Brûly-de-Pesche is a tiny village in the Ardennes reached along a deserted road. You could easily pass through without realising anything about its extraordinary history. But stop to look at the information board near the church and you begin to realise the importance of this place.
It began in the early summer of 1940 when German troops evacuated 28 villages in the region, including Brûly-de-Peche, forcing 27,000 people out of their homes. It was the start of one of the largest secret operations of the Second World War. For 22 days, this tiny village near the French border became Hitler’s command centre for the invasion of France.
The village is still dotted with buildings briefly occupied by the Nazi leaders. The local school became a command centre where generals bent over large maps as tanks moved closer to Paris. The church was converted into a cinema where Hitler would watch German propaganda newsreels on a screen put up in front of the altar.
The site was forgotten for many years until a new visitors’ centre opened in 2015. Its focus is less on Hitler’s brutal invasion plan and more on the lives of ordinary Belgian families forced to leave their homes in 1940. It includes a fascinating section on resistance fighters who hid in the forest at the end of the war. Once you have visited the site, you can follow hiking trails in the woods or eat lunch in the friendly local restaurant La Fontaine.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.