Mary Rose Cook's notebook

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I’m rewatching [Band of Brothers]( I’ve just seen episode six. It’s the one where Easy are besieged in the forest. It’s winter and there is snow everywhere. The soldiers have no proper winter clothing and spend most of their time dodging airstrikes or shivering in their fox holes or getting lost in the fog as they move from one part of the line to another.

The sense of place is really excellent. The programme is fuzzy about the geography of the staging area. I often find myself wondering, Where are those men in relation to those other men? What path did they take to get from that piece of cover to that emplacement? The Bastogne episode is similarly fuzzy on spatial relationships, but it is anchored by a back and forth between the nearest captured town and the line. The medic, the focal character for the episode, spends time shivering with his comrades. After a while, someone gets shot or blown up. The medic takes the casualty to the church that the French are using as a makeshift sick bay. The medic has a cosy exchange with the nurse working there, then goes back to the line.

This back and forth is strengthened by the sense of place. The snowy forest is hushed and anything farther than twenty yards is fogged away. It is weirdly tranquil. The viciousness of the conditions and the fighting accentuates the few flickers of closeness between the soldiers, and makes a sanctuary of the medic’s visits back to the nurse.

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