One Last Letter
In memory of F/O Jacques d'Ursel - and all those who gave their lives for our freedom
The details (including the notes) were given to me by Michael Moores LeBlanc and reproduced here with his kind permission
F/O Jacques, Count d'Ursel was a Belgian. Jacques d'Ursel was born on the 25th of September 1905, in Zimst. He flew before the war and had a little plane of his own called 'Saint-Hubert'. He was mobilized as a courier and served with the Belgian Air Force. In May 1940, he evacuated to France and embarked on a ship on the 24th of June 1940, bound for Morocco. He was at Gibraltar on the 11th of July and in Cardiff, England, on the 7th of August 1940. From the 25th of November 1940 to the 6th of November 1941, he acted as a flying instructor for the Belgian-French pupils.
He volunteered for bombers and was at 10 OTU February to May 1942. He joined 78 Sqdn on the 15th of May 1942. As 1st Pilot, he flew on the second 1,000 bomber raid on Essen the night of the 1-2 June, Duisburg on the 25th, Hamburg on the 28th and Saarbrucken on the 29th of July, and Bochum on the 5th of August. He was lost on the Duisburg raid of 6-7 August 1942.
Count Jacques M.J.A. d'Ursel was the younger aristocratic brother of Comte Antoine d'Ursel who was later destined to become famous as a member of the Comete escape line. Known as ‘Jacques Cartier', and successor to ‘Nemo' the Baron Jean Greindl, arrested in February 1943, Antoine directed Belgian escape line operations from the area of Namur, while at the same in hiding from the Gestapo himself with the DePret family. Comte Antoine d'Ursel drowned on the night of 23-24 December, while trying to cross the Bidassoa river from France into Spain to meet with MI-9's Spanish Section chief, Michael ‘Timothy' Cresswell.
This is Michael's translation from French of the ‘The Last Letter' of Count Jacques d'Ursel, written 6 August 1942, to a friend only identified as 'L'.

My Dear old friend,
You have asked me about some of my expeditions. I'll try to recall some of the details from one my last raids that will interest you.
The night of . . . Hamburg . . . It was an interesting target for me because I had been told, at the briefing, it was well defended. I left with the hope of not having a bad experience (in the coming night). After the briefing , where I was forced to etch the topography of the city and river in my brain, I felt ready but my head was heavy. There had been a party the other night at the airfield on the occasion of the departure of the Wing Commander and the arrival of his replacement.
(Note: The Count is telling a story here. W/Commander J.B. Tait, DSO, DFC, assumed control of 78 Squadron, Vice W/Cdr Seymour-Lewis on 10 July, 1942. The raid about which he is speaking occurred on the night of Sunday the 27th of July 1942.)
The crews in battle dress had the honour of dining amongst their comrades in their nice uniforms. Before departure for combat, there was the curious atmosphere of a party, but you know my love for these contrasts; also this would be a subject of meditation during the long hours crossing the North Sea.
At H-hour, I woke up and noticed at the extremity of the shadows, a flare path created to assist us in our take off. My Halifax ‘P' for Peter, can be recognized by the large Belgian flag painted on the front surmounted by a tiny series of bombs, each of which represented a raid. I must confess the number shown there are very modest compared to those of some of my other comrades who had long rows, but my last word hasn't been said and it is my ambition to eventually have these painted all around my aircraft. And why not?
A last look after cockpit drill, and full boost . . . I roll along the runway. All is going well and despite the heavy load of bombs, my dear aeroplane, because I like my ‘P' for Peter, takes off easily and gains altitude. I look at the instruments during which the chief engineer, on my instruction, adjusts the boost and the turn-counter. I survey my chronometer because at 11:18 hours, I should be above the aerodrome with the course set correctly for our destination.
All goes well. I am only a few seconds late at the moment I cross over the lights of the aerodrome. Now, I climb at the best economical angle to ensure a constant speed; otherwise, the navigator will call me over the inter-comm to complain. ‘Please, Sir, 150 mph?'.
In fact, I am moving at 155 mph and I want to send the difference of 5 mph to the devil. But, after all, he is right, so I concentrate on my instruments and wait until the gyros of ‘George' are ready to take the seat in my place; and fly with a great deal more precision than I can.
My engineer keeps me informed of the temperatures of the four motors. I test the Laurens. Good, all is well. A quick word to the W/Op to remind him of what he must do. The air gunner in the back asks me something I cannot understand because the Bomb Aimer is speaking at the same time. Therefore, I make each of the crewmen speak slowly, in their own turn, while constantly watching the artificial horizon. I understand. I give my orders and the lives of each of these six other men begins to solidify around the ‘captain' or ‘skipper' as he is called. It is necessary that the crew feels that I am always thinking of each of them. From time to time, I must speak with each man individually; to make sure they are alert and not sleeping.
