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.