The Angel of Bastogne
Renee Lemaire °1914-1944
Birth date Renée 10 April 1914
Father : Gustave, Joseph LEMAIRE – hardware shop owner.
Mother : Bertha, Emilie, Thérèse GALLEE
Sisters : Gisèle born 04 August 1912 – passed away 1991 and Marguerite “Maggy” born 08 July 1916 – passed away 2005.
Death certificate N° 15 written up by Louis Joseph Gustave LECOMTE 1st Alderman City of Bastogne on 12 February 1945.
- Renee Lemaire was born in Bastogne in 1914. Her parents had a hardware store at the Main Square.
She was a nurse and lived in Brussels during the war. In December 1944 she came back to Bastogne to visit her folks.
- On 16 December Adolf Hitler launched his counter offensive into the Ardennes and on 19 december 1944, when the 101st ABD arrived in Bastogne. The Field Hospital set up by the 326 Medical Company was overrun by the German 116 Panzer Group. A lot of medics and nurses were killed or brutally executed.
- On 21 December 1944, the city of Bastogne was completely surrounded by German forces.
- Renee couldn’t get back to Brussels. Because of the lack of medics and nurses ( many were killed on the 19th Dec ), the Americans started to recruit civilians to come and help in the many aid stations and hospitals in and around Bastogne.
- Renee Lemaire volunteered for the job and with her friend Agusta Chiwi, a nurse from Congo, she started to treat wounded American soldiers from the 20th Armored Infantry Battalion at the 10th Armored Division, Combat Command B , aid station. The aid station had moved two times in the past days from Noville to Rue du Vivier and finally to the Route de Neufchateau.
- After Brig McAuliffe’s reply ‘Nuts!’ to the German Ultimatum on 22 Dec and after the fog lifted on 23 Dec, the German Artillery and Luftwaffe started to bomb the center of the city for three days in a row.
- On 24 December, two bombs hit on the 10th AD aid station.
- Renee Lemaire died. Augusta Chiwi survived and still lives in Brussels today.
- Capt Jack T. Prior recovered the upper part of her body, wrapped it in a parachute and brought her back to her parents.
Aid station after being destroyed.Today this place is turned into a Chinese restaurant.
Here are some personal accounts :
The following is an article written by a sergeant who had met Nurse Renee Lemaire and witnessed the bombing of the aid station from his post across the street. It was written to “Tiger Tales” after he read the article by Dr. Prior. More on Nurse Renee Lemaire by William Kerby, 20th AIB
When we pulled back from Noville to Bastogne, Captain Geiger informed me that we were now attached to the Airborne Division. He stated that we were going into reserve and would be used when needed. He said to look for a billet for your men and to notify him of our whereabouts. I found a nice three-story building with a big basement. The first floor was a 5 and 10 cent store with a large kitchen at the rear. The second and third floors were living quarters. While in the basement, we started a small fire with what we thought was play money that we found in the corner of the basement along with a broken chair. (About a month later, we found out that it was real money). Down the stairs came Dr. Naftulin and Nurse Renee Lemaire. He introduced her to me and said they were looking for a building that would serve as an aid station. They left for about fifteen minutes. When they returned, Dr. Naftulin said, “Sergeant, this basement would make an excellent aid station.” I told him that was fine, and he could have it. I stated that I would take my men elsewhere to find another billet. We moved down and across the street about forty yards. The house was on the side of a hill. You could walk in the door from the roadside and go down a flight of stairs, walk in and out into the backyard. There we dug foxholes and a latrine. On Christmas Eve, we were told that the Germans had parachuted men in white uniforms around Bastogne. I posted guards at each corner of the building. My post was facing the aid station about thirty-five or forty yards away. All of a sudden the night sky was brighter than the Las Vegas strip from the magnesium flares that the German bomber pilots had dropped. A few seconds later, the first German bomber dropped his first bomb on the aid station, a direct hit. The second bomb landed in our backyard and wiped out all our empty foxholes, leaving only the latrine … Thanks God!!!! The second German bomber dropped down to strafe us with machine gun fire. All the GI’s started to shoot at the plane with machine guns, rifles and carbines. He dropped a bomb that was a direct hit on a building two doors from ours. That building just happened to be a distillery. The bottles flew all over, and some were found two weeks later in the snow banks. I faced toward the aid station and Renee Lemaire was helping some wounded GI’s out of the building. She went back in the building and came out helping more wounded yelling, “Help, help, water, water.” The flames from the fire were intensifying. She was safe and sound out of the building but decide to go back in and help. Renee Lamaire never returned. The woman was a heroine and a saint. I am an eyewitness to these above facts. In 1994, the 50th anniversary of Renee Lemaire’s death a ceremony was held in Bastogne, Belgium, and a memorial plaque in her honor was placed on the building that now stands where the aid station had been. Dr. Prior was responsible for having this plaque placed in her honor where his hospital once stood. He and many other members of the 20th Armored Infantry Battalion will never forget this fine young lady.
