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. 17th february 1945

Entry for 17 Feb

Lull in weather. Snaps plentiful in these parts. Evidently Jerry allowed free use of cameras helping his trade no doubt. Saw some snaps of floods and Jerry evacuations. Many horses left here.

The weather was presumably very important to Grandad, as it would have effected how much hydrogen to put in the barrage balloons. A lull in the weather was probably a good thing.

The German evacuation of Belgium, which they had occupied for 5 years was probably very significant to Grandad and the British troops, not least because around 400 000 Belgians were tried after the war for collaborating witht he Nazis, presumably some of those ‘snapped’ trying to leave would have been Belgians once loyal to their German overlords.

Grandad’s Diary. 16th February 1945

Very many V. bombs today. Went to St. Nicholas for bath. Big black market centre. Busy on operations these days.

Again – the contrasts. There are bombs raining down on Grandad and meanwhile he goes to have a bath. it must have been a rare luxury in such times.

And he’s getting busier too – more balloons to put up and more to maintain no doubt. It’s interesting that he writes so little about his actual war work – i.e. being a balloon operator. Maybe it wasn’t the thing to do, lest ‘Jerry’ get his hands on the information and use it against them. This had probably been inculcated into British troops in the preceding war years.

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. 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.

Grandad’s Diary: 12 February 1945

Entry for 12 Feb

Smashing billet with homely people who do anything for us. Plenty of black market here earned or by a ring who control it. Sites widely scattered.

As a balloon operator, Grandad and his team would have had to attend various sites where the barrage balloons were deployed to deter enemy air attack (planes or V1 bombs). Obviously he had a lot of balloon sites to look after.

There is another insight into life in newly liberated Belgium – requiring a black market to operate. And also Grandad’s appreciation for kindness and home comforts comes out with his sentence about his billet.

Good times near the battlefront…

Grandad’s Diary. 11th February 1945

Entries from 11-17th February 1945

On Scheldt Estuary. Still plenty of water from floods. Bartering for eggs. Plenty of D bugs around. Saw British jet planes.

I’m pretty sure that the jet planes Grandad saw were the Gloster Meteor, as these were the only jet planes that saw service by the British in the 2nd World War. That must have been an exciting and encouraging sight as it was superior technology to the ubiquitous Doodlebug flying bomb that was still causing problems. I included a bit of detail about the V1 flying bomb in yesterday’s post.

I love the contrast between the rather prosaic need for eggs and this new technology – jet engines.

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.