Grandad’s Diary. VE Day 1945

Entries for 7-9th May 1945

7-9th May – V-Day. St. Nich full of excited drinking people. Flags dancing cafes full. Civvies relieved not so us. Much damage caused by underground movement burning and destroying property of collaborators. No police action and watched by crowds. Very puzzling to me to see such fine property destroyed. Foresee much trouble in Belgium between these parties. Excuse for looting, etc.

After all that.

2 stints of active duty overseas in war. Risking his life for King and Country for nearly a year.

And when it’s over Grandad is in a foreign country watching something that ‘puzzles’ him – behaviour that he foresees will cause much trouble in the future.

This is a far cry from the VE day that I was hoping for.

Grandad’s Diary. 29th April – 3rd May 1945

Entries for week beginning 29th April 1945

29th April – Told today to pack in and deflate we return to 980 at St. Nicholas tomorrow morning but what a trip if this lousy weather holds.

30th April – What a cold run on such rough roads. Almost sick passing through Holland. People with orange and national flags. Thought war was over.

1st-3rd May – At St. Nicholas make whoopee. Conflicting reports of Hitler’s death. B/05 returning to Blighty. Rumours to form new squadron. Is it for SEAC? Saw Jock Phillips. Another good hectic night but late and got 3 days. Rather hot on 11.0 curfew. These Belgians good only for money and women. Men effeminate. Can understand rottenness in this country. Standing by for what. remustering. Blight. SEAC. demob group?

If the last few week’s have seen the beginning of the end, surely we are now in the end now. This week Grandad has learnt that Hitler has died and that some sort of new existence is surely on the cards.

Evidence suggests that Hitler died on 30th April and Grandad heard the first news of that on the following day. This was after travelling through Holland and seeing people flying the Dutch orange flag freely for the first time in 6 years.

And now the question looms: what next? SEAC was the South East Asian Command, and it was pertinent because even though the war in Europe was drawing rapidly to a close, the War in the East was still raging on, and until the use of Nuclear Weapons in Japan it looked like it may continue for some time yet. There was a very real possibility that Grandad could be deployed there.

And what prejudice against the Belgians! Grandad wrote very kindly and generously about the Belgians that he billeted with and those in the farms nearby, but has been less than generous about some aspects of life in Belgium at that time, including the prevailing black market and a generally disparaging attitude towards Belgian men. It seems a bit harsh to ascribe rottenness to the whole country on account of a few of their menfolk coming across as being slightly effeminate.

And I wonder what Grandad means by ‘got 3 days’ Did he actually get drunk and punished? That does not seem like the Grandad I knew, nor the father my Mum talks about, but as Grandad has seen throughout his time in Europe, people are capable of amazing things and I suppose he is no different…

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. 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 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. 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. 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?