THE HALL OF HONOURS
Carnegie Hero Fund Medal Group to August De Wit
© Hendrik Meersschaert, 2006 - 2017
Source : personal interview with August De Wit on 28 August 2006 and copies of various relevant official documents received by him.
August De Wit was born in Hombeek, near Mechelen, on 26 April 1926. When German forces invaded Belgium on 10 May 1940, he had just turned 14 but this did not withold him from heeding the Belgian government's call for all males of 16 years or older to travel to France to join the Belgian Armed Forces' units that would be created there. Ending up in the south of France, in the small village of Le Vigan near Cahors, he waited in vain as Belgium had already been overrun and capitulated. After three months, he decided to return to Belgium and, soon after his arrival, joined a resistance group of King Leopold III's loyalists.
Being underage, he was not listed as a member which proved to be very fortunate : the German occupying forces were able to identify the thus documented members and arrested them all. Only August and another underaged fellow group member escaped capture. Undeterred, he then joined another resistance group which he contacted through a friend of his father's and from 1941 through 1943 engaged in various duties. Starting as a courier for the group, he progressed to helping and supporting those that had to go underground, distributing anti-German pamphlets, burglarizing city halls to steal food coupons, documents and official stamps (to be used for falsifying identity cards etc.). During this time he started working as a railway employee at a major marshalling yard near Mechelen which, being issued with an appropriate pass by the German occupying authorities, allowed him to travel even at night during curfews.
A few months before his 18th birthday, in February 1944, August transferred to a small armed resistance group, "Les Affranchis" (originally linked to the larger BNB-group) and started to make use of his railroad job to further annoy the Germans. He saw to railroad goods cars being misdirected, sabotaged cars' breaking systems so they would catch fire miles away from his station and blocked the odd switch, causing derailments.
When his marshalling yard was destroyed by allied bombing, he was transferred to the Antwerp region. By this time the Allies had landed in Normandy and were already advancing rapidly through Belgium. Together with all the other members of his resistance group he saw combat with the Canadians over a period of about 10 days in Merksem (a suburb of Antwerp), assisting them in liberating that part of town and repulsing a German counterattack.
Later that year, he enlisted in the Belgian Army and in December 1944 joined his unit as a truck driver, taking part in the liberation of Holland and crossing the Siegfried Line into northern Germany. August was demobilized from the army in February 1946 and returned home to embark on a new career when he joined the police in Mechelen.
After a stint at police school, he first served as a foot patrolman for two years before being tranferred to patrol cars. He soon became the leader of his three man mobile group and it was during this period that he earned the Silver Carnegie Hero Fund Medal. After a few more years, he was invited to join his local branch of the C.I.D. where he continued to serve with distinction until his being pensioned in 1986.
Retirement didn't equal inactivity in August's way of life and - having been a self-defence instructor with the police force for years - he became instrumental in founding the Mechelen Martial Arts Centre. A 10th Dan black belt holder since 2002, he wrote numerous training manuals, was appointed to various positions on the board of the Flemish Jiu-Jitsu League and still very actively runs his local club as its president.
August De Wit received the following official awards :
- Order of Leopold II, knight class with swords "40-45"
- Order of the Crown, silver palms
- WW2 Armed Resistance Medal
- WW2 Volunteer Medal
- Combattant Volunteer Medal with silver "1940-1945" bar
- WW2 Commemorative Medal with crossed sabres
- Military Fighter of the War Medal
- Civil Decoration for Bravery, gold medal
- Silver Carnegie Hero Fund Medal
- Civil Decoration for Long Service in the Administration, gold medal
and also the BNB-Resistance Group Medal.
Obviously the most striking medal within this group is the rare Silver Carnegie Hero Fund Medal which August De Wit earned in 1963 : on Sunday, 29 September of that year, close to midnight, August and his team were in their patrol car when they received a call that a car had plunged into a nearby canal. Upon arrival on the scene, they found the car was totally submerged, three passengers had already managed to save themselves and a fourth passenger was still standing on top of the car, yelling the driver was still inside. August - who had already discarded his uniform in the car - immediately jumped into the cold water of the canal and dived to the sunken car. While inside the car trying to get hold of the unconscious driver, the car door closed behind him and he had to free himself to go up for air. On his second dive, he got hold of the driver's jacket but it slipped off its wearer. After coming up for air again, August finally managed to get the man out with his third dive into the car. Once ashore and despite abrasions to both his legs, an exhausted August immediately applied mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until relieved by his brother who, living nearby, had appeared on the scene in the meantime. In the end an ambulance took the still unconscious driver to hospital from where he was later discharged after his full recovery.
For his courage in this successful lifesaving action, August received the Silver Carnegie Hero Fund Medal during a ceremony on 27 February 1964 in Mechelen's City Hall and the Gold Medal of the Civil Decoration for Bravery from the hands of then Princess Paola, the present Belgian Queen, at the Royal Palace in Brussels.