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 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. 19-24th March 1945

Entries for this week.

19th – 21st March. Lull in doodies but getting up earlier for operations. Other flight standing by for move to Rhine. Wonder if we will go. heard that Bill Whatling was over here on craft. also Jock Phillips. Smashing weather and plenty of work. Joined by crew from other flight. This squadron with very little systems for operational duties. Many bombers passing on way to Germany. Rockets on way to England. Not heard from Tom.

22nd March. More gen (duff) as to what is likely to happen. Rhine most popular fancy. Definitely going to Blankenberge on Saturday.

23rd March. Talking to man from St. Nichs on jetty. First time in 5 years he had seen Scheldt. Told of German hardships. Brother fined 100,000 francs for celebrating publicly loss of Bismarck.

24th March. 60,000 Jerries passed through Dock port. Left for Blank. Sorry to leave, especially the good people in the billet, and don’t fancy staying in Blank too long. Only 2 crews return. No idea what is happening to the others. We are not popular with the heads of our own squadron.

This is the week that Grandad is on the move again. The Doodlebug threat is lessening and while the odd V2 rocket still flies past to England, more and more Allied bombers are seen going the other way. The tide turned back at D-Day and now is beginning to race into Germany itself, with talk of Grandad’s unit being moved to the Rhine.

It’s still only talk though. His use of the RAF slang word ‘duff’ indicates that he knows the men are just gossiping about it. In fact, there are some interesting insights into the Balloon ‘Flights’ here. It seems that Grandad is not that impressed with the other flight – their systems are just not up to scratch. Also, Grandad does not think the high-ups in the squadron are impressed with the ballon units. This could be Grandad hinting at the other flight having broughr both local balloon units a bad reputation, or it could be that by now the commanders have realised that the balloon units are not that effective at a tactical level. I can’t tell.

It’s nice to hear Grandad mentioning some names of friends. I have no idea who Tom is and why he should be significant.

And finally the insight that is most fascinating to me is hearing views from the locals. We hear again of the difficulties of living under occupation – the man at the jetty tells his story of his brother landing an almighty fine from the German authorities for celebrating the loss of the Bismarck. The Bismark’s success in sinking HMS Hood, symbol for Rule Britannia, had hurt British morale badly at the lowest point of the war for the UK, so the sinking of the Bismark must have had a similar impact on German forces, hence the harsh fine.

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. 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. 8-9 February 1945

Entry for 8th and 9th February 1945

These people good lookers know how to dress and make up. Also very clean at least to all appearances and also very polite even kiddies alike. A big number in Blank speak English due no doubt to tourists. Getting ready for tomorrow Comforts and groceries. Peculiar state of P.S.I.

This is at least the third post in which Grandad has mentioned the ‘marvellousness of the Belgians. They are clean, have great complexions, dress well and are ‘good lookers’. It paints a picture of coming from a grim, War-Effort Britain to a ‘living-the-high-life Belgium’. That must have been a strange feeling for him and his fellows – seeing that the people they were liberating had better living standards than the people back home.

And then there’s the ‘getting ready for tomorrow’. The knowing that the battlefront isn’t that far away. A dsepite knowing that allied forces were making great advances it is the knowing that death and destruction are still ahead. It must have made the contrast with life in ‘Blank’ (Blankenberge’ quite stark.

I don’t know what he means by “P.S.I.” or even if it is that – it may be “P.S.1”. It could be that as a balloon operator he is worried about the air pressure as it would affect how the ballons go up (PSI – could mean Pounds per Square Inch – a measure for air pressure). Or it could be something else. I don’t know.

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!

Grandad’s Diary. 30th January 1945

Entry for the 30th Janurary 1945

Hotel de la Paix. likely to be our billet for some time. This town full of hotels and cafes must have been a popular resort. Strange my reference to D-Day re: hotels coming true

I can’t find a ‘Hotel de la Paix’ that exists in Blankenberge today. I can find an 1892 postcard for the ‘Grand Hotel De la Paix’. And there is a website that has an image of the seafront full of hotels at Blankenberge showing that Grandad was right – it was, and still is a holiday resort. I’m not sure if the hotel he stayed in still stands. You’ll have to click the links to see the images, as I don’t have permission to re-use them.

Grandad did make a reference to D-Day on the 27th January, but it didn’t seem to contain any hint of hotels. I wonder if that comment just reminded him of some earlier statement he had made about D-Day. I wish I know what it was though – he made a reference concerning hotels and D-Day that came true. What was that reference?

Grandad’s Diary. 29th January 1945

The entry for 29th January

Tied off Ostend at 10:30 AM but didn’t land till 7.0PM. Much confusion during day. Nobody knowing what is happening. Drive to Blankenberge. Good meal and bed in hotel.

Looking at the last few posts, it seems that Grandad has spent almost three days in a boat, for a journey that could have been just a few hours. But then, I suppose, he isn’t on holiday.

I wonder how the men would have used their time in those tedious, cramped conditions. If Grandad had had a bigger diary he would have all that time to fill it, but then he would only have been filling it with observations of soldiers being bored, so it’s probably a good job the diary is as small as it is.