During this time the terrible 150 mph either climbs to 155 mph or drops to 148 mph. At last, ‘George' is ready and voila . . . it climbs to 150 mph exactly. The navigator is happy and so am I. The weather is perfect and a superb moon squats at our side during our flight. And there is the North Sea below; which we cross for a very long distance.
I give the orders to my three air gunners to test their guns and warn them not to shoot down another Halifax in the night; a recommendation that might seem superfluous to you but it is very necessary.
Now all is calm and I have the time to dream a little before we get to the German coast. The smile of my mother, so soft and sweet, appears before my eyes. The poor woman would be so troubled if she were to see me here ready for combat, but also proud to know her son is doing his duty. A great feeling of sentimentality overtakes me. My heart is torn. No, it will not release me . . . but suddenly an unidentified plane takes charge of tearing me from my dreams. A stream of bullets passes before my eyes. This isn't normal. What is it? I don't move and advise my air gunners to open their eyes. A second stream of bullets. The same silence on my part. Then nothing. All becomes calm again. A sense of tiredness overcomes me. I search my pockets for caffeine-tablets. They are covered in tobacco crumbs but I swallow them before I realize it.
There are some white lights in the sea. I alert my navigator and he notes their position. The coast can't be far off. I see searchlights in the stabbing at sky with their brilliant points. I begin my evasion maneuvers to escape who ever might be trying to get my scalp. Off in the distance at the coast, I see the mouth of the Elbe. The coastal batteries are becoming active and hundreds of lights scour the sky. Instinctively, I listen to my motors but all is still going well.
Now there is nothing but one end to strive for; to be certain to hit my objective and prove the point with a good picture. Two solutions are envisioned with our team.
1. That of following the Elbe to Hamburg if visibility is sufficient and thus being certain of attacking the center of the city . . . or . . .
2. Going by the north, where certainly the defences will be less violent, but where I lessen my chances of seeing my target.
To know if the defenses are violent, very violent or terrible is a question of gradation. It is a little like when a dentist says: ‘Come back to see me if you are still suffering too much.' You always tell yourself that you are sore but it is certainly possible to be even more sore. That is why I chose the Elbe.
The Elbe is a pretty river and in times of peace, the ‘Gretchen' stroll along the river hand in hand with their lovers, but on Sunday the 27th of July 1942, towards 2 o'clock in the morning, I think they are hiding in their shelters while their lovers man the anti-aircraft batteries. Their shots are passing by me on all sides and I have time to be tempted to duck my head when some of these explode within meters. The Boches don't fire badly!!
I fly without cession, through clouds of smoke caused by the explosions and amuse myself by flying from one to another. There are fires everywhere and the sky is filled with green and red tracer. It is truly beautiful to see this luminous steel in flight. On the signal of the bomb aimer I steer towards the center of the objective; open my bomb doors; and wait with impatient fatigue for the words, ‘Bombs gone!'
For me, all the reason for the trip are these two words, because they tell me I am avenging our country for all it had suffered, was suffering, and will be suffering.
Alas, I can't personally see the results of the explosions because to take the photos, I must stay on the same course for a certain time, otherwise I will not have proof of the efficacy of my bombing. The thing that makes me mad is that most of my photos will show only hundreds of explosions of flak and tracer trails, which in the end make the pictures look more like ones taken of the sun. If nothing else, they prove that I was in the middle of the brawl.
The bombing ended, I leave the city and while doing so, I notice two other Halifaxes going towards the target. This time, I don't have the Elbe to guide me on my return, but I can see, some distance away, the firing of artillery is less violent.
Shots fly pass me quite closely but they miss. All goes well. But no! Not so quickly! One of the new searchlights with a blue hue lights up in front of us suddenly and with the first sweep of it's stroke it captures us. It's light is formidable and I am enveloped by it in the cockpit. It is now time for ‘P' for Peter to show what it can do. At 280 mph flying by instruments alone, I fly variations of nose dives, vertical climbs and turns; but the bastard won't let go of me.
Wait a little! I haven't nose dived enough, so with two hands I push against ‘the stick' with all my strength and brake into one of our half-reverses with motor; which makes our joy on ‘Maggy'. That does the trick and the searchlight disappears.
I am a little hot because with a four-motor, this sort of sport requires biceps. For this reason I take off my tie and undo my collar to ease myself and though I have an intense desire to smoke a cigarette I will have to wait for our return to base.
At last, the German coast appears. I am north of the Elbe and the lights of the beautiful night sky blend into the sea. From time to time batteries fire below me but these are not dangerous because they are too far away. About forty searchlights seem to have captured an aircraft south of Cuxhaven. Here I am above the sea and all seems to have become calm. My attention is directed to looking for night-fighters. But I find I'm not finished with the artillery barrages, because very close to Heligoland I am the recipient of a gentle little reception.
