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Bastogne (Municipality, Province of Luxembourg, Belgium)


Last modified: 2007-10-20 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Bastogne]

Municipal flag of Bastogne - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 28 May 2005

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Presentation of Bastogne and its villages

The municipality and town (Ville) of Bastogne (in Dutch, Bastenaken; 1',386 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 17,210 ha) is located in the east of the Province of Luxembourg, close to the border with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The municipality of Bastogne is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Bastogne, Longvilly, Noville, Villers-la-Bonne-Eau and Wardin. Bastogne is mostly known for the cyclist race Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the oldest of the "classic" races, and the terrible battle which took place there in 1944-1945 (Battle of the Bulge).

The plateau of Bastogne has been settled since the Prehistoric times. The Celts were present in the area in the IIIrd century BP, but they do not seem to have founded the town; the name of Bastogne has an Indo-European root, *bhas, meaning "clear water". In 57, Julius Caesar defeated the Trevires, which were a mixed tribe of Celts and Germans. Caesar romanized the Trevires by granting to them the title of "free people" and maintaining their institutions.
In 634, Bastogne is listed among the possessions given by a Duke of Austrasia to the abbey of Trier; in 721, the domain was transfered to the abbey of Prüm. The town of Bastogne was divided among several feudal lords and religious foundations. Coins were minted in the IXth century and a document dated 887 mentions a market in Bastogne. Count of Luxembourg Henri VII (1288-1309) also minted coins in Bastogne, which was an important trade town on the road linking England, Flanders, Champagne and Italy. Lombard moneychangers set up in the town. On 12 June 1332, John the Blind, Count of Luxembourg and La Roche and King of Bohemia and Poland, granted a chart to Bastogne, which allowed the town to have ramparts, towers and two gates, the Porte Haute (Upper Gate), suppressed in 1825, and the Porte Basse (Lower Gate), aka Porte de Trèves. The inhbitants had to take care of the fortifications and set up a guard.
In the XVIth century, the grain and cattle fairs of Bastogne were so famous that the Italian traveler Guichardini nicknamed the town "Paris in Ardenne". In 1602, the Dutch troops besieged Bastogne, to no avail, but plundered the naighbouring villages. A significant part of the fortifications was destroyed by Louis XIV in 1688.
In September 1830, the Belgian nationalist movement spread to Bastogne. A municipal guard was set up and the colours of Brabant were hoisted in the town. On 4 October 1830, fifteen volunteers left Bastogne for Brussels, commanded by P.F. Toquinet. As a reward for their courage, Bastogne was granted a 1830 honour flag, shown today in the Council Room of the town hall. Bastogne and its region were then very wealthy: oak bark was exported to England, wood from the forests was shipped to the collieries. Special trains transported cattle to Flanders, whereas stallions were sold to Germany, Austria, Hungary and France. The industrial development was more limited, excepted the lead mine exploited in Longvilly and a few slate quarries in Benonchamps.

In the beginning of the XXth century, the cyclist race Liège-Bastogne-Liège was set up. Baron Pierre de Crawhez created the Circuit des Ardennes, a 600 km car race running five times the triangle Bastogne-Martelange-Habay-la-Neuve-Longlier-Bastogne. Famous people came to Bastogne to encourage the competitors, including the German Emperor William II. Short before the First World War, the "Circuit" was transfered to Francorchamps.
On 4 August 1914, the Germans invaded Belgium. On 8 August, French dragons in reconnaissance were attacked near Bizory and lost two; the French withdrew and the Germans occupied Bastogne until 11 November 1918.

On 10 May 1940, the Germans invaded Belgium, France and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. They occupied Bastogne in spite of the heroic defense by the Chasseurs Ardennais. In September 1944, the German troops were expelled from France and Belgium. Hitler decided to cut the western front into two parts; as he did in 1940, he attacked the Ardenne, hoping to rush later to Antwerp and defeat the Brits before moving back against the Americans. There were only a few American units in Ardenne because the forest was deemed insurmountable in winter. Foggy weather prevented the Allied air forces to bomb the German positions. On 16 December 1944, the Germans launched the so-called "Battle of the Bulge" and the American had to withdraw. The units that attempted to resist were completely destroyed. In order to block the German attack and keep Bastogne, the Americans sent the 101st Airborne Division, commanded by Brigadier General McAuliffe and the Combat Command Team B from Patton's 3rd Army, which moved to Longvilly, Wardin and Noville. Violent fightings took place on 19 December in Neffe, Wardin and Noville. On 20 December, the town of Bastogne was surrounded. German emissaries were sent on 22 December to require the American capitulation; McAuliffe gave them his famous answer: "Nuts". The weather improved on 23 December and the Allied Air Forces continuously bombed the German troops; they also resupplied the besieged town with food, arms and medicines. On 26 December, Patton's troops broke the siege after a terrible fighting. Bastogne was liberated but the Battle of Ardennes lasted until 18 January 1945.
The toll of the Battle of Ardennes is impressive:

