul, two years older than her, both joined the Resistance which despite searches and arrests, they worked for throughout the war. He too was honoured for his bravery. Denise carried hundreds of coded messages through enemy lines. It was thought the Nazis wouldn’t suspect a young girl on a bike.

However, in 1942, aged 15, she was arrested by the Gestapo and interrogated. She was sitting in a dark room when she was aware of Morse code being tapped out on the wall. The message said: “Don’t worry. It’s alright. Say nothing.” The message came from her boyfriend’s sister being held in an adjoining house. A Belgium man had given away the names of 38 teenagers. Her brother, who is still alive aged 89 and living in Belgium, had his fingernails pulled out under interrogation.

Denise said in a recent newspaper interview: “I was only a strip of a girl, a tiny cog in this machine but I gave nothing away. I held my head up and said ‘nein’ to everything. They took me back home 48 hours later and searched my house telling my mother ‘if we find anything in your home that we don’t like, we’ll shoot her in the head.’”

At the time, there were incriminating documents in the house but they were under the clock on the mantelpiece. Fortunately the Gestapo did not move the clock.

At 17, at the end of the war, Denise, who spoke five languages, was a translator at the liberation of Antwerp. She met and later married a British soldier, George Edwards, part of the British and Canadian liberation forces. They had two sons, Ken and Ron. George died of cancer in 1981.

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Fifteen years later, a friend introduced her to Ron Liversage from Saffron Walden who had been in bomber command, and unknown to both of them at time had flown over her village on missions. He had also been widowed for several years.

Ron, 94, said: “A friend of mine said I’ve got a lovely friend who likes dancing but she can’t go to dances because she had lost her husband. I took her to the Battle of Britain Ball.”

The two of them travelled across Europe to military commemorations and were at the unveiling of the memorial to Bomber Command in 2012. They both took part in Remembrance Day services in Saffron Walden.

Denise, who as a young woman had qualified in dress design and painted and drew all her life, even during the war, was an ardent fundraiser for charity, particularly the Royal British Legion. Ron said: “She was a wonderful woman, kind, considerate and caring. We had 19 fantastic years.”

Her son Ken said: “My mum had an amazing history. If the world is a stage and we all have our part, mum’s role was enormous. It was a privilege for my brother Ron and me to have her as a mother.”

Denise Edwards leaves two sons, six grandchildren and was great grandmother to 11 great grandchildren.