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 13-14th March 1945

Entries on 13-14th March 1945

Doodies on different track along Scheldt on other sides. few rockets falling. Went to Ghent. Lovely weather. shopping. Spent everything in e. zoo it homewards. Many things unobtainable in England. Bought a watch. Taf stole one. Cinema show. Exodus of town at 10 pin.

There is more evidence in these entries that the Doodlebug bombardment is lessening, but I have to admit that I’ve made a bad job of translating today’s post. I can’t work out what the last line on 13th March is, and I have no interpretation for the last line on 14th March either. It loooks to me that this entry is all about one day, but whether it was the 13th or the 14th, I don’t know.

Did Grandad send something homewards? Did he go to a zoo? Did someone from his unit steal a watch? Was that person Welsh? All of these answers I will probably never know.

A quick bit of research shows me that Ghent had a zoo, but it closed in 1905, so it is unlilely that Grandad visited a zoo. Maybe that should read 200.

Ah. Now I see it could say ‘borrowed’. Maybe that line should read “spent everything in and 200 I borrowed”. Perhaps.

Grandad’s Diary. 12th March 1945

Entry for 12th March

Some of the lads gone to Rhine for hauling supplies. Went to St. Nicks for bath. Doodies quieter wonder if Jerry evacuating Holland.

Is it me, or does Grandad have a bath every Tuesday? How civilised.

Meanwhile could it be that the oppresive threat of the doodlebug bomardment is coming to an end. Grandad doesn’d know for sure – all he knows is that fewer are coming over. Could it be that the Germans have fired them all and are now running away? Of course these days we could find out that sort of information from a range of news channels, radio, Twitter and so on, but Grandad, unless he was informed by military channels or rumour from people he met, just had to guess…

Grandad’s Diary. 11th March 1945

Entries for 11th-17th March 1945

Called at farm where doodie fell. Pathetic to see looks on peoples faces. Simply broken hearted, so helpless against this sudden death out of the skies. More and more doodies but better war news.

A really sad entry, harking back to the previous entry in which Grandad had reported that a lady had died at a farm from a Doodlebu hit. It is interesting how the use of the word ‘pathetic’ has changed – these days we only tend to use it do indicate ‘feeble’ or ‘laughable’, but Grandad clearly writes it in the old fashioned sense of ‘arousing feelings of pity or grief’.

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. 25th February 1945

Entries for 25th Feb – 3rd March 29145

Town crier calling for volunteers to work filling in crates on dykes. about 50 with own spades. Having a bath at St. Nicholas and saw Bill Heywood in charge of bath!

In the previous entry, Grandad mentioned that a Doodlebug had fallen on the dyke. The work the following day must have been to get the damage repaired – pretty important work in the Low Countriees.

I wonder why the exclamation mark. Could it be that Bill Heywood would be the last person to take a bath, let alone be in charge of one?

It’s good to hear of the friendships that continued even in such difficult times.

Grandad’s Diary. 24th February 1945

Entry for 24th Feb

Officers in black market racket. One for ever covering his haversack. On guard while fast asleep aroused by doodie ffalling on dyke. Not properly awaked but nerves affected for half an hour. probably reason why so many suffer from headaches, subconcious taking shocks.

There are a couple of words here I’m not sure of: ‘covering’ and ‘nerves’. They are the words that ‘fit’ best with the context, but I could be wrong.

There is more evidence here of the growing impact of the Doodlebugs – the constant threat of them taking its toll on the menatl health of the soldiers.

I’m not sure what he means by the officers – whether they were leading the black market racket, or whether their presence meant those involved had to be more careful that they weren’t caught.

Grandad’s Diary 18th-23rd February 1945

Entries from 18th – 25th February 1945

18th Feb: Floods steadily subsiding after 8 weeks.Everybody cutting down trees for firewood coal costing £2/18/- Cwt went to Ghent 55 miles away. Shops very dear.

19th Feb: Lovely old church and cathedral. Orchestra in NAAFI. Long day there but enjoyable. Went to cinema there. ‘Fanny by Gaslight’ Met Peter Highfield on 967 Sqdn.

20th Feb: Lovely weather but not much sleep. Doing well on black M. market. Many doodies over, after shipping on Scheldt.

21st Feb: Narrow escpae from doodie. Saw one unexploded en route for Blighty. Headache probably due to Doodies and loss of sleep.

22nd Feb: On pass. Took snaps and went to St. Nicholas. About cheapest shopping centre. Good black market. One of the boys suffering from shock from nearby doodie. Near to us.

23rd Feb: Busy these days long days too. Laying off beer. Most cafes with attractive looking girls to overcome poor quality of beer. Not worth the money.

There is a growing sense in Grandad’s posts of the impact of the ‘Doodies’ (Doodlebugs: V1 Flying Bombs) on the troops. Whilst he has not referred to any casualties, the constant threat of them seems to becausing stress-related headaches and ‘shock’.

Fanny by Gaslight was a 1944 film that was very popular in Britain.

I love that he saw past the ‘attractive girls’ at the cafes and decided to save his money by avoiding the poor quality beer.

Grandad’s Diary. 13-14th February 1945

Entry for 13-14 Feb

Surprising number of farms hit by doodle bugs. Little girl here Marie wonderful warning for V bombs. Dashes away long before we hear them. Most kiddies similar. Eggs from farms 3 for soap go 7 fumes each. Met P. Highfield and G. Kendal

There is an interesting observation in this entry that the sharp hearing of most children was good enough to give a warning for incoming V1 flying bombs.

Given the random, untargeted nature of the V1, the fact that so many farms had been hit by them indicated just how many had been sent to hit Belgium once London was out of range.

I think I haven’t quite translated the penultimate sentence correctly – Grandad seems to be saying that he can barter eggs from the farm in which his is billeted for soap and cigarettes (fumes), but I’m not sure of this, because I cannot find any indication that ‘fumes’ was a slang for cigarettes.