  • Americans: 10,733 dead; 42,316 injured; 22,636 missing in action; 733 tanks, 1,300 vehicles and 592 planes lost
  • Germans: 12,652 dead; 38,600 injured; 30,582 missing in action; 324 tanks, 5,000 vehicles and 320 planes lost
  • Belgians: 2,500 dead; 11,000 houses destroyed; one quarter of cattle lost.

Hitler's strategy in the Ardennes is considered by modern historians, for instance the Australian Chester Wilmot, as a big mistake. By counter-attacking in Belgium, Hitler dramatically weakened his last troops and lost a lot of men and arms, which would have been very useful for the defense of Germany, and indirectly "helped" Stalin, whose troops could carry on their progress.

The Battle of Ardennes is commemorated in Bastogne by several monuments, including:

  • the Mardasson Memorial, a star-shaped monument designed by architect Georges Dedoyard to honour the American soldiers dead or injured during the battle. In the heart of the memorial, a stone bears the writing: POPULUS BELGICUS MEMOR 4. VII. MCMXLVI LIBERATORIBUS AMERICANIS
    The history of the battle and the name of the units that fought there are detailed on the walls of the gallery. Close to the memorial, a big crypt houses three Catholic, Jewish and Protestant altars. The mosaics of the memorial were made by the French artist Fernand Léger (1881-1955).
  • the McAuliffe Monument, inaugurated by the General himself in 1947. On 3 March 1949, the Municipal Council of Bastogne unanimusouly granted to the General the title of Honour Citizen of Bastogne. The McAuliffe Square is decorated with a tank from the XIth Division, stopped in Renaumont on 30 December 1944. General McAuliffe passed away in 1975.
  • the Patton monument. Patton died in a car accident in Germany in December 1945 and is buried in the cemetary of Hamm, in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
  • the Boggess fort. On 19 December 1944, Patton rotated the Third Army 90 degrees and sent it northwards. On 26 December, the tank commanded by Lieutenant Charles Boggess reached the defensive perimeter set up by the 101st Airborne on the road of Assenois. Bogess passed away in April 1985.
  • the Cady Monument, inaugurated on 4 September 1949 in the presence of Emile Cady's father and sister. The monument recalls the resistance and withdrawal of the Belgian troops on 10 May 1940. Caporal Cady was shot during the evacuation of his shelter and was able to come back to the Belgian lines with his machine gun.
  • the War Memorial, designed in 1951 by Victor Demanet (1895-1964), showing a woman (locally known as l'Ardennaise) traditionally dressed and saying the rosary. The names of all the victims of the war (soldiers, political prisonners, civilians) are listed near the statue.
  • the Glessener monument, inaugurated in 1949 to honour Lieutenant Glessener, fallen on 10 September 1944.
  • the Enclos des Fusillés in Noville, recalling seven inhabitants of Noville, including the school teacher and the priest, and a young man from Grand Duchy of Luxembourg shot by French SS on 21 December 1944.
  • the Recogne cemetary, with the tombs of 7,000 German soldiers and officers killed during the battle.

Bastogne is the end of the Voie de la Liberté (Way of Freedom) created by Colonel Guy de la Vasselais, which links Sainte-Mère-Eglise, in Normandy, to Metz and Bastogne.

For the 50th anniversary of the battle (1994), new monuments were erected, including:

  • The Indian monument of Recogne, which is a tribute to the hundreds of soldiers from the First Nations who died during the battle.
  • The Wood of Peace, made of 4,000 trees planted on a 3 ha area. From the air, the pattern of the trees shows the mother and child logotype of UNICEF. The wood is dedicated to the Belgian and Allied soldiers and civilians who fought for liberty. The American veterans who come back to Bastogne are encouraged to place a plaque with their name and the name of their unit below a tree of the wood.

