Rue Léon Trulin, Lille, France
It was frightening work. And a far cry from the family life he’d known. But Léon Trulin accepted. Bravely. He’d spy for the British Army. It was June, 1915. Léon was just 18. But ever since Germany had occupied Belgium and parts of northern France following the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Léon had longed to take up arms and fight. He’d been born in the historic Belgian city of Ath in 1897, the seventh of eight children. But Léon wasn’t to have much of a childhood. His father died at the young age of 43, and in their search for work and opportunity, Léon, his mother and his seven siblings ended up in Lille. When he was 13 in 1910, Léon got a job in a factory. Four years later, in 1914, war. And that longing to fight. Somehow, Léon Trulin managed to get to England, where the Belgian army was exiled. He tried to enlist. But his small frame and an injury he’d sustained at the factory meant the army had no choice but to turn him away. And then theBritish Army made their offer. How would Léon Trulin like to collect information from within the occupied area of Belgium and northern France? How would Léon Trulin like to become a spy? Back in Lille, and with the help of his young friends Marcel Gotti, 15, Marcel Lemaire and Marcel Denèque, both 17, and Raymond Derain, André Herman and Luicen Dewalf, who were all 18, Léon started sending plans, reports and photos to the British. For those young men, it must havebeen terrifying. But it must also have been the adventure of a lifetime. Anadventure that was to be cut dead in its tracks. Before long, German intelligence was on to Léon and his gang of teenage spies. He was arrested on a fact-finding mission to Antwerp. Theother boys were let-off with their lives. But their ringleader was sentenced to death and executed three days later, on 5 November 1915. In his final letter to his mother he wrote, I forgive everyone, friend and foe. I show them mercy because of the mercy they have not shown me. It had only been five short months since Léon had agreed to spy for the British. But five short months that had made him a hero.