HOUSIAUX J, Remoiville

Testimonies collected in 1993 and 1994 by Patricia Lemaire and Robert Fergloute.

Published with permission of Patricia Lemaire.

Remoiville in 2017. Photo: Erwin Verholen.

In the morning of Wednesday 20 (December 1944), my mother decided to leave Bastogne in the company of two other families and to join one of her sisters established with 4 sons in Remoiville. To leave Bastogne, hugging the walls, for the shells continued to rain, under the pretext of a visit to an aunt who ran a cafe in the rue de Neufchâteau. We passed this café and continued towards Isle-le-Pré, then towards Assenois. We arrived in Remoiville around 5 p.m., welcomed by my aunt and my cousins. But, as the house did not have a solid cellar, we went to the farm opposite, to Dufour’s.

In the morning of the 21st, from the kitchen window, a few helmeted men were seen going down the hillside towards the road, towards the village; they cut the wires of the fences. Jumping over the small stream, they headed straight for the farm where we were staying. The door was opened to them and the German soldiers questioned us about the presence of Americans in the village. We told them that they had gone back to Léglise after having mined the road a little further forward. They then decided to set up their quarters in the rooms and outbuildings of the farm. We stayed with them for five days, from Thursday to Monday, Christmas Day. The cohabitation was not too hard. They weren’t aggressive except for a little pug who liked to play switchblade, and they only demanded food and coffee. They told us that they had marched for four days and four nights through the woods from the border, without meeting any resistance. Some were armed with American rifles, and parts of their equipment were easily recognizable, if only by color.

Remoiville. Some buildings still bear the scars of war.

Photo: Erwin Verholen 2017.

The front was located around Bercheux, a few kilometers away, and the battle was tough, especially as the weather conditions deteriorated. It snowed heavily, the fog was almost permanent.

On Sunday evening the 24th, we gathered once more in the cellar, in the big one, it was vaulted, with a stone spiral staircase. Civilians mingled with the military, in an inevitable elbow to elbow. The farmer had installed a small wood-burning stove for the night, the nozzle of which came out of the airhole obstructed by ill-fitting boards. On a barrel of sauerkraut, the daughter of the house came to place some subjects from the crib as well as a candle. The flame flickered in the chilled air, the Aves rang out. Suddenly, from the row of the grouped soldiers, rose, poignant in its few nasal notes, the melody of “Stille Nacht” which a harmonica chanted. What intense emotion gripped us all, young and old, soldiers and civilians! All gathered around this little crib, the light of the flame reverberating in all the pupils, the trembling lips, the search for a hope not yet confirmed. Peace on earth. Once… twice… the song repeated itself until the moment when his companion asked him to stop and, as if with regret, the melody was silent and the anguish returned.

Remoiville in 2020. Photo: Erwin Verholen.

On Christmas Day, the sound of automatic weapons grew closer. Fear seized me; I imagined a grenade tumbling through the nozzle to our feet, its deafening burst, the wound, the death. Then, in an animal reflex, gently, imperceptibly, I slipped from the pile of potatoes on which I was sitting until I found myself behind the back of a soldier, seeking an illusory security. Events rushed forward. The Feldwebel ordered a grenadier out and surrender to the Americans. The windows were lined with white sheets as a sign of surrender. The youngster slipped into the corridor, opened the door. There were then cries, barked orders. The soldiers got rid of their weapons and filed out, hands on their heads. We followed them and were immediately evacuated to the castle courtyard, opposite the church, at the top of the village. On the way there was nothing but the crackling of slates on the burning roofs, glowing fires, machine-gun fire, creaking of tracks. From the top of his turret, a G.I. smiles at me. I threw at him: “And now?” He answered me by greeting me with a gesture: “Now Bastogne!”. Columns of prisoners stretched out, followed by a truck with an impressive machine gun in the forward mini-turret that occasionally spat out a warning burst. The farms were shrouded in smoke and flames. We slid through the snowy and muddy bogs. It was the end of a nightmare; we were liberated again.

The little “château” mentioned. Also headquarters of III. Abteilung/FJ Regt 14.

Photo: Erwin Verholen.

On January 13, my cousin Jacques died tragically in the fire in their house. A few days later, I returned for the first time to liberated Bastogne to find the house there looted and filthy. My mother also returned, definitely. As for me, skipping classes in school, I stayed at the farm which had lodged us until the haying, paying for my food with customary work.