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 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. 9th-10th March 1945

Entries for 9-10 March 1945

Ever increasing number of ships going to Antwerp. Jerry after them with his doodies. Greatest scare yet. At dawn on operations saw doodie coming down. All of us made dive for dyke certain that this was it, but it fall some distance away. All badly nerved. Many doodies shot down. Big barrage now. Doodies falling all around sites. One on nearby farm killing one lady.

A near miss. The doodlebug bombardment continues for Grandad. Despite the increasing array of barrage balloons that Grandad is responsible with his unit for setting up, the Doodlebug terror seems to increase and sadly one lady loses her life.

On the Barrage Balloon Reunion Club‘s website there is a page dedicated to Operation Crossbow – the operation which defined how Britain would respond to the V1 threat during 1944. I wonder if the new technology was also used overseas or whether the limitations of transporting the balloons meant that only the basic barrage balloon could be set up.

Grandad’s Diary. 10th February 1945

Entry for 10th Feb

Left late. Passing through Ghent St. Nicholas. Wonderfully straight roads. dogs pulling carts. St. Nich one time Jerry officials rest house. Pro-German. Landed at Doel. Warm reception with several doodlebugs close by. ‘D’-bomb alley here.

Ah. Action.

Grandad has left the comfort of touristy Blankenberge and has crossed into the war zone. And while this does not mean man-to-man fighting, it does mean the constant threat of V1 bombs – doodlebugs.

I see that Doel, close to Antwerp which was mentioned in an earlier post as a potential destination for Grandad, is now scheduled for demoliton to make war for the expanding port of Antwerp.

The V1 flying bomb had been developed by the Luftwaffe and was used during the Summer of 1944 as a ‘vengeance weapon’ for the terror bombing of London. By October 1944 however, the last V1 site in range of London had been overrun by Allied forces and so the doodlbeugs were targeted at Antwerp to stall the Allied advance. Exactly where Grandad was.

I’m intrigued by the phrase ‘Pro-German’. I wonder if it means that St. Nicholas had been pro-German, or it still was? And if the latter was the case, did the ‘liberating’ forces receive hostility and vitriol from the locals?

Grandad’s Diary. 5th February 1945

Entry for 5th Feb 1945

Contradictory reports as to state of affairs in Antwerp. Better wait and see. No Naafi here, only Red Cross Canteen. not efficient.

A reminder that on the 31st January, Grandad had heard that things in Antwerp were awful. At that time, Antwerp was dubbed ‘the City of Sudden Death’ because of sheer volume of V2 rockets that fell upon the city. It must have been a frightening prospect – travelling to a city where death could fall upon you at any instant.

Grandad mentioned the NAAFI back on 24th January when he was still in England. The NAAFI was the ‘Navy Army Air Force Institute’ and was essentially all of the canteen, bar, club, supermarket needs of the military forces rolled into one.

I may have been unfair to the Red Cross Canteen here. In Grandad’s earlier entry he mentioned the ‘commotion’ some his of fellow airmen caused on 24th Jan, indicating a certain lack of control or disorganisation. Here I have translated Grandad’s words as ‘not efficient’, but he could have written ‘neat & efficient’. It could be that he thinks the Red Cross Canteen is actually better than the NAAFI.

Grandad’s Diary. 31st January 1945

Entry from 31st January 1945

Nothing to do. Standing by. Hear Antwerp is awful. State there po buys bombs. Spent evening in Red Cross more preferable to drinking awful beer in Cafes.

I just can’t get that third sentence. The ink from the previous page has bled through making it very difficult to ascertain what the words are. I think it relates to the comment about Antwerp being awful.

And Antwerp was awful. This post from a website about the V2 rocket claims that Antwerp at that time was refered to as the city of Sudden Death. More rockets fell on Antwerp than London.

I suppose the awulness of the conditions that Grandad was hearing about made his sudden comfort in Blankenbarge somewhat incongruous, or even banaal. I can imagine that putting your feet up and drinking Belgian beer was probably not the easiest thing to do when just a few miles ago death and destruction could rain upon you at any second.

I wish understood that middle sentence!