Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Eversince I borrowed the series "Band Of Brothers" from the video store last year, I've turned into a WWII junkie. Not only did I buy the entire series which I've since watched 3 times, I've also bought the book on which it was based on. And I'm about to order more related DVDs and books. The Discovery Civillization channel is not helping either. They've got 2 excellent series called Battlefield and Century of Warfare which run daily, both covering WWI and WWII which I follow faithfully each evening. Oh, did I mention they have repeats throughout the day too? Yikes!

On the highway leading from Foy to Bastogne

As if that wasn't enough, we even made a day trip, courtesy of my very sporting husband to the town of Bastogne in Belgium where the 101st Airborne Division fought the famous Battle of the Bulge. The town isn't too far from where we live, about a 1.5hr drive. This is the part where I get 'scary'. I wanted to go at the same time the battle was fought some 60 years ago which was during Christmas week itself. This was because I wanted to experience the same weather conditions the men faced, which was heavy snow and extreme cold.

My husband took the road through the Ardennes, which is made up of rolling hills and forest just as the soldiers would have done. We stopped by the villages involved in the battle before arriving in Bastogne itself. Whereupon we headed straight for the war memorial built by the American and Belgium people in honour of the American soldiers who so bravely held their ground there.

Mardasson Memorial

Interior of the memorial....

....with the story of the Battle for Bastogne engraved on the walls

So too all the air and infantry divisions

Another view of the memorial

Set atop a hill, the Mardasson Memorial is huge, sombre and elegant. It overlooks the surrounding forest and is so peaceful, it's hard to imagine fierce battles and air raids once took place there. It was freezing cold that day. At -2 C and a light snowfall, it was mild compared to the weather in December 1944. I will let the photos speak for itself:

Next to the memorial is the Bastogne Historical Center. This houses artifacts from both the American and German army related to the Battle of the Bulge.

Bastogne Historical Center

One of two Sherman tanks on display outside

Most of the exhibits are donations from the soldiers themselves. One item that caught my eye was a German uniform that was previously used in battle. It didn't belong to a high ranking officer, just a normal soldier. What made me do a double take was the amount of holes and rips the uniform had. To say the least, the wearer must have been through alot for his garment to receive that amount of wear and tear. There were similar worn out uniforms on the American side as well.

Display of airmen and paratroopers

The museum, which had a musty 'old' smell on account of the displays, is very well done. I was pleasantly surprised that it told both sides of the story ie, the Americans and the Germans. They also had newspaper and magazine clippings about various stages of the battle including the famous NUTS! story.

Currahee! The Screaming Eagles. On the top left is the actual town signboard riddled with bullet holes. A GI took it back with him to California after the war as a souvenir. Years later, when the museum was set up, it was donated back

More displays of uniforms, weapons, photos and personal belongings

There was also a small theatre which screens a short film of the battle at regular intervals. My husband, son and I trooped in dutifully. About 10 minutes into the film, my son whispers to me,"Mummy, this is soooooo boring!!!!" and splayed himself all over the bench playing with his scarf. I let him be, since he wasn't making any noise but just fidgeting.

After 3 hours of browsing, my husband also had it. Both dad and son parked themselves on a bench to wait for me. My husband said he's seen everything in there. Twice over. And I had just done two thirds. If you hate museums, I'm your worst nightmare. You see, I read and look at everything.

Here are more photos:

Life-sized displays of battle scenes

.......and air drops. Different coloured parachutes indicated the contents of each parcel. For example, red for ammunition, blue for medical supplies and yellow (I think) for rations

Even soldiers need to eat. Once in a very long while, hot food was available. Mostly, K rations were the way to go

Although I'm not a native, it was still an extremely good and humbling experience. I can't help but think that back in the day, people were a different breed from us.

And er, I think I'm quite the 101st Airborne Division, Easy Company groupie now. Next stop: Normandy, the place of their very first war campaign. Now,if I can convince my husband to make the trip on 6 June when D-Day took place.......

For more reading, check this and this out. More photos here.

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The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 9:53 am

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The Caen WW2 Memorial Museum is worth a visit too. You could try to convince your hubby to combine war tracks with some fun. We visited Caen and at the same time the cliffs at √Čtretat, the D-Day beaches and cemetaries along the way, some bunker, and also enjoyed lovely restaurants in between. Olivier Roellinger at Cancale (Maisons de Bricourt) is a Master if you love gourmet French food - which I suspect you do :-).
I know about Caen too. I most definitely want to do the Normandy war trail. I must ask you for the highlights when we do make the trip.

As for gourmet French food - guilty as charged. The French (and Italians) know what to do with food!
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