From immersive and interactive war museums to re-enacting bloody battles on the very site, the war museums and memorials of Wallonia bring important events from the past alive through intimate account and hi-tech storytelling.
Mons Memorial Museum (MMM) – Lest We Forget
The Mons Memorial Museum invites visitors to explore the history of the City of Mons, dating from the middle ages to the Second World War. The Mons city itself is a historic place marked by the two world wars that turned the 20th century upside down.
One of the finest and poignant war museums in western Europe, Mons Memorial Museum displays about 5,000 artefacts from the two World Wars. Historic but strikingly modern it aims to personalise the war experience, focusing as much on the man wielding the weapon as much as the weapons themselves. There are pieces of a soldier’s bread ration, preserved in a bottle; Field Marshall Montgomery’s beret, which he presented to Mons when he was proclaimed a Citizen of Honour in 1946; and German one-tonne bomb – the first in the world, manufactured in 1917.
More intimately, there are numerous recorded interviews with veterans, a large collection of their diaries, postcards and letters written yearningly to sweethearts back home full of hope for a safe return.
Waterloo Memorial Museum – A bloody battle
There is much to see and do in and around the Waterloo battlefield, which can take longer to explore than the nine savage hours of the bloody battle of Waterloo itself on the 18 June 1815 when Napoleon was defeated by the Duke of Wellington and General Marechal Blücher.
The site’s centrepiece is a 141ft high Lion Mound which towers silently over the undulating plains around and is dedicated to the 40,000 men on both sides who lost their lives in one of the fiercest battles war history. Included in the newly inspired battle site, is The Memorial 1815, which now sits underground in the shadow of the mound. There are ten galleries and a high –tech 80ft curved screen. virtual 3D reality goggles visitors are placed at the heart of the battle, with the floor actually moving as the thundering artillery roars. A worthy tribute to a historic battle that marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
Bastogne War Museum & Mardasson – history through storytelling
The Battle of the Bulge turned out to be the bloodiest engagement involving US forces during the entire Second World War. In nearly six weeks of fighting from mid-December 1944 to late January 1945 more than 19,000 American service personnel were killed and 50,000 wounded. Their heavy sacrifice is commemorated at the star-shaped Mardasson Memorial, standing proudly on a hill outside Bastogne. The memorial is engraved with the names of what were then America’s 48 states. In a crypt below the monument are three beautifully decorated altars representing the fallen from the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths.
A short distance away is the strikingly modern Bastogne War Museum devoted to the Battle of the Bulge. Highlights include haunting 3D films with multi-sensory effects: imagine a squad of American GIs silently navigating an Ardennes forest in December 1944 or a tavern in Bastogne during an aerial bombardment, with tanks roaring outside and terrified civilians cowering in the cellar. As you walk through the vast presentation space littered with tanks, jeeps and other military vehicles, you encounter four lifelike characters describing their wartime experiences: a boy from Bastogne, his teacher, a GI and a young German lieutenant. Poignant moments in history come to life and make the realities of war unforgettable.
Plugstreet 14-18 Experience – war history brought to life
Plugstreet 14-18 experience is a must for WW1 history buffs. The pyramid shaped museum uses cutting edge technology in a 400 metres square scenic space to travel in time. Its immersive approach is an immensely moving way to imagine how it was to live in a region torn apart by war.
The village of Ploegsteert, near Ypres or less of a tongue twister ‘Plugstreet’ as it became known by the Brits is a sort of ‘island’ in Wallonia entirely encircled by Flanders and in WW1 it found itself permanently close to the frontline. If you love your war history then come experience what life was like for those living and fighting here during WW1. From soldiers in the freezing trenches to civilians living with the risk of bombardments on their homes. The area is also the site of the famous Christmas truce in 1914 when troops from enemy sides ventured into No Man’s Land to exchange small gifts of alcohol, tobacco and food. A series of impromptu kick about were staged along the frontline that Christmas, a poignant moment when the goodness of human spirit prevailed over the horrors of war.
Bataille des Ardennes Museum – poignant war artefacts
The Battle of the Ardennes Museum in picturesque La Roche-en-Ardenne ensures that Britain’s participation in the battle will never be overlooked. Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery’s men were an integral part of the Allied counter-attack, liberating La Roche and other villages along the River Ourthe in early January 1945. Two hundred British troops were killed in the action, with another 1,400 wounded or missing.
The privately-run museum, spread across three floors, features a remarkable collection of weapons, military vehicles, photographs and personal objects found on the battleground. The atmosphere is heavy with their presence. One of the most interesting corners is the Veterans’ Room, displaying uniforms, memorabilia, even a military Enigma machine many artefacts of which have been donated to the museum by ex-servicemen themselves after visiting the museum.
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Wallonia in the Wars