Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Those Who Hold Bastogne

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 10th January, 2015

Those Who Hold BastogneWith so much attention understandably focussed on World War I last year, it might be easy to forget the enormity of the slaughter and suffering of World War II, though the numbers of civilians killed in the latter conflict was mind-boggling, not least in the Soviet Union. But even if there are fewer World War II place names in Europe to resonate like the Somme or Ypres, some do stand out, not least Bastogne and its role in the Battle of the Bulge. This modest little town in the Belgian Ardennes and its dogged American defenders managed to thwart a great German thrust forward aimed at pushing the Allioed forces that had landed in Normandy in the summer of 1944 back to the beaches. This part of the Battle of the Bulge was fiercely fought, against superior German forces and at terrible cost to the fabric and population of Bastogne. Seventy years on, it is hard to imagine, when one travels through the tranquil and verdant Ardennes, but the reality has been brought to life magnificently by historian Peter Schrijvers in his book Those Who Hold Bastogne (Yale, £18.99). The great strength of the book is that it does not just focus on the fighting men on both sides of the conflict, but instead draws heavily on memories, diaries and letters of the local population. And as with Antony Beevor’s magisterial work Stalingrad, the sheer accumulation of detail, at times minute by minute, drives in the true horror as well as the bravery with the insistence of the tolling of a memorial church bell.

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