Grandad’s Diary 1st-7th April 1945

Entries for week beginning 1st April 1945

1st-4th April – Touched Holland but recrossed frontier after few miles. Countryside similar but not so many of our large villages. Entered Germany but didn’t see any signs of Sigfuld Line. Damage everywhere. Every house in ruins. What a sight of ruination. Landed near Rhine below Walsam and near Rhineberg. On advanced wing H.Q. Not a sign of civilians and everywhere shelled to hell I suppose from both sides. Dead cattle lying about and huge pile of contents outside each house. Looted and thrown uselessly to one side. Ridiculous and shameful I think. Here pianos stolen by officers. Pork very often. Just bill whatever is needed and all lost -concious.

5th April – Pathetic to see refugees returning and passing by with bundle of all they have left. Imagine Poland etc. Can’t agree with official attitude re: treatment of Germans.

6th-7th April – Think it will come back against those who try to solve post war world peace. More and more refugees passing by. Clearing up dead animals now beginning to smell. Wagons carrying POWs packed like sardines. One turning corner had sideboards crashed and scattered Jerry on to road killing few of them. Still no mail. Yanks very good to us. Much better than British conditions. Yank delight in wrecking.

Wow! What a week! Grandad is finally in Germany and the entries are full of theorising and opinion. He doesn’t think much of the treatment of Germans and think it will come back to those seeking peace after the war. He think the looting is shameful. He observes that US soldiers (the yanks) have better conditions than their British counterparts, but they delight in wrecking things. He observes that German prisoners of war are killed by being packed too tightly in a lorry.

Remarkable.

When he mentions the ‘Sigfuld Line’ at the beginning, I imagine he is talking of the ‘Siegfried Line‘, which was Gemany’s equivalent of the French Maginot Line – that great, outdated defensive system that was thwarted by Germany’s use of the tank.

Grandad’s Diary 25th-31st March 1945

Entries for the week beginning 25th March 1945

25th March – Spent several hours sunning on the shore lovely place for it. Called “Blackpool of Belgium.” How these people dress. Men effeminate, women so neat & fetching.

26th March – Plenty of mines still about. One soldier had narrow escape treading on mine in ruined house and got away with scratches. People and people ********. Masses of troops here now.

27-28th March – Went to Ostende plenty of shops and canteens. Could have good night life there I imagine. Returned by tram.. Many more casualties on beach by mines. Crowds by beach last week-end yet no accidents. Today soldiers due for leave tomorrow were blown up and killed. Beach roped off and out of bounds.

29th March – Went to Bruges. Prices up since last week. Visited Knocke full of troops. This place was well fortified and like many more will take ages to clear up.

30th March – Nothing to remind me of Easter apart from crowds going to Church. Otherwise all normal in town. Fed up here and wishing for more. Sent parcel home.

31st March – More at last. Standing by for Rhine job. Still no mail. Issued with khaki again. On way tomorrow. 200 miles trip. 27 us volunteers. Trip uneventful and monotonous. Country same throughout feat. pastoral, long straight roads. Plenty of cafes. Through Antwerp under mile long tunnel. Great damage glad to be away from there. Through Belgium.

I get a real sense of tension from this week. It’s as though Grandad preferred the operations in the farmsteads and being back in Blankeberge and waiting for whatever comes next is worse.

This sense of tension is amplified by the mines on the beach – the “Blackpool of Belgium” hiding these terrible explosive secrets. How awful it is to hear of the soldiers about to return home and yet to lose their lives the day before they get to go home, just as they are beginning to relax.

And now Grandad is on his way to beyond Belgium – past all the horrors of war-torn Antwerp and closer to the front line. I wonder what comes next?

I just can’t get that word in the 26th March entry: “confidence”, “coincidence”, “energetic”? I can’t tell and that sentence doesn’t make sense to me anyway.

Grandad’s Diary. 19-24th March 1945

Entries for this week.

19th – 21st March. Lull in doodies but getting up earlier for operations. Other flight standing by for move to Rhine. Wonder if we will go. heard that Bill Whatling was over here on craft. also Jock Phillips. Smashing weather and plenty of work. Joined by crew from other flight. This squadron with very little systems for operational duties. Many bombers passing on way to Germany. Rockets on way to England. Not heard from Tom.

22nd March. More gen (duff) as to what is likely to happen. Rhine most popular fancy. Definitely going to Blankenberge on Saturday.

23rd March. Talking to man from St. Nichs on jetty. First time in 5 years he had seen Scheldt. Told of German hardships. Brother fined 100,000 francs for celebrating publicly loss of Bismarck.

24th March. 60,000 Jerries passed through Dock port. Left for Blank. Sorry to leave, especially the good people in the billet, and don’t fancy staying in Blank too long. Only 2 crews return. No idea what is happening to the others. We are not popular with the heads of our own squadron.

This is the week that Grandad is on the move again. The Doodlebug threat is lessening and while the odd V2 rocket still flies past to England, more and more Allied bombers are seen going the other way. The tide turned back at D-Day and now is beginning to race into Germany itself, with talk of Grandad’s unit being moved to the Rhine.