December 24th was another day of constant shelling. General McAuliffe sent his famous Christmas message to the troops asking them, “What’s merry about this Christmas?” He added that they were cold and hungry and not at home, but that they had stopped four Panzer divisions, two infantry divisions and one Parachute division. He concluded his message saying that we were giving our loved ones at home a Merry Christmas and that we were all privileged to take part in this gallant feat of arms. At 8:30 p.m. Christmas Eve, I was in a building next to my hospital preparing to go next door and write a letter for a young lieutenant to his wife. The lieutenant was dying of a chest wound. As I was about to step out the door for the hospital one of me men asked if I knew what day it was, pointing out that on Christmas Eve we should open a Champagne bottle. As the two of us filled our cups, the room, which was well blackened out, became as bright as an arc welders torch. Within a second or two we heard the screeching sound of the first bomb we had ever heard. Every bomb as it descends seems to be pointed right at you. We hit the floor as a terrible explosion next door rocked our building. I ran outside to discover that the three-story apartment serving as my hospital was a flaming pile of debris about six feet high. The night was brighter than day from the magnesium flares the German bomber pilot had dropped. My men and I raced to the top of the debris and began flinging burning timber aside looking for the wounded, some of whom were shrieking for help. At this juncture the German bomber, seeing the action, dropped down to strafe us with his machine guns. We slid under some vehicles and he repeated this maneuver several times before leaving the area. Our team headquarters about a block away also received a direct hit and was soon in flames. A large number of men soon joined us and we located a cellar window (they were marked by white arrows on most European buildings). Some men volunteered to be lowered into the smoking cellar on a rope and two or three injured were pulled out before the entire building fell into the cellar. I estimated that about twenty injured were killed in this bombing along with Renee Lemaire. It seems that Renee had been in the kitchen as the bomb came down and she either dashed into, or was pushed into the cellar before the bomb hit. Ironically enough, all those in the kitchen were blown outdoors since one wall was all glass. I gathered what patients I still had and transported them to the riding hall hospital of the Air Borne division. At about 2:00 a.m. Christmas morning the bomber returned and totally destroyed a vacant building next to the smoldering hospital. I have often wondered how the pilot picked this hospital as a target. There were no external marking but, as some of the men said, the bomb must have come down the chimney. Many tanks and half tracks were parked bumper to bumper in the street in front of the hospital so it seems probable he simply picked an area of high troop concentration. Before our unit left Bastogne we dissected the hospital rubble and identified the majority of the bodies, including Renee Lemaire. I brought her remains to her parent encased in the white parachute she so dearly wanted. I also wrote the following commendation for her and forwarded it to our Commanding General:
20th Armored Infantry Battalion
APO 260, US Army
1 January 1945
SUBJECT: Commendation for Renee Bernadette
Emilie Lemaire (deceased)
To: Commanding General
10th Armored Division
APO 260, US Army
(Attn: Division Surgeon)
As Battalion Surgeon, 20th Armored Infantry Battalion, I am commending a commendation for Renee Lemaire on the following evidence:
This girl, a registered nurse in the country of Belgium, volunteered her services at the aid station, 20th Armored Infantry Battalion in Bastogne, Belgium, 21 December, 1944. At this time the station was holding about 150 patients since the city was encircled by enemy forces and evacuation was impossible. Many of these patients were seriously injured and in great need of immediate nursing attention. This girl cheerfully accepted the herculean task and worked without adequate rest or food until the night of her untimely death on 24 December, 1944. She changed dressings, fed patients unable to feed themselves, gave out medications, bathed and made the patients more comfortable, and was of great assistance in the administration of plasma and other professional duties. Her very presence among those wounded men seemed to be an inspiration to those whose morale had declined from prolonged suffering. On the night of December 24 the building in which Renee Lemaire was working was scored with a direct hit by an enemy bomber. She, together with those whom she was caring for so diligently, were instantly killed.
It is on these grounds that I recommend the highest award possible to one, who though not a member of the armed forces of the United States, was of invaluable assistance to us.
Jack T. Prior
Renee Bernadette Emilie Lemaire
Place du Carré 30