Because of the long return trip across the sea I allow ‘George' to work for me and I begin to muse about my life here. The English coast approaches and soon with our return there will be eggs, tea and sleep.
An anxious voice called me on the inter-com: ‘Sir, Sir. the port-outer engine is hot'. I turn to look at the engineer's work board and see in effect, that we are at the maximum authorized limit. I therefore cut the motor and leave myself resting on the loyalty of the other three.
The day is waking up lazily as we approach our aerodrome and I decide to alert the waiting control that I intended to make a three motor landing. I made a turn in the direction of the aerodrome to familiarize myself with the special flares which signal the position of its runways. However, as the dawn has approached, I can see clouds advancing towards the aerodrome. I therefore request the authority to land before the day has invited in the fog so frequently found in this area.
As it happens it takes too long before this authorization comes through. Also, by the time I get it, the aerodrome is covered in fog. Just the same, I decide to try landing, but can see very little and miss my touchdown point. I am obliged to put on full motor. After a long and labourous climb, to attain 1,000 feet, I am far from my landing zone and I am in strong rain. I attempt to find my flare but it is impossible. I asked my navigator to find it for me, but tired, he works slowly and does not come up with an answer. Finally my engineer announces that we have no more than fifteen minutes of fuel left.
I must quickly find another aerodrome or a landing spot somewhere in the open countryside. I give myself five minutes maximum to find an aerodrome. If I do not find one I will have 10 minutes to find a good spot in a field.
I see a railroad and then a viaduct that I recognize from one of my bicycle trips. An effort of memory . . . yes, that's it. Turn south-west and I should arrive at the airfield. I lower my landing wheels to be ready and check to make sure my orientation is correct. Subsequently, I see the tarmac of a runway and though the wind is to our side, it is perhaps my best landing ever in a Halifax. Ouf! It was time. There was no more fuel left.
So there, old fellow, is the end of a little story which I hope will amuse you. In the next edition: ‘The Crossing of Belgium to the area of Arlon', ‘Attack on Saarbrucken', or ‘Your Friend Jacques in the grip of three Night-fighters in Succession, on the Same Night'. And again others because the list is beginning to grow, but for now excuse me because it is time for ‘the briefing' and this night may be a fluttering one.

Alas, this night the pilot of ‘P' for Peter did not return. His name was Jacques d'Ursel. He was a great fellow, calm and kind. A pilot for tourists, mobilized as a courier pilot. He wanted to get to Great Britain. All that he was offered was a monitor's post. He pretended he had been in action and finally triumphed over all his obstacles and all the resistances that had opposed him. He had much reason to do so. He was in the first 1,000 plane raid. He fell victim for his passion to serve. He made of himself a grand example. Signed: L.
78 Sqn Halifax II W1237 - FTR 7 August 1942.
Target: Duisburg, Germany. Take-off 00:49 Middleton St. George. Shot down on return flight by a night-fighter flown by Haupt Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein of I/NJG 1. Halifax W1237 crashed at 04:15 hours into the North Sea, off Hoek van Holland, where Sgt Hoare is buried. All the rest of the crew are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
The Crew:
F/O Count Jacques Marie Joseph A. d'Ursel. RAF/BAF. 60506. Pilot. Age 26. Son of the Count and Countess Auguste d'Ursel. From Zimst, Belgium. Runnymede Panel 66.
Sgt William John Cole. RAF (VR) 1379680. Navigator. Age 28. Son of John Joseph and Sophie Cole of Newbury, Berkshire, England. Runnymede Panel 80.
Sgt George William Scott. RAF (VR) 1262777. Bomb Aimer. Age 26. Son of William and Margaret Scott, of Hamilton, Auckland, New Zealand. Runnymede Panel 93.
Sgt William Ernest Luck. RAF (VR) 562643. Flight Engineer. Age 29. Son of William James and Matilda Luck. Husband of Nora Luck., of Aldershot, Hampshire, England. Runnymede Panel 75.
F/Sgt Arthur George Johnston. RCAF. R59551. Wireless Operator. Age 27. Son of Arthur F and Lucy Alma Johnson of St. Vital, Manitoba, Canada. Runnymede Panel 104.
Sgt Gerrard Joseph Michael Cantwell. RAF (VR) 798696. Airgunner. Age 20. From St Johns, Newfoundland. Runnymede Panel 98.
Sgt James George Arthur Hoare. RAF (VR) 1289983. Air Gunner. Age 30. Son of James Ruben and Ethel Mary Hoare. Husband of Gladys Adelaide Hoare of Thorpe Bay, Essex, England. + Hoek van Holland General Cemetery. Row F. Grave 19.