Grandad’s Diary. 17th february 1945

Entry for 17 Feb

Lull in weather. Snaps plentiful in these parts. Evidently Jerry allowed free use of cameras helping his trade no doubt. Saw some snaps of floods and Jerry evacuations. Many horses left here.

The weather was presumably very important to Grandad, as it would have effected how much hydrogen to put in the barrage balloons. A lull in the weather was probably a good thing.

The German evacuation of Belgium, which they had occupied for 5 years was probably very significant to Grandad and the British troops, not least because around 400 000 Belgians were tried after the war for collaborating witht he Nazis, presumably some of those ‘snapped’ trying to leave would have been Belgians once loyal to their German overlords.

Grandad’s Diary. 16th February 1945

Very many V. bombs today. Went to St. Nicholas for bath. Big black market centre. Busy on operations these days.

Again – the contrasts. There are bombs raining down on Grandad and meanwhile he goes to have a bath. it must have been a rare luxury in such times.

And he’s getting busier too – more balloons to put up and more to maintain no doubt. It’s interesting that he writes so little about his actual war work – i.e. being a balloon operator. Maybe it wasn’t the thing to do, lest ‘Jerry’ get his hands on the information and use it against them. This had probably been inculcated into British troops in the preceding war years.

Grandad’s Diary: 12 February 1945

Entry for 12 Feb

Smashing billet with homely people who do anything for us. Plenty of black market here earned or by a ring who control it. Sites widely scattered.

As a balloon operator, Grandad and his team would have had to attend various sites where the barrage balloons were deployed to deter enemy air attack (planes or V1 bombs). Obviously he had a lot of balloon sites to look after.

There is another insight into life in newly liberated Belgium – requiring a black market to operate. And also Grandad’s appreciation for kindness and home comforts comes out with his sentence about his billet.

Good times near the battlefront…

Grandad’s Diary. 27th January

Entry for 27th January 1945

Left early for craft at Tilbury Docks. Tied up all day. Twice as many men aboard Confusion and discomfort Rumours that we leave midnight. So different this trip to that of ‘D’ Day. Wonder how our H.Q. will make out other side. Still trying to carry out static site boating.

I’ve done a lot of ‘wondering’ about my Grandad over the past few posts. It’s good to hear that he did some wondering too. I’m presuming the obvious: that the weather was so bad compared to the D-Day landing that it would be difficult to make out the other side after the trip across the English Channel. But of course it might be something to do with working out the identity of people they would meet when they finally made it overseas.

I’m pretty sure I’ve got the last word in the entry wrong. Could it be ‘looting’, ‘louting’ or ‘booting’? Or something else entirely? I know that barrage balloons were used to defend shipping, so hence tending towards the ‘boating’ translation, although the phrase itself doesn’t make sense.

Either way it must have been so frustrating to be shut up on that boat all day. Grandad had made pretty good time since departing from Wythall four days earlier. Spending an entire day on a boat waiting to depart must have been tense and dispiriting for everyone.

Grandad’s Diary. 23rd January 1945

And here they are… the first entries in my Grandad’s diary.

Left Wythal at last in wintry conditions early A.M. Treacherous roads several skids. Our wagon almost in small factory where cat’s eyes are made. Arrived at Halton.

23rd Janurary 1945

You can see the evidence of the thin pages. How the black ink bleeds through from the other side. And also where the ink has transferred onto the opposite page over the course of time. This book is over 75 years old.

Speaking of time, I wonder how long Grandad had been waiting at ‘Wythal’. He had last been overseas almost 4 months earlier on 29th September 1944. What had his Autum and Christmas been like? Had he seen his family? I wonder what his expectations of his next period of service were?

I love that image of the near-crash into a Catseyes Factory. I’m not sure how this could have been on the route from Wythall (in Warwickshire) to Halton (in Buckinghamshire) as the only Catseyes Factory I can find at the time was near Halifax in Yorkshire. That would have been a round about journey.

At the time there was an RAF Wythall which was the Headquarters of the Number 6 Balloon Barrage Centre. As Grandad as a Balloon Operator it makes sense for him to be based there. RAF Wythall was closed after the war in 1949 and its operations moved to Hereford. RAF Halton is still a big RAF base.

What my Grandad did in the War Part 2

What my Grandad actually did in the war…

I’ve been digitising my Grandad’s old service book. You can see the whole thing in this Google Photos Album, but I thought I’d pick out a couple of my highlights in this post.

I was eight when my Grandad died, but I’m sure that by then I had begun to pester him with questions like “What did you do in the war?” The year was 1980 and I was reading comics like ‘Warlord’ and ‘Commando’. They presented a very one-sided view of the Second World War to me, one in which the British were the goodies and the Germans were the baddies who only knew two words in their collective vocabulary: ‘Nein’ and ‘Achtung’. Of course, 8-year old me has changed considerably, but back then I though the Second World War was glorious. We all have stuff to learn.

My Grandad never really answered the question. In fact, I don’t recall him telling me anything about the war. And we used to talk a lot. But I know now, especially having talked to my Mum (his daughter), that he never liked to talk about the War. I hope to find out some detail as I seek to digitise his diary in the next few posts, but I suspect the answer is all too simple: war isn’t glorious. It’s tragic and messy and terrible.

But back to the basics. What did my Grandad do in the war? As you can see in the image above from the centre of his RAF Service and Release Book, he was an RAF Balloon Operator. He served overseas from D-Day to late September in 1944 and then again from January to May in 1945. He was decorated with the 1934-45 Star, the France and Germany Star and the Defence Medal. He received the highest judge of character (V.G.) and the second-highest proficiency rating of SUPR. The page with the proficiency ratings is here:

All in all his service record is pretty good. I particularly like the personal comments from his commanding officer:

Very keen and capable. Intelligent, possesses good administrative ability.

Proud? Me? Of my Grandad? Of course I am.