As the saying goes, “history is written by the victors”. Director Michael Edwards’ “The Forgotten Angel of Bastogne” dares to revise the history of Bastogne during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge by highlighting the heroic, herculean efforts performed by a black nurse amidst a racist era. After decades without praise, this documentary gives honor to a very deserving, courageous figure in history.
The film tells the story of Augusta Chiwy, a young nurse born of Congolese and Belgian descent, who with one trip home for Christmas had her life changed forever. In December of 1944, Augusta’s father asked her to come home to Bastogne for the holiday. She made a long trek from Louvain, Belgium to Bastogne. What should have been a few hours turned into an almost day long trip due to the Nazis pushing forward in what’s now known as the Battle of the Bulge.
After arriving in Bastogne, swarms of wounded and dying American soldiers poured in to the local aid station. Augusta was asked to help Dr. John Prior at the station, which turned into a triage facility overnight. She worked tirelessly side by side with Prior to save lives in some of the most gruesome scenes imaginable. The pair had to use crude, makeshift surgical instruments, and make due with a lack of supplies. While there, she also worked alongside nurse Renee Lemaire, who has been regarded as the “Angel of Bastogne” since she was the only documented nurse at the aid station due to her race.
The documentary takes nothing away from Lemaire, who deserves the title as history shows, but brings evidence to the forefront that Augusta deserves as much credit for the efforts she made during those brutal days. Perhaps Augusta’s story would still be rumored if not for Martin King, a military historian and authority on the Battle of the Bulge, who set out to find the truth of Augusta’s story. The film presents us with a parallel story of the historical event and the present hunt for the truth by Martin.
For those who love history, and those that don’t, what makes this documentary worth seeing is how it brings history to life. Historical photos are displayed throughout the documentary but are infused with moving graphics and sound effects to help viewers be immersed in the moment. Nuanced touches, like light coming through a window of one of its still illustrations, make small details visually stimulating and engaging. The combination of clear historical storytelling and a present day mystery hunt makes for a riveting documentary.
While the documentary presents us with an abundance of history at times, it does a good job of keeping it organized and digestible for the average person. Augusta Chiwy took a stand to save lives regardless of the dangers around her, soldiers who didn’t want her help based on her skin color, and never retreated because it was the right thing to do. It’s that type of character that makes the story worth telling and the documentary worth watching. So many stories of heroism by minorities have been lost to history due to prejudice. This documentary and Martin King’s fight to tell her story, puts Augusta Chiwy in the annals of history where she belongs!
Check out my interview with director Michael Edwards below!
Here's the trailer for the film: