Grandad’s Diary. 13-14th May 1945

Entries for 13-14th May 1945

To Ostend. Board D. of York. Amuse soldiers by amount of kit we carry. Most of it loot. What a job getting it aboard. Lovely fast crossing. At Tilbury then to Fairlop. getting cleared remustered etc. ready for leave. Dance at Ilford Hospital. Plenty to eat and drink. Good do.

We’ve finally made it.

That was the last entry into Grandad’s Diary, and like all good adventures it finished with a party.

It must have been awkward for Grandad, have written so condemningly of the practice of taking loot to then find it so physically difficult to get onto their boat home, The Duke of York.

But it’s over at last: Grandad’s entries into this little book finish on 14th May with the above words.

I have a few more thoughts and reflections, but they can wait.

Grandad’s Diary 12th May 1945

Entry for 12th May 1945

Lovely day on beach. Such a fine stretch of sand. more fighting and destruction here between Belgians. Belgian soldiers taking over duties to relieve English and Yanks.

And today another post of contrasts. The war is definitely over for Grandad. VE day has passed and he can enjoy a lovely day on the beach at ‘The Blackpool of Belgium’: Blankenberge. But this is against the background of Belgians getting their own back on those who collaborated with the Germans. Wikipedia tells me that there are 27 pages on Belgians who collaborated with Nazi Germany. The generic references to trouble with collaborators from Grandad would indicate that there were quite a few more.

Grandad’s Diary. 11th May 1945

Entry for 11th May 1945

Preparing for Sunday procession. Decided increase of good feeling for this thing. Go to Blankenberge on way to Blighty.

It’s been an emotional rollercoaster in recent days. The tension of the doodlebugs. The disappointment of the behaviour of the officers. The relief of the end of the war. The shock at the treatment of the collaborators. And now an increase in good feeling.

Grandad’s Diary. 10th May 1945

Entry for 10th May 1945

All non B/os posted on continent posted on continent. Cross in dock with poles Nuns and kiddies sing for us our anthems. Cheers

I don’t know if I’m having ‘diary fatigue’ but I’m not getting any better at translating this thing. It seems that today Grandad had some people sing some songs for him. And anyone not in a balloon squadron has been give posting details somewhere on the continent. The middle bit: the ‘poles’ and the ‘cross in dock’. I don’t know what’s going on there.

Grandad’s Diary. 6th May 1945

Entries for week beginning 6th May 1945

Many celebrating V day but not official. People waiting for announcement parading the streets and standing in crowds.

Ah. The calm before the party… A full week ago Grandad observed the Dutch partying prematurely, and now the Belgians are at it. I wonder how much premature partying happened on the streets of the UK at this time. Tomorrow’s post on “V-Day” is strange because there is some confusion about whether VE day is 7th or 8th March.

Grandad’s Diary. 4-5th May 1945

Entries for 4th and 5th May 1945

4th May – Lots of the Squadron other than B/05 posted. Varying rumours about us. Went to Antwerp and had a very hectic time.

5th May – Disappointed in seeing such a small shopping centre there in such a big city. Fine brickwork on Cathedral but many fine building damaged or destroyed. Fine big stores well set and far superior to ours.

Antwerp had been the city, even beyond London, most targeted by V1 and V2 bombs – we saw that in posts from Grandad near the start of this diary. It moust have been strange for him to visit it finally and appreciate it for what it was and what it had been.

Also I see that Grandad is still in this in between time of not knowing what will be coming up next. It must have been an anxious feeling.

Grandad’s Diary. 29th April – 3rd May 1945

Entries for week beginning 29th April 1945

29th April – Told today to pack in and deflate we return to 980 at St. Nicholas tomorrow morning but what a trip if this lousy weather holds.

30th April – What a cold run on such rough roads. Almost sick passing through Holland. People with orange and national flags. Thought war was over.

1st-3rd May – At St. Nicholas make whoopee. Conflicting reports of Hitler’s death. B/05 returning to Blighty. Rumours to form new squadron. Is it for SEAC? Saw Jock Phillips. Another good hectic night but late and got 3 days. Rather hot on 11.0 curfew. These Belgians good only for money and women. Men effeminate. Can understand rottenness in this country. Standing by for what. remustering. Blight. SEAC. demob group?

If the last few week’s have seen the beginning of the end, surely we are now in the end now. This week Grandad has learnt that Hitler has died and that some sort of new existence is surely on the cards.

Evidence suggests that Hitler died on 30th April and Grandad heard the first news of that on the following day. This was after travelling through Holland and seeing people flying the Dutch orange flag freely for the first time in 6 years.

And now the question looms: what next? SEAC was the South East Asian Command, and it was pertinent because even though the war in Europe was drawing rapidly to a close, the War in the East was still raging on, and until the use of Nuclear Weapons in Japan it looked like it may continue for some time yet. There was a very real possibility that Grandad could be deployed there.

And what prejudice against the Belgians! Grandad wrote very kindly and generously about the Belgians that he billeted with and those in the farms nearby, but has been less than generous about some aspects of life in Belgium at that time, including the prevailing black market and a generally disparaging attitude towards Belgian men. It seems a bit harsh to ascribe rottenness to the whole country on account of a few of their menfolk coming across as being slightly effeminate.

And I wonder what Grandad means by ‘got 3 days’ Did he actually get drunk and punished? That does not seem like the Grandad I knew, nor the father my Mum talks about, but as Grandad has seen throughout his time in Europe, people are capable of amazing things and I suppose he is no different…

Grandad’s Diary. 22nd-28th April 1945

Entries for week beginning 22nd April 1945

22nd April – Bumped into Jack Davies who was in our first crew at Moss Bank. Bill Whatling here in dock for fortnight. Spending our days doing jobs simply to pass away our time.

