I’ve been wanting to find a way into the Discworld series but not knowing where to start, I asked folks on library Twitter, and this book was recommended as an entry point. This novel follows Polly Perks as she disguises herself as a man and joins the army in order to find her missing brother. Her ragtag regiment has a lot of individuals not ready for war as well as a vampire, troll, and an Igor. It turns out that Polly is not the only one in the regiment with a secret. Spoiler: It turns out that pretty much every member of the regiment is a woman. This leads to a comical plot where they go undercover disguised as washer women. This is a funny and sharply satirical book, and it does make me want to read more Discworld (recommendations welcome).
Born in the Belgian Congo to a Congolese mother and Belgian father, Augusta Chiwy was brought to Belgium at the age of 9 and was adopted and raised by her aunt. In December 1944, she was training to be a nurse in Leuven, and traveled home to celebrate the holidays with her father and aunt in Bastogne. At the time, the town seemed secure in the hands of American troops, but within days, the German offensive put Bastogne at the edge of the Battle of the Bulge.
US Army physician John Prior set up an aid station in Bastogne and recruited a Belgian nurse Renee Lemaire (later remembered as “The Angel of Bastogne” following her death by a German bomb) and Chiwy to help care for the wounded soldiers. Chiwy helped bring comfort and healing to the wounded with some of the most traumatic injuries, and helped Prior retrieve casualties from the battle field. Chiwy and Prior developed a mutual admiration during the month they worked together, and keep in touch by writing letters over the years.
Otherwise, Chiwy and her contribution during the war was overlooked. The center focus of this documentary is British military historian Martin King, who spent years trying to piece together stories he’d heard of an African nurse in Bastogne and finding out if she was still alive. The movie is obviously a labor of love, and evidently low budget, but the story of Chiwy and Prior is beautifully illustrated with pencil sketches, supplemented by archival photographs and film. The strange thing is that King does finally find Chiwy in Brussels, but she is hardly shown except in a small portion at the end of the movie and for the majority of the film she appears in she doesn’t speak. It’s entirely possible that Chiwy did not wish to be the focus of attention, but it seems awfully odd that she never gets the chance to tell her own story.
Still this documentary offers a glimpse into her heroic life and makes sure she won’t be forgotten.