It’s still only talk though. His use of the RAF slang word ‘duff’ indicates that he knows the men are just gossiping about it. In fact, there are some interesting insights into the Balloon ‘Flights’ here. It seems that Grandad is not that impressed with the other flight – their systems are just not up to scratch. Also, Grandad does not think the high-ups in the squadron are impressed with the ballon units. This could be Grandad hinting at the other flight having broughr both local balloon units a bad reputation, or it could be that by now the commanders have realised that the balloon units are not that effective at a tactical level. I can’t tell.

It’s nice to hear Grandad mentioning some names of friends. I have no idea who Tom is and why he should be significant.

And finally the insight that is most fascinating to me is hearing views from the locals. We hear again of the difficulties of living under occupation – the man at the jetty tells his story of his brother landing an almighty fine from the German authorities for celebrating the loss of the Bismarck. The Bismark’s success in sinking HMS Hood, symbol for Rule Britannia, had hurt British morale badly at the lowest point of the war for the UK, so the sinking of the Bismark must have had a similar impact on German forces, hence the harsh fine.

Grandad’s Diary. 18th March 1945

Entries for 18-24th March 1945

Night of coweard given by RAF and civvies for local poor. Heard money to go to central Church fund. racket local. People derive no benefit.

I can’t get that third word.

But it seems that the RAF have tried to raise some money for the poor, but Grandad feels that they will not actually benefit from it due to the local racket.

It’s all a bit bleak.

Grandad’s Diary. 17th March 1945

Entry for 17th March 1945

Round cafes with lads. Irish element till midnight. Ness drunk. Allen sick. Ralph with his bottle of genuine cognac. No different to shop stuff. Definite taste of meths. Said to cause blindness. Gin different colour same taste.

There is a definite change of pace now from the fear and tension of a few entries ago to this entry, which is essentially a drinking diary. It is lovely to get this personal touch of how the troops celebrated St. Patrick’s Day 75 years ago.

Of course, this year, much of the St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak…

Grandad’s Diary 16th March 1945

Entry for 16th March 1945

Went to St. Nick. Traveled all around town unsuccessfully to sell raincoat. No use for civvies. These people want the better of all transactions.

Ah. Woe the warrior just trying to buy some eggs. Presumably Grandad has seen that with the weather turning he can supplement his diet if only he could have some spare cash. And if the post on 13-14th March is anything to go by, he may well have borrowed a load of money and needs to pay it back. But the locals are not having it.

Is it me, or has Grandad cut a couple of corners with his handwriting in recent posts? Or am I not giving him the benefit of the doubt with his words. I’m thinking particularly of the words that I have translated ‘travelled’ and ‘around’, which look more like ‘traied’ and ‘ones’.

Grandad’s Diary 15th March 1945

Entry for 15th March 1945

Tired from yesterday. Smashing weather again. Great excitement in village over swap of French and some women. of course they all want one.

I’m not quite sure what I’m reading here. I don’t know whether the ‘great excitement’ is a good thing – some sort of prisoner swap, or a bad thing, such as this article I found about the treatment of women who were thought to have been collaborators.

I hope they may be other clues to this sort of thing as the diary continues.

Grandad’s Diary 13-14th March 1945

Entries on 13-14th March 1945

Doodies on different track along Scheldt on other sides. few rockets falling. Went to Ghent. Lovely weather. shopping. Spent everything in e. zoo it homewards. Many things unobtainable in England. Bought a watch. Taf stole one. Cinema show. Exodus of town at 10 pin.

There is more evidence in these entries that the Doodlebug bombardment is lessening, but I have to admit that I’ve made a bad job of translating today’s post. I can’t work out what the last line on 13th March is, and I have no interpretation for the last line on 14th March either. It loooks to me that this entry is all about one day, but whether it was the 13th or the 14th, I don’t know.

Did Grandad send something homewards? Did he go to a zoo? Did someone from his unit steal a watch? Was that person Welsh? All of these answers I will probably never know.

A quick bit of research shows me that Ghent had a zoo, but it closed in 1905, so it is unlilely that Grandad visited a zoo. Maybe that should read 200.

Ah. Now I see it could say ‘borrowed’. Maybe that line should read “spent everything in and 200 I borrowed”. Perhaps.

Grandad’s Diary. 12th March 1945

Entry for 12th March

Some of the lads gone to Rhine for hauling supplies. Went to St. Nicks for bath. Doodies quieter wonder if Jerry evacuating Holland.

Is it me, or does Grandad have a bath every Tuesday? How civilised.

Meanwhile could it be that the oppresive threat of the doodlebug bomardment is coming to an end. Grandad doesn’d know for sure – all he knows is that fewer are coming over. Could it be that the Germans have fired them all and are now running away? Of course these days we could find out that sort of information from a range of news channels, radio, Twitter and so on, but Grandad, unless he was informed by military channels or rumour from people he met, just had to guess…

Grandad’s Diary. 11th March 1945

Entries for 11th-17th March 1945

Called at farm where doodie fell. Pathetic to see looks on peoples faces. Simply broken hearted, so helpless against this sudden death out of the skies. More and more doodies but better war news.

A really sad entry, harking back to the previous entry in which Grandad had reported that a lady had died at a farm from a Doodlebu hit. It is interesting how the use of the word ‘pathetic’ has changed – these days we only tend to use it do indicate ‘feeble’ or ‘laughable’, but Grandad clearly writes it in the old fashioned sense of ‘arousing feelings of pity or grief’.