23rd April – Got two oranges today with rations. Plenty of good grub yet. 974 Squadron packing up. Groupie called at camp for usual officers sightseeing tour and looting expedition.

24-25th April – Everybody not so enthusiastic as to chances of going home. Only move likely to be to Wesel to rest of squadron. It is said Yankee General won’t allow us to move. He wants us for bridges even now.

26th April – Thousands of Jerry PoWs just outside Rheinberg. Big camp for displaced people in Wesel. Yanks taking some of the bridges down. One of the boys at Wesel damaged by mine. Trod on trip wire.

27-28th April – Heard that four Yanks lost their way underground in a Saltmine while on a looting expedition. Had been missing for three days and all attempts to contact them without success. Weather very poor. Cold wet windy. Very miserable and boys browned off realising futility of the the job and lack of any social life.

Again, the feeling this week is of uselessness. The only reason my Grandad is still here is because of an American General feeling nervous about his bridges, and so wanting the barrage balloons up just in case. And so Grandad has to wait.

And he provides more evidence here of looting. Again groups organised by the officers arrive to have a ‘tour’, which includes looting. Not only that but 4 yankee soldiers have been lost down a saltmine on a looting expedition. There is no clue here as to whether they were found. Looting of art was a theme throughout the war, but the fact that on the Allied side there was looting too seems to have been often overlooked, although there is plenty of evidence that it happened. There is a saltmine near Wesel, but the famous looting-artwork-saltmine incident of the war involved the Merkers Saltmine, which is close to the centre of Germany, although who, knows, perhaps this is what inspired our lost Yankee soldiers.

15th-21st April

Entries for week beginning 15th April

15th April – Told that Germany has to feed Belgium and Holland and to have smaller rations herself. Hence activity on ost farms etc.

16th April – Two British POWs called today after escaping. On way home went to Wessel. Many damaged bridges across river including one blown up by our bombs. Well fortified here.

17th April – C.O. given german car intends to sell it for 5 gold watches. So he has painted it green and made it appear RAF car. Lovely hot weather.

18th April – Passed through Wessel. Most ruined place I have seen. Awful 11000 civilians believed killed. Yanks still building bridge over Rhine. One dedicated to to Roosevelt.

19th April – Dismantled Jerry winch of site for Candenstory. Foresee much study for some old bounders. First havient for 5 weeks. 95th Sqdn returned home.

20th April – Good trip. Almost too many bombers over again. Conference today at long probably to decide if and when we go home. Told that Rhoda was a mother of a son on 16th.

21st April – 980 not gone back but standing by for dispersal. Hear that TAF want all men. Plenty of rumours as to when and where we return. 976 packing in and plenty of activity on behalf of officers. No need for us here now but hear Yankee general wants us about. On the other hand, Yankee officers say we can go.

I had some problems with the 19th April. There are a few words I cannot translate and it means I can render very little meaning from that entry.

However the overall feeling of this week is one of ‘making up the numbers’. Grandad’s unit only seems to have one job during the week – the one that I can’t quite work out properly on the 19th. And then there’s the talk of units packing up and Grandad’s assertion that they are not needed. It seems that they are only still here because an American general wants them around.

Wessel, or Wesel was a strategic port on the Rhine that was heavily bombed prior to it’s capture. 97% of its building were destroyed. I’m not sure about the civilian deaths that Grandad refers to – its population certainly fell from 25000 before the war to 1900 upon capture, but whether that was from bombings or evacuation, I don’t know.

I note that there is another hint of official corruption with the entry about the car that will be painted RAF green and then exchanged for gold watches.

And also some family news. Rhoda, Grandad’s youngest sister had a son. His name was Harry. Unfortunately both Rhoda and Harry died before i was born, so I never met them.

Grandad’s Diary 8th-14th April 1945

Entries for week beginning 8th April 1945

8th-9th April – anything German. Seen three pictures this week in old barn. Kept busy making wing comfortable. Scandalous behaviour of officers. They like this life and outsiders come for two days visits in rota from Antwerp and St. Nicholas to loot, look around and say they have visited Germany.

10th April – Returned refugees trying to repair their houses and of what little stuff is left. What a job. Jerry civilians holding aloof and making no more to fraternise. Probably know our ruling. Yanks repairing local trains and railways.

11th April – Some mail today. Heard we could return if officers so willed but they like it too much here, socially and financially, but won’t be long now. Regular half-way camp this.

12th April – Visited by ‘M’ balloon party looking for new sites near Munster for pamphlet distribution. Hellish numbers of bombers above. Yanks and ours pass each other near here.

13th April – Went to Orsoy. Civilians not allowed back there due to nearness of Rhine. Disappointed and surprised that river is as narrow as it is. Very fast current though. Can’t imagine the job the sappers had.

14th April – Yanks building another bridge. Bailey this time. Went across. Duisberg only captured this morning in the distance 2 miles away. This district end of Ruhr valley where there is still a big enemy pocket. Some of the lads going to Paris for a couple of days.

I register two kinds of disappointment from Grandad this week. He is disappointed that the officers are behaving so poorly and encouraging looting. And he is disappointed at the size of the Rhine. One makes the other quite supercilious and yet it is an interesting reflection on the normalness of this record. Why wouldn’t you be disappointed if you’d heard all about his magnificent river that was such a barrier into Germany and when you get there it seems smaller than expected?

Munster is not the place in Ireland (obviously) but is actually M√ľnster.

And a ‘Bailey’ is a type of bridge. I’ve found archive footage of an actual Bailey bridge across the River Rhine. I wonder if this was the one that my Grandad went across…