Nine years ago, in 2008, Bob Konings and his wife Eveline moved from The Netherlands to the Ardennes. They turned their lives around and started a Bed & Breakfast, Bo Temps, in the little village of Grandmenil, Belgium. At the time Bob did not have a single clue of what happened there during the 2nd World War. Today, Bob is an active researcher for the Battle of the Bulge that took place in December 1944 and January 1945. He runs several research projects and also serves as a battle tour guide in the area. I decided to ask Bob more about his life.
What is it like to live in the middle of the Belgian Ardennes surrounded by World War 2 History?
‘It is very fascinating. You are so close where all those guys were and where all the fights took place. You still can see so many traces of war, like foxholes and huge craters. And of course: talking to civilians who experienced war is very interesting. They have a complete other point of view.’
Why did you decide to move to Grandmenil and start a B&B?
‘I used to be a teacher for young adults and we had a bureau in relationship counselling. At one point my wife and I decided to make a huge turn in our lives. The plan was to start a B&B and run the bureau in the Ardennes. It took us over four years to find the proper house and to jump into a complete new and different life. It was only just before we moved out, I realized that there were huge fights going on in my new hometown during Christmas 1944.’
Is this where your passion for World War 2 History started?
‘It wasn’t my plan to start researching the battle of the bulge. That was by accident. I did not know anything about this war. Because we live in a village with one of the few left Panthers, I decided to write down some stories about the events that took place during Christmas 1944. Before I knew, I was researching a lot of other places. At this moment I work with people from the Netherlands, England, US and Flanders. When I started, I was only researching the Grandmenil area. Now we are over the whole Ardennes looking for little and unknown stories.’
Are you only interested in the Battle of the Bulge, or also other areas in WW2 History?
‘Yes, I am working only on the Battle of the Bulge. There is so much to discover and research. We like to zoom in on stories and that takes a lot of time. I realize that World War 1 is also very interesting but it’s the lack of time that withholds me. We are already working on several projects. Can’t have it all….’
What does research in the Battle of the Bulge mean to you?
‘Well, it is a passion. When you read stories, hear stories from veterans and civilians, it is just great to find more details about it. Imagine that each individual who was here, could change history by just make a decision to turn left on a road. And they all have stories. And it is not only bad stories, but also a lot of anecdotes. Those stories must be preserved and be told, so we never forget what happened over here.’
How and when did you start being a tour guide?
‘I decided that about 7 years ago. I had so much stories and people started ask me to take them on a tour. At that point I thought “What the heck, I can do that too, tell all these stories on the exact spot where those guys stood and where important events took place.” It is one way to make research affordable and it is great to do.’
Is there any tour you are working on right now?
‘We just finished the complete Joachim Peiper tour. I am still working on the paper version that will be placed on the website. At this very moment I am working on the 83rd Infantry Division combined with the 3rd Armored Division tour and the events that took place in the area of Hebronval, stretching all the way to Gouvy. And I am working on a combined 3rd Armored Division and 75th Infantry Division tour in the Hotton area. So, quite some work to do.’
What is so refreshing about your new tour?
‘What I hear back from the people who were with me on a try out, it is the amount of personal stories, the pictures I have and my enthusiasm. Also, many times older civilians show up at the scene and start telling their stories. As a researcher and tour guide I am addicted to new stories, go out in the fields and go deep in the mud if I have to.’
Is there any favorite unit or place that you like to research?
‘I have a big respect for the 75th Infantry Division. If you read their stories, you see that they made mistakes in the beginning of the battles. But, they were completely new and totally unexperienced. During the battles you see they are getting smarter and getting used to the German army. They did a great job throughout the Ardennes. I also have big respect for the 3rd Armored Division and 83rd Infantry Division. They fought together for a long way. Started in Normandy and got together again in the Hurtgen and Ardennes.’
Are you doing any metal detecting to support your research?
‘Although metal detecting in the Ardennes is forbidden, I was so smart to ask a permission for my own area (Manhay community), which I got. We use the metal detecting normally at the end of a research. If we finish a story, I call up a few guys of the team and we will go out in the woods or fields, looking for evidence. And many times we find stuff.’
What is your opinion when it comes to metal detecting on the WW2 battlefields?
‘There are a lot of guys walking around with a metal detector. I fully understand the fun and the excitement of running around in the woods. But, it is a pity that a lot of the history of it disappears in crates and boxes on attacks. We bag everything, so we know where it comes from. I detest people who take away human remains and people who search on temporary cemeteries and next to the US cemeteries. This has nothing to do with preserving history. Most of these guys call them self “relic hunter” and are not interested in the history at all. There are also a lot of people who dig holes and leave these open. Really annoying… It gives our hobby a bad name.’
What does your family think of your battlefield research activities?
‘They all fully support it. My wife sometimes goes out interviewing civilians or on a reconnaissance mission in the woods when we start up a new investigation. My sons Tom and Ben run their small museum in the backyard and are highly interested in the stories. (They hate to go out on a metal detection mission). And my wife is really patience with me. During investigations and metal detect-sessions, my house fills up with all kinds of metal. My basement and garage are sometimes stacked with stuff. She’s ok with it, as long it’s not blocking our other work.’
Do you have any other passions or hobbies besides studying WW2?
‘I used to play guitar but that faded when we moved to the Ardennes. Because both my sons are playing music, it all comes back. So, I am picking up that other big passion: Music.
The rest of the time I am working in the B&B. Lots of stuff to do.’
Living in the Ardennes, studying WW2, touring people around… It sounds like a dream. Is there anything else you’d like to achieve?
‘Yes it is. Meeting new people is one of the advantages of running the B&B.. I made a lot of new friends during the nine years we are living here. It is hard work and long days, but it is all worth it.
In future I hope to tell my collected stories to a bigger audience by doing lectures, supported by pictures and video.’
Is there anything we should know?
‘Well, this one is for in your agenda. On the 15th, 16th and 17th of December we have a BIG event in Grandmenil. Over 100 vehicles and 200 re-enactors are coming this way. It is going to be great. So, I hope to see you all over here during the events. And, don’t forget to take a look at my websites! www,grandmenil.com and www.battle-of-the-bulge.be‘