Grandad’s Diary. VE Day 1945

Entries for 7-9th May 1945

7-9th May – V-Day. St. Nich full of excited drinking people. Flags dancing cafes full. Civvies relieved not so us. Much damage caused by underground movement burning and destroying property of collaborators. No police action and watched by crowds. Very puzzling to me to see such fine property destroyed. Foresee much trouble in Belgium between these parties. Excuse for looting, etc.

After all that.

2 stints of active duty overseas in war. Risking his life for King and Country for nearly a year.

And when it’s over Grandad is in a foreign country watching something that ‘puzzles’ him – behaviour that he foresees will cause much trouble in the future.

This is a far cry from the VE day that I was hoping for.

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. 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 5th-8th March 1945

Entries from 5-8th March 1945

5th March. Worse night yet for Doodies but no damage roundabouts. St. Nick for baths. Ordered flowers through W.V.S. for home. Good new from all fronts. Confident of early victory.

6th-7th March. Heard story from farmer who was prisoner in Germany. Untold hardship in escaping. Terrible food in camps. Menfolk waited on and almost carried about by their women. Certainly boss of the house. Women adore their children and care for them more than do our women.

8th March. Terrible day for Doodies. Continuous and feel blast when one falls miles away. Majority of them fall in Scheldt.

Doodlebugs dominate. The sense of oppression from the constant bomardment really comes through Grandad’s Diary. By this time all of the German sites were out of range of Britain so their V1 weapons could only hit Belgium. And hit Belgium they did. Still, Grandad has heard good news from all front and is ‘confident of an early victory’. Hooray!

I understand that Grandad did not meet my Nanna until after the war, so it is likely that he was sending flowers home to his mother, of whom I know virtually nothing about. The WVS or WRVS, was the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, now known just as the Royal Voluntary Service. The wikipedia entry tells me that it existed mainly to support the soldiers in terms of food, shelter and sanitation, although clearly they did even more that as Grandad organised a delivery of flowers through them.

What an interesting observation Grandad makes about gender roles in Belgium. Not only were women there the ‘boss of the house’, but they were also more caring to their children.

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.