Grandad’s Diary. 15th February 1945

Entry for 15 Feb

Horses pulling heavy loads. Dogs pulling carts. Collection of twigs and parts of trees everywhere. Unexploded doodle bug fell on other side of street from Billet, damaging store. No casualties.

I’ve really been struck by the contrasts in Grandad’s Diary far. Just a few days ago he was writing about the ‘wonderful complexions’ and well-dressed Belgians he was seeing around Blankenberge. In today’s entry he paints a picture of road-weary refugees, damage and destruction.

Grandad’s Diary 6-7th February 1945

Entry spanning 6 and 7th February

Saw show given by Belgians continental style – very good. Extensive black market in these places. In fact all goods through this source. Belgians keen bargainners, giving little away – very friendly people if only surface friendliness.

No post yesterday because this post took up the space for two days.

I see some interesting observations here that I think say as much about the observer as the observee. The Belgians had only been out of German occupation for four months (the liberation of Belgium began in September 1944) and so it is difficult to categorise a people after such a traumatic time.

Grandad had never been abroad and never did go again after the war – these experience of Belgium and France in 1944 and 1945 were to be his only ones. It would be interesting to hear him talk about a comparison between life in wartime England and life in Belgium. He almost seems surprised by the health, wealth and happiness of the Belgians that he might, as if he was expecting something else.

Grandad’s Diary. 3rd February 1945

Entry for 3rd Fab

Went to Bruges. Shops full but very dear. Bought scents cosmetics. People well dressed and clean, wonderful complexions. Toured cafes at night but not worth. Beer same effect as water. Going to sites next week. People very sociable and tell of Jerry attrocities and greed.

A post of contrasts. A genteel picture is painted: prosaic shopping and contented people. Then a hint of a warning of action next week, against this background of terrible things that have happened.

After more than 2 weeks of entries, I finally see in this post that there is a word from my 70s and 80s comics – Jerry – British slang for the Germans in the 2nd World War.

The Belgians must have been watering down their beer for the various soldiers in their towns – everyone knows that Belgian beer is ridiculously strong. In fact Belgian Beer Culture has made the Unesco list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. They must have been hiding that from their visitors during World War II.

The comments about the ‘wonderful complexions’ is another hint of the contrast between occupied Europe – well off and well fed, despite the atrocities committed by the occupying forces – and Britain – deprived of vitamins, food beeing rationed and probably, in Grandad’s eyes, showing it in the quality of their skin.

I wonder if my Nanna was the recipient of the cosmetics that Grandad bought…

Grandad’s Diary. 1-2 February 1945

Today’s entry

How dear the shops are. Plenty of fancy goods in leather, glass, brass, cosmetics. Will have to take some back with me. Spent evening with local family. Told me of German greed. How happy they were when Russia only 40 miles from Berlin and millions of evacuees. Gave us coffee.

Today’s entry seemed to span two days in the diary, hence me mssing a posting yesterday.

There are some lovely observations from Grandad here. One of my perceptions of the 2nd World War is that Allied success was partly contributed to by a much greater collective effort than in Germany, wehre at the start of the war, the job of carrying out the war was just the provinve of the armed forces, rather than everyone on the country. I may be wrong in this – I am no historian – but the observation that the shops were full of ‘fancy goods’ would beack up that theory. Grandad had not seen fancy goods for 5 or 6 years – they were not needed for the war effort and so were not in the shops. By contrast, in occupied territory these goods were available.

This is the first time that Grandad hears stories of the occupation – it’s clear that he is keen to find out what life has been like, or he would not have noted it down. I suppose that when you hear a story that your enemy is greedy it helps to justify what you’re doing.

At this point Russia is only 40 miles from Berlin and everyone is happy. We see how that plays out after the war…

And coffee. I’ve just had by third cup this morning – fantastic Ethiopian Sidamo from Sainsbury’s. But my impression is that in 1945, Britain was very much a tea-drinking nation; coffee a much more European thing. I can imagine it must have been a real treat to have a fresh cup of Belgian coffee in the winter of 1945.