History you can feel in your bones – a WHF506 tour review

All the wonderfully framed photos are by Stuart Bertie. You can find Stuart on Twitter or Instagram.

It’s still pitch dark when we arrive at the Bois Jacques on Sunday morning. Unlike the last time we visited, back in November of last year, a layer of snow covers everything, and the temperature has dropped well below zero, at minus eight.

Almost everyone from our group of 40-plus people is here this morning, a little quieter than usual, either in anticipation of what is to come or because we are all still trying to pull ourselves from sleep.

Reg Jans – our tour guide – recites a prayer.

Men, I am not a religious man and I don't know your feelings in this matter, but I am going to ask you to pray with me for the success of the mission before us. And while we pray, let us get on our knees and not look down but up with faces raised to the sky so that we can see God and ask His blessing in what we are about to do:

God almighty, in a few short hours we will be in battle with the enemy.
We do not join battle afraid.
We do not ask favors or indulgence but ask that,
if You will, use us as Your instrument for the right and an aid in returning peace to the world.
We do not know or seek what our fate will be.
We ask only this,
that if die we must,
that we die as men would die,
without complaining,
without pleading
and safe in the feeling that we have done our best for what we believed was right.
O Lord, protect our loved ones
and be near us in the fire ahead
and with us now as we pray to you.

And then we head into the woods with our torches. The crunch of snow underneath my wheelchair reminds me of when I was a child, maybe five or six. The difference is that I walked everywhere back then, and the snow cracked under my boots rather than my wheels, and my then colourful outfit has been replaced by layers of black The North Face gear. It’s colder now, too.

The Bois Jacques are eerily quiet. There isn’t any wind, and once we find a foxhole and everyone is silent for a second or two, it’s haunting. There’s nothing between the pines but puffs of our breaths… or is there? The woods breathe a history you can feel in your bones.

That was one of the most remarkable sights I’ve seen on this ‘Band of Brothers Tour’ this weekend and probably the most memorable. But what really made the weekend great was the people.

Old friends – Geertjan, who was with me for the second time, and our little ‘quiet bunch’ without whom these tours wouldn’t be half as fun. These friends are friends for life, and I feel sad to have parted ways again. 

And new friends. I love having instant connections over something creative – thanks for sharing your talents, Stuart. Looking forward to a little collab.

And, of course, the lovely people who make all this happen, Leighton and Matt. Matt, I know we joke a lot, but I really do love ya to bits. Leighton, man, you deserve some kind of award. This must have been one stressful weekend for you.

And then there’s the little thing of meeting the people who made Band of Brothers into the masterpiece it is. Matt – Doug, Shane and Lucie. I didn’t get to talk to you as much as I would have liked, but it’s an honour to have your signatures on my art. It’s a thing that has intensified my love for the show and combined it with more passion for my art. It’s just so cool. Thank you.

Especially Shane, because your performance of Doc Roe in ‘Bastogne’ in particular launched this whole art adventure almost exactly a year ago. Doc Roe has always been my favourite ever since I first saw the show when it came out while I was in high school. Now, eighteen paintings on, I love every character I’ve painted, but Doc will forever be the first. And look at what that painting has brought me. Weekends like the one we’ve had, friends I will never forget and a sense of family that I’m not sure I’ve felt anywhere else. Am I sentimental? Yes. Am I lying? No.

Going home always makes me sad. I call it the ‘Post Tour Blues’, which always hits me hard. But given how tired I was and still am, it’s probably for the best. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, though, and I can’t wait for the next adventure. Currahee.

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  • Rita Gonzalez

    Love this!!!! I definitely feel a connection with this group as well its an unexplained feeling of feeling I belong to a group of people who I share these great love of history and of course the Band of Brothers! Though I missed this trip, Im so grateful for your post and pictures and I will see you on the next tour!

  • Mark Paul

    What an amazing write up. I agree with every word. See you at the next one, it was lovely to have met you x

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