Sarah from Travel with Me, hosted the two-week Friendly Friday Challenge and her topic is “Meet.” She challenges us to discuss people we met during travel. This post is about a person I never met in real life but who I came to know through stories of her life and deeds. Augusta Chiwy was introduced to me by Henri Mignon, the subject of last week’s Friendly Friday post.
In November 2018, Henri Mignon served as the guide for a tour of the sites of the Battle of the Bulge, which was the U.S. Army’s costliest battle of WWII. There were nearly 100,000 American casualties including almost 20,000 dead in the month long battle. Holding the crossroads town of Bastogne, Belgium after it was encircled by strong German forces was one of the keys to blunting the Nazi offensive and turning the tide of battle.
In 1944, Augusta Chiwy (pronounced CHEE-wee), was a 23-year-old, recently licensed civilian nurse who had just returned to her hometown for the Christmas holidays when the German attack began. Her father was a Belgian veterinarian. Augusta was born in the Belgian Congo (now Burundi) to a Congolese woman. She never knew her mother.
It was in the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division in the Bastogne Barracks on the tour with Henri in 2018 when I discovered Augusta. A picture of an unknown woman was on the wall along with a photo of Renée Lemaire, the Belgian nurse who had been immortalized as the Angel of Bastogne.
Renée and Augusta volunteered in the aid station run by Captain John (Jack) Prior, MD, a 27-year-old physician assigned to the 20th Armored Infantry Battalion of the 10th Armored Division. Renée was tragically killed by a German bomb on the night before Christmas, but Augusta assisted Prior with the care of the wounded and dying from the 10th Armored and 101st Airborne Divisions until his unit moved out in mid January 1945.
Wearing a U.S. Army uniform, Augusta even accompanied Prior to the front lines where they came under fire from rifles, machine guns and mortars. Her tiny five-foot (152 cm) frame was an asset on those occasions. She knew, however, that if captured in an American uniform, the Germans would execute her for collaboration on the spot.
Renée Lemaire was celebrated in books, movies and TV shows as the Angel of Bastogne while Augusta went unrecognized for more than 60 years. In 2011, Scottish historian Martin King located Augusta in a Brussels retirement community and her story garnered widespread attention and long-overdue, much-deserved recognition.
King Albert II of Belgium declared Augusta Marie Chiwy a Knight of the Order of the Crown, and the U.S. Army presented her with its highest civilian award, the Civilian Award For Humanitarian Service “due to selfless service and bravery.” She also received a certificate of thanks from all surviving members of the 10th Armored Division and was made a Bastogne Citizen of Honor and an honorary member of the 101st Airborne Division.
In this short video, Augusta Chiwy describes in her own words the remarkable efforts of soldiers and civilians during the desperate days in Bastogne. Augusta was there purely by chance. By taking a look at the video, you can honor this extraordinary woman who, without regard for her personal safety and well being, upheld the highest standards of her profession and her humanity.
Lady Augusta Marie Chiwy passed in 2014 at age 94. She was buried in Bastogne with full honors from the U.S. military, Belgium and the City of Bastogne.
You can read the full post about her here.
Thanks for reading and take care. John