The Foy American Memorial was created in 2004. On 4 February 1945, the US Army buried in the military cemetary of Foy-Recogne 2,071 soldiers from the Allied forces. The area of the cemetary was 8.86 ha. In 1946, the US Army proposed to the families to repatriate the bodies or to bury them in other European cemetaries; the repatriation process ended on 22 August 1948, when the cemetary was officially closed. Sixty-nine percent of the the bodies were repatriated to the United States, another 20 percent buried in the American cemetary of Henri-Chapelle and the remaining bodies were buried in the American cemetaries of Margraten, Neuville and Hamm. The former cemetary of Foy was given back to agriculture. In 2002, Joël Robert, from Bastogne, proposed to erect a commemorative monument in the former cemetary. The municipality of Bastogne and the group Cobra supported Robert's proposal and the Foy American Memorial was inaugurated on 10 September 2004.

Longvilly (162 inhabitants on 1 January 2004) was mentioned in 893. Until 1976, the municipality of Longvilly (3,249 ha) included the villages of Longvilly, Moinet, Bourcy, Michamps, Oubourcy and Arloncourt. In 1821, a farmer watering his land found accidentally blocks of leads; one of the block weighted 700 kg. On 26 August 1826, a concession was granted to the Société de Longvilly. Exploitation started the next year, where 20 workers dug down to a depth of 20 m. In 1839, the border delimited between Longvilly and Oberwampach (Grand Duchy of Luxembourg) split the concession into two parts. Exploitation of the mine carried on only on the Belgian side. The activity of the mine peaked in 1882, with 300 workers and the exploitation of a 12 cm thick lode of pure galenite. The production started to decline in 1887; in 1901, water invaded the galleries, which could not be repaired because of the lack of money, and the mine was definitively closed.

Noville (200 inhabitants on 1 January 2004) was mentioned in 1304 as Nouville and in 1340 as Nova villa, "the new farm". The inhabitants of Noville are nicknamed les câsses d'boteye (the bottle breakers). Until 1976, the municipality of Noville (4.213 ha) included the villages of Cobru, Foy, Noville, Recogne, Vaux, Luzery, Hardiny, Neufmoulin, Rachamps and Wicourt.

Villers-la-Bonne-Eau (69 inhabitants on 1 January 2004) is named after an estate located near a source providing good water (bonne eau). The inhabitants of Villers are nicknamed les djenisses (the yellowhammers). The legend says that there was once a blaze about to destroy the village; the inhabitants invoked their patron saint St. Barbe, and a source gushed forth. Like all miraculous sources, it never dried out and has therapeutic virtues. Until 1976, the municipality of Villers-la-Bonne-Eau (2,345 ha) included the villages of Livarchamps, Lutrebois, Losange, Remoifosse and Lutremange; in the Middle Ages, Losange was an important lordship. During the Battle of the Bulge, there was a pocket of German resistance in Villers-la-Bonne-Eau and the neighbouring villages. Lutrebois was reseized several times by the Germans, who abandoned Lutremange only on 11 January 1945. More than 6,000 bombs were required to expel the Germans from the village of Villers-la-Bonne-Eau, which was completely rebuilt after the liberation.

Wardin (367 inhabitants on 1 January 2004) was a medieval lordship. Its name comes from the Germanic root *war, "to protect", "to defend". Wardin was a strategic place during the Battle of the Bulge; the ridge dominating the village was strongly disputed between 20 December 1944 and 2 January 1945. The village was completely liberated on 16 January 1945. The yearly Ward'in rock festival was created by young people from the village in 1997.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 28 May 2005

Municipal flag of Bastogne

The municipal flag of Bastogne is vertically divided red-blue.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, it follows the proposal made by the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community:
Divisé transversalement en deux, rouge à la hampe et bleu au large.

The colours of the flag are taken from the municipal arms of Bastogne:
Brochant sur un parti cousu de gueules et d'azur, la Sainte-Vierge avec l'Enfant-Jésus, de carnation, vêtus d'or et ceints d'une couronne à trois fleurons du même, la Vierge tenant de la senestre un sceptre fleurdelisé aussi d'or.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 28 May 2005