Bastogne, Belgium played a significant role in the Battle of the Bulge during WW2. It was during this long battle that the Nazi’s attempted one final major push to get the Allies out of Europe. It was also where one nurse, in particular, sacrificed everything to save hundreds of American soldiers lives only to be nearly lost to history.
Augusta Chiwy was born in Congo to a Belgian Father and African Mother. At the age of nine, her father took her from the Congo to Belgium where she lived with him and her aunt in the town of Bastogne. When she was able to, she became a nurse.
In 1944, just as the Germans were launching their attack, Augusta went home to Bastogne to spend the Christmas holiday with her family. While there, she was approached by an American Doctor John Prior who asked her to help his aid outpost. According to Augusta, he had no one left, not even ambulance drivers.
Augusta spent day and night working with John Prior in the aid station getting down and dirty in the muck treating hemorrhages, assisting in amputees and all other sorts of war trauma. On multiple occasions, she risked her own life to assist in the collection of injured American soldiers. The conditions that she and Jack Prior worked under were extreme, the allied forces were unable to deliver much-needed supplies to the front line. At one point she and Prior had to amputate a limb that had gone gangrene with nothing but some cognac and an army issue survival knife.
On Christmas Eve she and Prior decided to take the night off and have a glass of champagne at a neighboring house. Shortly after popping the cork the aid station was directly hit by a bomb. The force of the impact was so strong that the windows were blown out of the house where Augusta and Prior were. They did what they could to save the people in the hospital but for, most, it was too late.
Suffering from what we now refer to as PTSD, Augusta lost her ability to speak, but that didn’t stop her. She continued to work as a nurse saving more allied lives.
It wasn’t until 2011 that Augusta Chiwy received the recognition that she deserved. Belgium declared her a Knight of the Order of the Crown. The United States awarded her a medal for Civilian Humanitarian Services. When asked about her work during World War 2 her response was, “What I did was very normal, I would have done it for anyone. We are all children of God.”
In addition to the following books, I recommend the documentary, The Forgotten Angel of Bastogne, now available on Netflix.
- The Nightengale by Kristen Hannah: The story of two sisters as they do what they have to to survive WW2.
- All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer: A beautiful and gut-wrenching story of a blind girl in France during WW2.