This therefore is the story of the civilians who perished in the Battle of the Bulge. It is a story not of numbers, but of individuals with names and faces.The Unknown Dead: Civilians in the Battle of the Bulge by Peter Schrijvers (2005)
For the next series of posts, I owe a great deal to the aforementioned book; a book I picked up used for $1.00 at a book store many years ago in Houston, Texas. This book sat ignored in a box until I moved to Belgium in 2011. Suddenly it felt topical and relevant and rose from the dusty darkness of its box crypt to the dusty exposure of my living room bookshelf. My website has often featured Battle of the Bulge themed posts. It is one of the aspects of living in Belgium that has resonated with me most during my life here. It keeps me connected to my American roots and brings to life hidden places in Belgium that time has otherwise forgotten. The book became a reference list of the tiny hamlets in Eastern Belgium which became trapped between the final throes of Hitler’s war machine and the efforts of the Americans and British to keep Hitler from making it to Antwerp between December 1944 and January 1945. Caught in the middle were roughly 83,000 Belgian civilians1. Civilians who were already victims in a war of distrust by both sides. Were they pro-German or pro-Ally? Eastern Belgium which borders Germany has some German heritage where German even to this day is still an official language. Civilian loyalty was difficult for both sides to interpret. These civilians suffered mightily to the inhumanity of the Nazi invaders and the unforgiving landmines and bombing raids of the Allies. It is estimated that roughly 3,000 civilians died during the six-week battle, or roughly 1 for every 6 American soldiers who were killed1. And their memory is immortalized around this region of Belgium along side the soldiers who sacrificed their lives.
Following the trail of the German invasion into Belgium thru this book led me to composing several hikes which combine visits to as many of these memorials and scenes mentioned in the book as possible while obviously including some tasty beer highlights. I also referred a lot to the Traces of War website which was an invaluable resource.
This hike starts in Rochelinval at the Brasserie Detrembleur, brewers of the La Vieille Salme line of beers, and loops thru the villages of Spineux, Wanne, Logbierme, and Ennal before ending up back at the brewery.
|Starting / Ending Point||Brasserie Detrembleur|
|My Moving Time||3h 13m|
It’s Not Just a Beer, It’s a Journey
Before getting to the hike, it is important to introduce one of the main antagonists in this part of the Battle of the Bulge where the hike takes place, SS-standartenführer Joachim Peiper. Peiper lead the Kampfgruppe Peiper arm of the 6th Panzer Division through this area on the way to secure bridges along the River Meuse between Liege and Huy2. Peiper was responsible for one of the most infamous atrocities in the Battle of the Bulge, the Malmedy Massacre. Kampfgruppe Peiper entered Belgium on December 16 and advanced as far as Stoumont before he stalled and retreated with his men back to Germany on December 24. By mid-January, the Americans were making progress driving the Germans back and liberating these villages.
Rochelinval, the hike’s starting and ending point, years before the Battle of the Bulge, was the site of a battle in May 1940 where the Belgian Army attempted to stop the Germans during their original invasion of Belgium. Later, during the Battle of the Bulge, American paratroopers blew up a bridge here, to prevent re-inforcements from reaching Peiper.
Rochelinval Battle of May 1940 Memorial
The first leg of the hike leads uphill from Rochelinval to Spineux. In Spineux, remnants of the Battle of the Bulge can still be found in people’s backyards.
Imagine these in your backyard.
Spineux Liberation Memorial to the 424th Infantry Regiment
In January 1945, the 424th were responsible for liberating this tiny village. The memorial was erected in 1989.
The hike continues on thru the forest along vast farmland to the picturesque village of Wanne.
Memorial to Civilian Casualties in Wanne
The list of names on this plaque were murdered by the Germans for either being accused of giving away their positions1 or just being in the path of blind vengeance. Denise Manguette was shot as she was trying to cross the street to find a better hiding place1. Leon Sandre is the exception here as he was a member of the Belgian Resistance who was executed later on. He is buried in the family grave next to the church in Wanne (see below).
Memorial of the 517th Parachute Regiment in Honor of Belgian Civilians
Lest we forget…..
In gratitude we honour those brave Belgians who
fought with us in the Ardennes
during the Battle of the Bulge and
those faithful Belgians who keep
the memories of our joint fight for freedom and our friendship alive
Wanne War Memorial and Grave of Belgian Resistance Fighter Leon Sandre
After Wanne, the hike follows along a farm path between open fields and apple trees until coming to a forest where a hidden memorial exists with a sign marker reading “La Croix du Crime”. The memorial stone is broken but refers to the murder or assassination of someone named Hortense. I could not find any information about this.
517th Parachute Regiment Memorial Logbierme
This is a memorial to five soldiers who lost their lives here on January 14, 1945. Three of these five are buried in the Henri Chappelle American Cemetery in Belgium.
After Logbierme, it is a nice peaceful hike thru forest towards the village of Ennal.
Ennal Liberation Memorial to the 424th Infantry Regiment
Ennal was liberated by the 424th on January 15, 1944.
After Ennal and heading back to the starting point, the hike follows along an elevated ridge which was one of the nicest parts of the hike. At the end, across from the brewery is Rochelinval’s war memorial.
Rochelinval War Memorial
This brewery dating from 1993 has six regular beers in their repertoire, including my favorite, the La Vieille Salme Tripel which comes at an uncommon alcohol content of 8.3%. There is also a nice beer shop on the premises selling many unique regional beers.
This was a beautiful and peaceful hike on a sunny early Autumn day. The little towns feel out-of-time, like model villages whose structures only exist to give the appearance of population. Passing a living soul imbues a flurry of curiosity. Who lives here? What stories did the grandparents and great-grandparents pass down? Every family that was fortunate enough to survive or return here after evacuating must have many haunting tales. It is not difficult to imagine nervous paratroopers going from house to house, poking rifles into haystacks, and hiding behind old stone walls. Or confronting a terrified villager pleading indecipherably in French. Soldiers coming from cities and towns all over the United States, suddenly thrust into this idyllic place fighting for their lives. It is hard to imagine, though, that this elegant, serene area was a war zone on multiple occasions, and a place where for many months after the battle, hiking would have been a deadly risk due to landmines. Today, these few plaques and flags hold their sentinel-like positions along lonely roads and in lonely corners of barely-existing collections of houses, curiosities in a world which has passed them by. As I strolled through each village, I also couldn’t help imagining that somewhere in the world could be a gray-haired withered woman holding a black and white photograph, shaking in her arthritic hand. A soldier in uniform — her father — who went off to fight in Belgium and never came home. He died in some place called Logbierme or Rochelinval or Wanne. Someplace she probably can’t even pronounce. And when she passes on, whatever we weren’t supposed to forget becomes more forgotten. Meanwhile, some hiker like me in the present day stops to take a photo of a memorial, reflects for a moment, and moves on. Thoughts which barely register in the universe. Like briefly glancing at the scenery and returning one’s gaze squarely back to the ground in front of you. We spend too much time missing the copious beauty around us. We should never forget, never forget the things that have made us happiest in life. Life is fleeting. What these memorials help me to not forget even more than heroism, tragedy, or patriotism… is that.
- The Unknown Dead by Peter Schrijvers (2005)
- Joachim Peiper Wikipedia page