Grandad’s Diary. 18th March 1945

Entries for 18-24th March 1945

Night of coweard given by RAF and civvies for local poor. Heard money to go to central Church fund. racket local. People derive no benefit.

I can’t get that third word.

But it seems that the RAF have tried to raise some money for the poor, but Grandad feels that they will not actually benefit from it due to the local racket.

It’s all a bit bleak.

Grandad’s Diary. 17th March 1945

Entry for 17th March 1945

Round cafes with lads. Irish element till midnight. Ness drunk. Allen sick. Ralph with his bottle of genuine cognac. No different to shop stuff. Definite taste of meths. Said to cause blindness. Gin different colour same taste.

There is a definite change of pace now from the fear and tension of a few entries ago to this entry, which is essentially a drinking diary. It is lovely to get this personal touch of how the troops celebrated St. Patrick’s Day 75 years ago.

Of course, this year, much of the St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak…

Grandad’s Diary 16th March 1945

Entry for 16th March 1945

Went to St. Nick. Traveled all around town unsuccessfully to sell raincoat. No use for civvies. These people want the better of all transactions.

Ah. Woe the warrior just trying to buy some eggs. Presumably Grandad has seen that with the weather turning he can supplement his diet if only he could have some spare cash. And if the post on 13-14th March is anything to go by, he may well have borrowed a load of money and needs to pay it back. But the locals are not having it.

Is it me, or has Grandad cut a couple of corners with his handwriting in recent posts? Or am I not giving him the benefit of the doubt with his words. I’m thinking particularly of the words that I have translated ‘travelled’ and ‘around’, which look more like ‘traied’ and ‘ones’.

Grandad’s Diary 15th March 1945

Entry for 15th March 1945

Tired from yesterday. Smashing weather again. Great excitement in village over swap of French and some women. of course they all want one.

I’m not quite sure what I’m reading here. I don’t know whether the ‘great excitement’ is a good thing – some sort of prisoner swap, or a bad thing, such as this article I found about the treatment of women who were thought to have been collaborators.

I hope they may be other clues to this sort of thing as the diary continues.

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. 4th March 1945

Entries for 4th -10th March 1945

Three cafes closed in St. Nich for B.M. Raided by police and everything confiscated. Mary gave us pancakes Very nice too. Sunday big day for locals. All dressed up, promenade the town after church. men to cafes.

A nice insight here into life returning to normality on a Sunday in Belgium. Despite the constant threat of the Germans Vengeance Weapons, the locals are getting into their Sunday best and enjoy the day.

I think I’ve identified the mistake in my previous post – the ‘Mary’ in the post is an actual person who runs the billet or farm where Grandad is staying. It makes better sense now…

The B.M. Grandad refers to is the Black Market that seems to be the way that everyone buys and sells what they need. However it looks as though the authorities are beginning to crack down on it – another example of normality returning.